Last time we wrote we had a shocking announcement: we were going to quit riding south, and instead fly all the way to the bottom and bike back up. Surprisingly, Cancun marked the halfway point for our trip. We had ridden 9,220 miles to get there and had about 9,000 and some miles left to go. After crunching the numbers we realized that we would get to the far south during their spring. It would be bitterly cold, and the mountain passes would still be snowed in. As a result, we decided to fly south from Cancun and hit the summer season while riding back north.
Now, we are actually in Punta Arenas, the southernmost Chilean city. We are so happy that we are here in the summer, because even now it is so so cold! It reached a high of around 50 degrees F today, and that certainly didn’t include the windchill from the 20 mph ‘breeze’ that mostly blew directly in our faces as we rode to town from the airport. Needless to say, we are glad we packed the extra down coats!
So let me fill you in, just a tiny bit, on what it took to get here from Merida on the Yucatan Peninsula. We spent three days cranking out 200 flat, boring miles to Cancun. Highlights from these days were… finishing a great book on tape, and reaching Cancun. Once in Cancun we checked into a hostel that was essentially 15 bunk beds in one big room. Surprisingly, it was very quiet at night and we had a nice time. We also took the bikes to a local bike shop that packed them up for us in airline-approved cardboard boxes. It was very worth it for us, considering that it cost less than $15 per bicycle, and that last time we did it ourselves we needed 4 hours to finish the task.
We also cut a deal with a taxi guy who had a car big enough to fit the bikes. He would give us 100 pesos off the fare to the airport if we dealt with him directly and didn’t call the taxi company. Great! We made a plan for when he would pick us up. The next morning we were early for pickup, of course, which made the other taxi guys on our street start to get excited about stealing some business. We spent an amusing 15 minutes with them as they tried to figure out how they could get 2 bike boxes, 2 big boxes of gear, 4 small bags, and 2 people all into a sedan. Apparently, the taxis aren’t that expensive if you speak Spanish and can get the drivers into a bidding war! We could have gotten to the airport for 1/3 cheaper than advertised rates. Eventually though, the original driver came and got us in his big car.
In the US, getting a bicycle on a plane is a huge deal. When we flew to Alaska we had to pay $400 to get all our gear on with us. For this trip we were dreading the cost to get them all the way to Patagonia. To our amazement, however, there was zero cost at all. The agent at check-in just advised us to put more tape on our boxes to reinforce them, then sent everything down the conveyor belt. That’s right – no fee for oversized luggage, no extra fees, nothing. We were in awe.
The flight was great too – a massive airplane that was only about 2/3 full. We each had an interactive screen, they offered us wine, and fed us two meals. I think I may stop flying domestically in the US and only fly to Argentina and Chile from now on!
We arrived in Punta Arenas around 6 am, and spent the next three hours in a sleep-deprived haze as we re-assembled the bicycles in the airport. It was with great excitement that we finally opened the doors and rode off into Patagonia. Immediately we noticed a few things: it was cold, rugged, and windy. It was also wildflower season, but we were too cold and tired to get our cameras out. We’ll get some photos for the next post, we promise.
We have been in Punta Arenas for close to three days, getting prepared for the next leg of the trip. Patagonia is a frontier land that is over-run with backpackers. The cities have dozens of hostels, some of which allow camping in the yard. We wandered the city, visiting museums and walking the waterfront.
We also took an afternoon tour one day to see a penguin colony. The penguins were adorable, and we decided they were worth the scary trip on dirt roads in a van driven by crazy man.
Next we will ride North, mostly in Chile but also dipping a bit into Argentina. The roads are quite isolated here, and Wifi hard to come by, so don’t be worried if the next update is slow coming.