The Grand Finale & Finish

1/3/2020

It is time for the grand finale of my bicycle journey over the American continent. In the last months of 2017, I was still not sure where I was going to start. With the help of the world map of Google Flights, I was exploring potential places to fly to, on the basis of the little dots that mark all the airports.

 

Via this world map, there was a tiny dot in the corner of Canada that drew my attention. I selected this dot and it turned out to be the airport of Sydney. Sydney? In Canada? Apparently, Australia wasn’t the only place on earth with a city that’s called Sydney. It’s lying on the end of the Cape Breton Island (part of Nova Scotia).

 

To give you an idea of where I started

 

The intended end goal has always been the Southernmost city in the world, namely the Argentinian city of Ushuaia. So back then, from behind my laptop screen, it seemed like an appropriate starting point to start from this Canadian edge. Long story short: I bought a single ticket to Sydney.

 

On the 15th of February 2018, I left the Netherlands as an ignorant person that had never been outside Europe before (that doesn’t make you automatically ignorant, though!). After three flights, I finally arrived at the airport of Sydney, in the middle of the night. My plan was to spend the night at the airport and to actually cycle to Sydney the following day. That unfolded in a different way, though!

 

A friendly looking women approached me while I was still waiting for my bike box to arrive. She asked me what I was still doing at the airport and if she could help with something. I told her that I planned to spend the night at the airport before cycling to Sydney the next day to start a bicycle journey. For a moment, she thought that I had mixed up the Australian and the Canadian Sydney’s, because that happens sometimes. It was still winter in Canada, meaning that it’d be summer in Australia. What kind of crazy person starts a bike trip from Canada in January? Well, that was that ignorant me!

 

After a little while, the women, Lorrie, approached me again and she invited me to go to her house to spend the night there. That’s how I got to know Lorrie, Leroy and the Hodder Family. They were the first persons that I’ve met, and many many many people followed. A couple of acclimatisation days later, i was ready to start this incredible trip.

 

Leroy and Lorrie, unforgettable!

The unexperienced nitwit himself

Ydney

 

I didn’t have a planning and I honestly thought that it would take me like a year to reach Ushuaia, but after one year, I was ‘only’ in Panama. Around that time, my father told me that he was going to retire later that year. The first thing that came to my mind was to invite him to join me for the last part of the trip. There were some doubts, but he luckily decided to do it in the end.

 

In the meantime, my fathter and I have been cycling together for two-and-a-half months already, in which we have covered thousands of kilometers and in which we are about to reach Ushuaia together. I could never imagine such an ending in Sydney.

 

My father wrote the previous story and he ended it in Punta Arenas, a big Chilean port city from where we would take another ferry. This ferry leaves to Tierra del Fuego. This is a huge island (bigger than the Netherlands) that is not connected to the mainland of America. It felt like an important mile stone to leave the American mainland behind and it felt like the beginning of the end. The ferry was much bigger than the ones we have had earlier, as this one could take big trucks as well.

 

The boat was already waiting for us

 

A last view on Punta Arenas, the end of mainland America

 

On the other side of the crossing, we arrived in El Porvenir, a small village that has been founded at the end of the 19th century. Just before its founding, at the northside of the island, the discovery of a small amount of gold triggered a gold rush within the region. Many westerns moved to the island to try their luck. The results? Pretty meager. It did trigger some regional development, though, and was the reason why El Porvernir was founded.

 

Back to the present. The island has a couple of rural (unpaved) roads that my father and I wanted to cycle. The island’s known for its many ‘estancias’ these are big (private) pieces of land that are being used for cattle breeding. We passed many and we could even spend the night at some. Starting from Porvenir, we cycled for three days around the bahía inútil, or ‘useless bay’. The Spanish called it like that when they first arrived here and couldn’t find a place to moor. At the end of the bay, there is a little colony of king pinguins that we had to visit. Very special to have seen those animals in their natural habitat.

 

A fishing hut next to the

 

 It literally took us days to cycle around this bay

 

 The colony of king pinguins

 

We deviated from the common route to be able to cycle in a more quiet environment, and this was a very good decision. We cycled for days through this massive landscape with predominantly the wind in ours backs. We had one rainy day over here, and we happened to find a luxurious place to sleep, right next to a biomass factory. Pretty special that they have a biomass factory here, in the middle of nowhere. Oh, we also passed a huge rusty dredge that was once used for the gold mining. It was shipped from England in 1904. It has become a national monument in the meantime and it’s just standing in the middle of a field.

 

A rusty iron goldseekers

 

The day that we left the comfortable hotel next to the biomass factory was also the day that we would cross the border for the last time. Before we reached this border, we passed a final Chilean hamlet called Pampa Guanaco. I asked at a police station if there was a place to buy a coffee. It was pretty cold and windy outside, so we both were desperate for a hot drink. There was nothing here, is what he tol dus, but we could come inside for a while if we wanted. We were invited into the kitchen and were offered a nice cup of coffee and some bread. A warm and comfortable stop, before we continued our way to the border. Goodbye Chile! For the last time, we waved at all the Chilean lama’s that were running away like we wanted to kill them. They don’t move an inch when cars pass by, but when these weird creatures on a bike get close, they run for their lives.

 

Tierra del Fuego

What would be the prevailing wind direction?

The little police station

 

Hello Argentina for the last time! The immigration offices are the only way of knowing that you’ve switched countries, because everything is exactly the same. The Argentinian lama’s were still shy, the landscape was still wide and empty, the wind was still blowing and the sun was still shining. Even the gaucho’s (cowboys) were looking exactly the same on their horse with their traditional clothing.

 

The pampa landscape suddenly ended the next day when we approached Rio Grande. We returned to the paved highway in which we counted more cars in 5 minutes than in the 3 days before. Rio Grande already looked pretty dull from a distance, and that didn’t change when we got closed. Argentina wants to develop its industry on the island, so they have a beneficial tax regime. As a consequence, many factories have decided to move their assembly plant over here. The salaries are a bit higher than in the rest of Argentina, so the city automatically attracts people and is naturally growing. So it’s really one of those industrial cities without any authenticity. Since we ran out of food, we didn’t have a choice and had to go in. We even stayed here for two extra days so that I could upload a new blog and do some other administrational stuff.

 

The non-existing skyline of Rio Grande

 

I’ve also arranged a bike box for my father and me. Bike boxes are hard to get in Ushuaia as all the cyclists (we’re definitely not alone!) are looking for them right now. So I managed to find two in this city and shipped them to Ushuaia for a ridiculously low price.

 

Arranging the bike boxes in Rio Grande

 

Another mile stone was the moment when we first saw Ushuaia on the road signs. It was the moment when we realized that we were really close to the end now. It was also the moment when we realized that we were going to make it to the end goal on time! We were even ahead of our non-existing schedule. That meant that we had some extra days that we used to take a small detour.

 

The first sign with Ushuaia

 

We didn’t really like the highway without one centimeter of space for cyclists. After cycling out of Rio Grande, we could turn off the highway after 15 kilometers already. For the last time, we returned in this oasis of quietness that we were already missing while we were still in it. We cycled on ‘la ruta de las estancias’, the estancia route, an unpaved route of about 130 kilometers. This took us an extra day but it was worth it!

 

 Apocalyps, the sheep are taking over!

 

 

On the second day, we were looking for a place to spend the night and I approached an estancia to ask for a sheltered place. It was pretty windy that day. We got to talk with Mirna, a blonde women of 73 years old that has been living here her entire life. She looked a bit distrustful at first, but we were invited for a coffee once she realized that we were just two innocent cyclists. Mirna told us a little bit about the history of her family and the island. Her grandfather, a Croatian man, moved to Tierra del Fuego at the end of the 19th century, just before the gold rush started here. In that time, Argentina was giving away big pieces (25.000 acres) land in you’d use it for cattle raising (I think they were afraid Chile would steal if from them, otherwise).

 

A special meeting with a very friendly family

 

Mirna’s family took advantage of these regulations and they currently possess 75.000 acres of land. They even have an employee that is only working on the fences that surround all the land that they own. It happened to be carnaval on the day that we got here, so Mirna’s entire family from Buenos aires and Chile came to this estancia for a couple of days. This meant that there was no space for us, but her sun owned another estancia 8 kilometers further ahead, so we could go there if we wanted.

 

After about eight kilometers, we arrived at estancia Indiana, where the administrator approached us on his quad. We could use one of the abandoned houses and we were really happy with this place. Especially since it started raining 5 minutes after we were inside. Oh and we saw an amazing (double) rainbow.

 

 © Dad

 

Three days of cycling and one more beautiful climb later, the moment was there. We cycled on a curvy road and after the final corner, two giant columns appeared with “USHUAIA” written on them. We did it!!!! I can’t really describe this in words, but I’m really proud of my father (and a little bit of myself). He started from Santiago de Chile without any training or experience and became a strong experienced bicycle tourist in the blink of an eye. I’m really grateful that have done these last three months together with my dad and that’s a memory that we will cherish for the rest of our lives. I sound like an old man when I say that, but I just know that it’s the truth. Luckily, we didn’t have any injuries or illnesses so we didn’t have to skip a single centimeter.

 

The view from the last climb...

 

Our accommodation for the last night before Ushuaia...

 

 

 

 

 Ushuaia!!!

We did it!

 

Now that you’ve read about three pages already about this last story about the American continent, I can probably continue for a little bit longer. I would like to thank you! Thank you for following my journey. I know that time is our most valuable asset, so thank you for spending a part of it on reading my stories. It has become an unforgettable trip for me, and I hope that I have been able to share this with my stories. I think I’m just going to bundle all these 48 stories, put a staple in it and take this paperwork to the nearest publishing house. ‘Orangeguyonabike in America’, doesn’t sound too bad, does it?

 

Speaking of which…

It sounds like everything is going to finish here, which has always been the idea. However, that idea has changed. Since I have a little bit of money (and lots of time) left, I will continue for a bit more. On the 4th of March, I will fly from Ushuaia to Seville in Southern Spain. My father will go home from here, he doesn’t want to leave my mother for longer than three months 😊.

 

After I arrive in Seville, my sister will visit me there. We haven’t seen each other for a year and a half, so we are really looking forward to this! After a week, she will fly back to the Netherlands and my friend Tom will be the next one to visit me. Tom and his sister Nina vistited me last year in Colombia, and the idea of cycling together started there. This idea will become a reality. He’s currently still busy with all the preparation, but he will fly with his bicycle to Seville and we will cycle home from there.

 

‘Orangeguyonabike in Europe’ is a fact!

 

To be continued…

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©2019 by Jelle.