Ascending in Argentina
Exciting Photos: Just click the link below. Big thanks to Panasonic for the cameras:
Greetings from Asunción, Paraguay! Landed a few nights ago from the border town of Encarnación and will be rockin’ off tomorrow towards Bolivia via the Chaco Desert.
Before I dive in to the newsletter I wanted to share some news. I have decided to focus the majority of my time and energy on the filming of the expedition and putting together an inspiring and exciting cast of people, food, music, art, natural wonders and enjoying the travel experience fully with any time left over. With that being said, I can’t promise the most colorful or artistic journal updates going forward. You’ll get plenty of that when you read my books or check the film and/or TV series. I hope you understand.
Sooooo, let’s jump back to Uruguay where I admittedly had a rough landing with plenty of turbulence getting back on the road and finding my rhythm. I was ready to climb out of the temporary lull I was in and decided Argentina would be the country to shake off the queasy stomach from the rough landing. I got my wish immediately after rolling my bike off the ferry from Montevideo to Buenos Aires as a group of rowdy Argentines were there to greet me with big smiles, red wine and giggles on a festive Saturday evening. Soon afterwards I was greeted by a long lost but never forgotten friend Sara who I had not seen in about 15 years since my college days at USC. Turns out Sara spends a good portion of each year in Buenos Aires and had an apartment rented and ready to host not only me but my mom as well.
It was nighttime when I arrived and both Sara and I were a bit worried about riding back to her place at night on the busy streets of Buenos Aires. But our worries soon disappeared as our newfound friends at the port decided we deserved a 2-car escort right to the door of Sara’s pad! Before we knew it we had a car in front of us and a car behind us with flashing hazard lights taking up a full lane of traffic to make sure we made it back okay. It was a classic adventure and made me feel immediately welcomed and cared for in Argentina.
Sara and her crew had a few nights and days planned for me, with the majority of the focus on the delicious and highly affordable steak and red wine cuisine that has made Buenos Aires famous. The steak in Argentina is as good as they say it is and then some, and the wine simply divine. Add to this the fine company of Roberto, Barry and a slew of cool new friends and you have the ingredients for a content Peace Pedaler.
Mom continues to take advantage of her almost free flights and globetrotting son and the famous Mamacita enters the picture for some fun in Argentina. She arrived not only with the perfect sized small bag (for the first time in 7 years….go mom!) but also my skis. I’ll be skiing in the Andes next month or so and this was part of the grand plan de indulgence :). Our original plan was to spend a few days in Buenos Aires and then make our way up towards the Las Missiones region for some cycling and good fun.
But plans change for me lately more than ever before and I was put back on editing and writing duty by my agent in New York. Mom was pretty flexible and okay with a mild diversion so I decided Mendoza would be a sweet place to escape the city and get focused on my writing. I had heard there was epic mountain biking there so Mom and I hopped an overnight bus and before we knew it we were chillin at a hostel and I was crankin’ away on the computer as she spent her days writing and relaxing.
Sara had some great contacts in Mendoza and was able to line up a 3-day, 2-night stay at a posh winery called Finca Adalgisa and joined us for the weekend. This was just the peace and quiet I needed in the day to write, followed by evenings of tasting some of the world’s most yummy wines and foods. I had a great friend, my loving mom and perfect weather for some happy days in Mendoza.
We made our way back to Buenos Aires to get the final writing done, my visa for Paraguay and catch some music and culture for my show before finally getting some time to adventure with mom. The writing took far more time than I expected but I finally banged out what I hoped was my last version of my book proposal and dove into the local culture with two private tango lessons, great live music, a rippin’ tango show and fun night life. The clincher was when Sara and I rode the tandem to the Argentina vs. Columbia soccer match and managed to score free tickets to the sold out game within seconds of arriving with the tandem. This tandem has some serious magical powers!
Mom and I had not really had much time to just be together and we were both dying to see the famous Iguazu waterfalls. We hopped a bus north for our last few days together. The Iguazu falls are literally breathtaking. They are the most beautiful waterfalls I’ve ever seen, by far. Mom and I rode the tandem out there and on the way back got drenched by a massive thunderstorm—but it was still tons of fun.
Mom and I had a blast up north, finally getting some time to catch up and talk. But our adventure together finally came to an end and I was once again solo. It was a hard transition as always but I met a cool cat Luis who was keen for a ride as the sun started peeking out. I moved myself over to a lovely campsite (www.complejoamericano.com.ar ) where they hooked me up with a free spot to start getting geared up for the ride.
But I soon got news from my agent that I’d have to dig in a few levels deeper in the proposal and spend what felt like an eternity in front of the computer. I was itching to ride and get my wheels finally turning, but I had come so far in this writing process that I had to give it my best shot. I wrote, then edited, then wrote more, then read it all, then wrote more…it’s hard work but the final product is great, but left me really dying to get on the bike and ride!
The day finally came when Luis and I were finally going to ride together. He was super excited and we made a plan to meet up at my tent at 8AM and pack up for the road. But 8AM arrived and no Luis. 9AM, no Luis. 10AA, no Luis. I finally went to his work and they said he went home and told me to say sorry but he was tired and it seemed cold and cloudy that morning. Wow, that’s a stinger. The second canceled ride by a local.
I shook it off as best I could and pedaled into the sunny skies with a nice tailwind, destination unknown. I just knew I wanted to explore the wildly hilly, scenic and culturally rich region of Las Missiones. The day started great with empty roads, a visit by dozens of butterflies at my lunch stop, and an off-road adventure into the jungles of Iguazu Park.
But the evening is a different story. Before I knew it the dirt road turned into an ice-like consistency as the sun began to set and temperatures dropped. My pace was brought to an almost walking speed as I tried to avoid crashing. I took two high-speed falls and several low speed close calls, snapped a chain, cut myself up properly and damaged my front rack. I was deep in the jungle without a soul in sight so I had not other option but to keep hammering the pedals up the steep, muddy hills that never ended. Darkness soon set in and I was alone in the jungle but fortunately in good spirits, high on adrenaline but totally exhausted.
The first light of a house finally arrived at the park boundaries and the ranger read my beady eyes, pale skin, mud and blood right away. He knew I could not go further and let me set up my tent in the parking lot where I slept like a baby after a freezing cold shower. I had high hopes of a great second day of finally being back on the road.
The next day I made my way out of the park and finally hit pavement, which I was more than excited to finally see. The sun came out of the morning clouds, a tail wind picked up and I was clicking along kilometers on the small roads heading to San Antonio. I asked about 4 people to ride that morning but for some reason they all opted to stay with their buddies and wait for the “collectivo”, or local bus, to get them to their destination. Granted, they knew how crazy the hills are in the area and were likely just trying to avoid pain.
Still, my spirits were relatively high as I rode into a cute lunch stop location with an old plank wood country store and sunny porch with friendly locals sipping maté. I was parking my bike when the handlebars suddenly turned quickly and the valve of my front shock smacked the frame and broke off with a huge pop. The air in my front shock immediately disappeared and the camera case on my front rack locked up both the brakes. I was gutted. Here I was, finally on the road after weeks of computer time and my bike dies on me on day two!
My first reaction was pretty grim. My bike was locked up on a perfectly sunny day. The event took the wind out of my sails and I just wanted to quit, at least for the moment. Between Luis canceling, my crazy falls, solo night riding and now this event I felt “done riding”. I hoped a bus heading to El Dorado and considered just leaving Argentina all together. But after some rest on the bus I got a second wind of inspiration and decided to move into solution mode and make the best of the situation.
I arrived in El Dorado and immediately went into action by calling my partner Garryck for support to source the parts for my fork and found a solution to still ride the bike the next day. I had to put the brake handles up in a horribly uncomfortable position to allow the front case to fit and used zip ties to move the front bracket up way over the rack. It is not pretty, but the bike would roll and I could ride.
I went out for a celebratory dinner and ended up meeting a cool group of high school chaps at the pizza joint. We had a blast chatting, eating and sipping a few beers. We were taking photos, sharing music and life was good in El Dorado. That is, until I went to leave and realized I did not have my camera with me. I went back and asked what’s up and there was no sign of the camera, or of one of the characters at our table named Diego. Here I just bought these guys beers and had tons of laughs and one of them pocketed my camera.
So yes, times like this really, really, really can make someone want to quit. But somehow I just went to bed, woke up the next morning and made my way to San Ignacio to start fresh and explore the indigenous Guaraní culture, Jesuit ruins, and hopefully find a rider to make my way towards the border to Paraguay. To this moment I had zero Argentine riders. Two had promised to ride but canceled last minute. But I kept the faith. I went right to the roots of Argentina—the native Guaraní.
As I was on my way to find an opportunity to camp, eat and stay with the pure blood Guaraní I ran into, as ironic as it sounds, another guy named Diego. He stopped me on the road and invited me to stay with him at his hostel and said he would join me the next day to ride to Posadas. He was a cool cat, and I liked him right away. I gave him the name “Diego Bueno”…of “Good Diego” since his fellow Diego was squirmy thief back in El Dorado.
So things were looking up. Diego Bueno hopped on the bike with a smile as his buddy guided us to a Guaraní tribe. I had no idea what to expect but had a feeling that my genuine desire to experience their culture would come through in the end. Diego drove off and I was soon alone with a dozen Guaraní natives wondering what the heck I was doing with this huge bike in the middle of their little village.
Ramos was one of the few people in the village who spoke decent Spanish. The rest were all speaking the native Guaraní language. It took them a while understand my request but before I knew it I was setting up my tent with Ramos’ daughter Santa next to their bamboo houses in the middle of the jungle. Ramos and the head chief Isacio invited me to enjoy the ancient tradition of drinking maté as the sun slowly set through the trees. I got permission to run the cameras as we sat and talked about fascinating topics of spirituality, traditions, religion, work and family. The light was perfect and I’m sure you’ll all enjoy the interview when we finally get to editing.
For the Guaraní tribe drinking maté is a spiritual ritual and I was told that they also believe in Jesus but in a different way completely. The believe Jesus told them specifically not to eat the fruit of the yerba maté but to drink the tea on a daily basis. When the Europeans came in and started killing and pushing the natives northwest they took a fancy to their yerba mate tradition. Millions of people now drink mate regularly, myself included. For more info on yerba mate check out this link here
I spent the rest of the evening and next morning exploring the village with the kids and learning more about the Guaraní culture. I had a ride planned that day with Diego Bueno so I recruited some pure blood pedal power to ride the single track terrain back to town. Isacio was going to come but got cold feet just before departure so a 12 year old boy Renato happily hopped on for an unforgettable ride back to San Ignacio. Very few words were spoken as his Spanish is pretty limited, but we were both smiling and he loved every second of our ride to the Diego Bueno’s hostel in town.
Diego gave me the bad news that he would become the 3rd Argentine to cancel his plans to ride and I was pretty bummed out at first. But he did offer to take me to the Jesuit ruins to explore the fascinating location where the Jesuits built huge communities with the Guaraní back 400 years ago or so. Check out this link for more info on the history of the Jesuits and Guaraní.
When I took Diego back to the hostel he mentioned there might be a Spanish guest named Cristina who might be up for some pedaling since she was planning to head my direction to the Santana ruins. Within about 5 minutes Cristina accepted the invitation to ride and we bolted off on a sunny, warm and tain-wind-blessed day heading south towards Posadas.
So Argentina was set to become the first country in years where I would ride with zero local people for any significant adventures! I would normally be bummed about this but with a smiling Barcelonan Spanish gal behind me with a tail wind it would be tough to bitch. I was and still am learning the cultural differences in the Latin world. It’s actually quite common for people to say one thing and do another—it’s part of the culture. It’s socially acceptable. So with some tolerance mustered I’ve been able to just go with the flow and realize it’s the name of game down here.
Cristina’s plan was to ride about 18 kilometers to Santana and get off there. But we were having some wonderful discussions and tons of fun on the bike so when we arrived I knew she wanted to pedal more and so did I. I invited her to pedal onwards to Posadas and even into Paraguay to meet my Couchsurfing host Jazmin and she accepted! She went back to the hostel, got her passport and a small backpack, and hopped a bus to catch up with me as I pedaled solo on the hot and hilly terrain. It was a glorious day to be alive but I still could not find any Argentine riders!
I must have asked 20 people that day riding from San Ignacio to Posadas to ride. Most of them were in groups and waiting for buses or at rest stops but they all opted to take the bus instead of pedal. Again, I imagine that the huge hills and hot weather might have had something to do with it. Luckily I had my ipod on with excellent tunes rollin’ and knew that Cristina’s bus would soon arrive to ride into Posadas so I didn’t take the repeated rejection to heart.
At about sunset I was waved down by Cristina just outside Posadas and we hammered the pedals to beat the darkness and made it in safely in the dark. We grabbed some ice cream, found some maps at the tourist office and landed a cool historic hotel for only 5 bucks each and hit the town for dinner.
We both fell in love with Posadas, especially that night. The weather was warm and everyone was outside walking the town with their family. We ran in the fountains with the kids, met the locals, shared my last Argentine steak dinner and even headed out for a taste of the nightlife. An epic final day in Argentina. The next day we had a short pedal to the border of Paraguay and crossed the bridge into Encarnacion just in time to meet our host Jazmin and connect with her entire family for Father’s Day.
Although it may seem like Argentina was more downs than ups, I look back at my days there and smile. Argentina was the country were I finally “settled in” and began to understand the rhythm of this continent and its people. I also had some time to check in with myself and surrender a few areas where I was holding on a bit too tight. I’m happy to say the ascension personally, physically and spiritually has continued to the town of Asunción, Paraguay where I’ll soon be climbing my way into the mountains of Bolivia next week. I’m back in my ridin’ rhythm and life is goooood!
Live Big. Give Big. Love Big.
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