Happy New Year from somewhere close to the ends of the earth!

By the time this reaches you my guess is that it will be well past the last day of 2007.  A Happy New Year to all of you – may 2008 be our best yet!

As I write this – I really don’t know where I am.  I can tell you what it took for me to get here.

Our Hotel in the Woods

Our Hotel in the Woods

There is a village we passed called Villa Angostura but we rode our bikes so deep into the woods that I don’t know if I am somewhere else.  Oh well, it just does not matter.   It looks more like someone’s home than a hotel and Mark – the owner of Naranjo en Flor– has given us full reign to wander as we wish.  His dog Bono is not allowed in the house but sits at the front door waiting for us to come sit on the bench, chat with him and pet his head.  There is a huge window here in my room that looks over the Andes, the trees and a glacier lake.  I can’t think of anywhere better to spend New Years Eve.

So, how did I get here?

When I last signed off I was running out the door for an 11 hour trip that would take us to

Our Boat Arrives

Our Boat Arrives

Argentina.  On the 28th, we traveled across the Andes via a series of boats and bus shuttles.  In this area, the traffic comes OR goes.  There is no coming AND going.  The pass roads are too narrow, unpaved (often washed out) and a regular car cannot make it.  So the one company that shuttles people over the pass goes one way for a few hours and comes back the next way for a few hours.  The departure/arrival times are approximante!  A new Spanish word for me!
The boats took us over stunning, pristine glacier lakes.  Each trip

Our Path

Our Path

we were surrounded by snow capped mountains and water so clean you could often see to the bottom.  While we waited for the next mode of transportation to arrive there were waterfalls to hike to, locals cooking home made empanadas (that are to die for) or played cards (that became quite competitive).  Everyone is really settling in and gets along rather well.  You can feel the difference in the group as we all gel a bit more together (a lot of wine the night before didn’t hurt either).

The biggest change however was the weather.  From 85 – 90 degrees, the temperature

Heading Across the Pass

Heading Across the Pass

plummeted to 40.  The clouds rolled in quickly over the mountains and you could see rain on various peaks.  But at times the sun would come out and the layers were shed.  The list of what to bring for the “unexpected” was vast – and it was accurate!!!!!

Although it was a “rest” day the 14 hour journey (told you it was approximante!) left us all pretty worn out.

We stayed at the world renowned Llao Llao (pronounced Shao Shao) – it’s a stunning lodge

Llao Llao Resort

Llao Llao Resort

built on a hill overlooking the glacial lake.  They have a world class restaurant but everyone was so tired we only managed simple soups and salads.

On the 29th – we had a 50 mile bike ride that was actually great fun.  We are now further up in the Andes and the hills are getting higher, steeper and longer but we’ve all conditioned quite well.  However, the wind has whipped up and throughout the day we were dealing with winds 35 – 40 MPH.  It was a little crazy – but still great fun.  You would get a running start up a hill only to be stopped dead in your tracks, the pedaling just stalled.  It was “riding against the wind” like I have never experienced.  Before I started this trip I was already worried about the mountains and now the wind was adding a unique dimension to the experience.

But this bike day had a lot of interesting stops along the way – a small cemetery where mountain

An Honored Mountaineer

An Honored Mountaineer

climbers from all over the world are buried.  It’s considered an honor so there were names from all over the globe.  There was a lavender farm (I bought the tackiest saches and was ridiculed by the group until they all decided what I bought was so ugly it was cute.  Now everyone is jealous.), a ski lift that took us to the top of the mountain for even more spectacular views and of course – lunch!

Lunch is always our favorite.  Today it was fondue at a place

MMMM - Fondue!

MMMM - Fondue!

called Cheddar!  What a feast.  Somehow I thought I was going to lose a few pounds on this trip and the whole table (veterans of Backroads trips) laughed at the idea.  Once the Chocolate Fondue was served I began to get the idea.  The ride home was quite the challenge with a full stomach of cheese.

At the end of the day I am always amazed at the beauty I’ve seen, the laughs I have shared and the goals I have accomplished.
Our guides seem to like our group – they call us undisciplined, but fun.  The 29th

We'll Take Two!

We'll Take Two!

was their night off but they like us so much that they invited us to go into the local town of Bariloche and share a meal at one of their favorite restaurants.

It’s a Parrilla – a meat lovers’ heaven.  Parrilla’s are restaurants dedicated to meat.  We left the ordering in the capable hands of our guides and enjoyed the non-stop bottles of wine that seemed to fly from the shelves to our tables.  At one point we just started getting up and getting them ourselves as the waiters were busy with

Fabulous Malbecs

Fabulous Malbecs

other tables and they couldn’t keep up with us.  I vaguely remember seeing something that looked like lettuce and tomatoes on the table but I can’t be sure – our menu consisted of:

Appetizers:  Chorizo, some other kind of sausage and blood sausage
Special Gift from the house:  Empanadas – with steak or chicken
Main Course:  Steak, Ribs, Filets
Second Course:  Chicken
Dessert:  25 different things just kept going back and forth – I can’t even tell you what they were!

Emmanuel explained that it would be an insult to the chef if we did not eat everything.  We were thankful for 6’ 3” Sandy at the end of the table.  We just kept sending everything his way.  Before driving to the restaurant Florent had assured us that the bill would not possibly be more than $ 25 per person – it was the record set by a previous group years ago. Our goal was to beat that!  We smashed it by a whopping $40/person.  Emmanuel and Florent were shocked and our entire table cheered.  The chefs thought we were hysterical and tried to make us more meat.

We arrived back at the hotel and continued the fete in the bar.  Our guides finally reminded us that last week (yes, last week) Argentina voted at the last minute to move the clocks ahead.  It was really 2:30am and we had a HUGE ride the next day.

We finished the last drop of Malbec and shuffled off to bed.

The morning of the 30th arrived and it was not a pretty picture.  For two reasons – yes, there were a lot of headaches including a slight throb of my own.  I was one of the few who actually got out of bed that morning.   The other reason the day was “not pretty” was that it was pouring rain, 40 degrees and gusts of wind up to 50 MPH.  I had sworn up and down before I left that in the event of this kind of weather I would be sitting in the van with a bottle of Malbec.  But something odd has set in.  I came all this way and I (surprisingly) wanted to experience it ALL.  Only 3 of us decided to ride.

Everyone else retreated to their rooms to sleep, read books or play video games.  Florent was our “rider” for the day and he was thrilled that he had company.  I’m telling you – these guides are pretty hard core.  They live for this stuff.  If the guests had not gone they would have ridden by themselves.

We all wore long pants, layers of tops, short biking gloves and long fleece gloves over those.  We were pretty bundled up but the wind could still get through you.

The “ride” for the day was a 30 mile ascent straight up a mountain.  And before we go any further – YES, I rode straight up a mountain for 30 miles!!!!!!  Who knew?!

Rain, Rain Go Away...

Rain, Rain Go Away...

I certainly did not.  Alex, Gloria and I rode with Florent.  Within 10 minutes all of us were thoroughly soaked through and the wind was doing it’s best to push us down hill.   We were not going to give up.

The first 10 miles were paved windy roads where water was pouring down the mountains and Florent warned us of landslides.  At the 8 mile mark Emmanuel and Julio (who were driving the back-up van) were waiting for us by a raging stream and a coffee shack that looked like someone had put it up yesterday.  They were convinced that the the three of were going to give in.  At this point we were all soaked through to the skin, with mud splatters up our bodies and decorating our faces but, we all loved the slack mouthed stares we were receiving from the cars driving by.  We were not giving up.

The second 10 miles we turned off the paved road and hit a back country dirt road that twisted and turned, that had holes and pits and that went up, up, up.

Florent & Gloria

Florent & Gloria

Although the rain had stopped, we struggled through the dirt that was now sand and sucking our tires down but we pushed on and once again the “magic van” with Emmanuel and Julio appeared.

They had snacks and sun screen. Emmanuel said the sun was trying to peak through.  As we stood there eating some dried fruit the sun came out and everyone grabbed for the sunscreen only to be disappointed 1 minute later when the sun passed.  Oh, well.

Gloria talks non-stop and it’s not a two sided conversation.  “I really like my jacket let me tell you where I got it…”, “I always support my clients by buying their products, let me tell you all the companies in my mutual fund.”  “Did you see how I rode so fast up that hill?”  My fellow rider Alex has the patience of a saint and I let him have the space next to Gloria.  The “chatting” was endless.  Here I am in the most stunning place and all I can hear is Gloria gabbing away.

I start to pedal slower and let the distance grow until I can’t hear her anymore.  After a while Florent rides back to check on me:

”Patteeeee (very French) – are you OK?”
“Yes, I am just fine.” I reply
“You are so far from Gloria and Alex?”
I was trying to be tactful so that he did not think I was unhappy as they take these things very seriously.
“I prefer the quiet of nature, Florent”.
He started laughing so hard he had to stop his bike.  They are never allowed to say anything about the guests.  He just kept laughing and then said:
“I think  I will enjoy the quiet with you.”

So, I rode all day with Florent. When it was possible to get enough breath to speak we spoke about Provence, Paris, Italy, etc.  He is a charming man with a great love for just showing others a part of the world.

Right before the last BIG climb (6 miles) of paved open road that twisted up the

See You at the Top!

See You at the Top!

mountain to a ski village, we met the van.  I asked Emmanuel to stay close as I did not know if I could make this last section.  From below it looked like Everest.  While Julio drove, Emmanuel would hang out the window and cheer us all on.  (Mind you this is the guy who holds the world record for riding from Alaska to Argentina and could do this climb at Lance Armstrong speed).  Around one corner the wind would slam us straight in the face – once almost knocking me and Florent right over.  Around the next corner the wind would gust and push us up the hill a few yards.  I liked those gusts.

I made it.

Emmanuel and Julio were at the top of the mountain waiting to give us all big hugs and high fives.  I suggested that this moment called for champagne.

Cheers!

Cheers!

Emmanuel ran to the van and magically brought out a bottle!  We popped the cork and drank straight from the bottle cheering our accomplishment.  Once again, I amazed myself.  I was certainly not the fastest one up the mountain but, we were a select group that took the challenge that day.  After a quick lunch we rode all the way down!!!!  So, much easier!

For the Ride Back!

For the Ride Back!

Dinner that night was a quiet one.  I think everyone was saving it up for New Years.

New Years Eve day we were moving on so, the bags were outside the room at 8am

Parque Nacional Arrayanes

Parque Nacional Arrayanes

and we met to depart at 9am.  Today was a combination of things.  We took a boat for an hour across the lake in front of our hotel and arrived in the stunning Parque Nacional Arrayanes at the foot of the Andes Mountains.  We hiked across a peninsula for 7 miles enjoying the beautiful forest of protected trees.

Beautiful Arrayanes Trees

Beautiful Arrayanes Trees

Of course, since we had such a long hike, our guides wanted to make sure that we had plenty of

What a Treat!

What a Treat!

nourishing food so somehow, Emmanuel arranged for hot empanadas to be delivered in the middle of the forest.  Yummy!!!!!

At the end of our lovely hike, the rest of the guides met us with a lovely picnic by a lake.  Our bikes were waiting for us and we took off for the final 20 mile jaunt to the hotel where we are now.  Like I said – I’m not 100% sure where that is.

Last night was a big night.  Florent and Emmanuel are friends with an owner at a lovely restaurant so we were headed there.  Of course, our host at the hotel had drinks for us beginning at 7:30 and then we traveled to Villa La Angostura for a 10pm dinner.  The dinner was wonderful and I was happy to sit next to Florent.  It was nice to have a faux-date for the evening!  The dancing began at 1am and now I really understood what they meant that the Argentinians party until dawn.  I finally gave up at 4am – but let’s face it – when has anyone in recent times heard me ever say I was dancing until 4am!

Today it is New Years and I believe this is the best way for me to start a new year.  Due to recent events before I left (for those who don’t know I am no longer employed) the year is blank page.  I don’t know what I will fill it with but I look forward to the possibilities of 2008.

Today is a rest day with small rides in the 20 – 30 mile range.  Funny how that’s a “small ride”.  Tomorrow is the big one – 100 miles (or slightly more as Emmanuel says – and we know he cannot be trusted where size is the subject).  It will be a 7 – 10 hour ride and then we will say our good-byes at dinner.

So – this is probably it from the adventure. I will let you know if I complete the 100.  I am back in Buenos Aires on January 3rd.

I hope everyone is doing well and looking forward to the possibilities that 2008 holds for all of you!

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