Monday, 31 October 2011

Riding Jock

Hello everybody.  It's me again, checking in from Antofagsta, Chile. 

Jock in case you were wondering (and no I have not changed my sexual persuasion) is the name of the big yellow truck that is accompanying us throughout the Vuelta Sudamerica tour, and transports our food and equipment.  When necessary it also transports sick or tired out riders.  I unfortunately fell into the category of the former after the mystery bug I mentioned in a previous post decided I was its next victim.  The last rest day was in Bahia Inglesa and since then there have been 4 cycling days till here (Antofagasta).  Of those 4 cycling days I was only able to complete 2 due to the bug.  I am still not 100% but I am getting there, and tomorrow is a rest day, so very good news for me (not wanting to miss any more riding days).

Jock in desert camp

Someone adding their touch of humour to poor Jock

I know most folks prefer reading tales of misery and woe and overcoming obstacles rather than tales of joy and easy sailing (I blame the press for that), so I will start with the tale of my misery the last few days.  It all started on the night we stayed in Taltal.  That day I had decided (for a change) to ride with the slowest riders rather than being out alone upfront, or with the "same old same old" crowd.  Strangely enough it didn't feel any easier than when I cycled upfront so I figured I wasn't quite in tip top condition, and that maybe I was slightly under the weather.  Other than that I was eating and drinking fine.  Then in the nighttime my stomach started to protest and I knew that it was going to be a rough night.  At first it was just vomiting, but as the night progressed liquid was coming out of both ends of my body.  I didn't get a wink of sleep and neither did those in the tents around me.  In the morning I was completely dehydrated and just knew that riding would be a big mistake and would have made thing much worse, especially as the day involved a 2,000m climb.  So I did what I had not imagined I would be doing on this tour, and I took the truck.  Most of the day I slept and then when we arrived to the desert camp at 2,000m I found some shade and continued sleeping.  Later in the day all my joints began to ache and I was feeling weaker and weaker, the latter most likely exaserbated by the hot desert sun, with the temp being in the high 30s.  By dinner time however I felt slightly better and managed to eat and drink a little.

I slept very well in my tent last night in desert camp, but when I woke up I still didn't feel good.  My joints were aching more than the previous night, this time most likely exaserbated by the cold desert morning (deserts have such crazy temperature variations between night and day it seems), and I knew that riding would have been a bad idea.  So I did the unimaginable again, and took the truck for a second day.  When we arrived at the hotel in Antofagasta I went straight to bed and slept for quite some hours.  Now it is evening here, and I am out in the city and feeling much perkier.  With a lie in tomorrow I may be back to my usual self.

The 2 riding days before I got sick were very nice ones.  The first day from Bahia Ingelesa to the Pan de Azuchar national park was a fast 130km ride due to a tailwind for most of the day.  There were some rolling hills but they were usually low enough that momentum could carry you up most of the climb.  The morning was not quite so nice as the afternoon, as we were cycling on the Pan American highway (or route 5 as it is called here) and in some places the hard shoulder became narrow and it was a tough choice between braving the speeding trucks or having a rough ride in the gravel at the edge of the road.  I tried to cycle on the smoother road but then hop onto the verge everytime I heard a truck behind me.  These are the times when I try to make sure I am not riding alone and that I am neither riding at the front nor the back, so that all I have to do is make sure I am sticking out less than the others.  In the afternoon we left route 5 and went onto a silt road that was pretty smooth for most of its duration.  The route passed through the Pan de Azuchar national park and the scenery although desert like was very stunning.  That night we got yet another chance to camp on the beach and we were the only people staying at the beach that night despite it being a long holiday weekend here.

The Pan de Azuchar national park

In the afternoon Eric and I (who had arrived first and so had plenty of spare time on our hands) wandered into the nearby fishing village to see if there were any boat tours on offer, as apparently there are quite a few dolphins and penguins in the region.  We were in luck and a local fisherman said we could hire him and his boat for the equivalent of 100USD.  He said that he could take up to 19 people, so we went back to the group who by now had mostly arrived, and rounded up 8 other willing volunteers, making 10 of us in total.  When we arrived back at the village we donned our lifejackets and eagerly awaited our departure.  After an interesting embarkment where one passenger was left stranded on the beach with the boat heading out to sea with the rest of us onboard, we went back and picked her up and then we headed out again.  Just round the corner from the port we saw a group of pelicans and then a pimpernel (so called because it has a red beak) and then a whole host of other sea birds whose names I don't recall.  Then it was off to the island that hosts 5,000 Humboldt penguins.  We could see the poo long before we saw the penguins but once we got closer to shore there were plenty of penguins to be seen too.  And the skipper informed us that we had chosen the best time of day to do the tour as during the day the penguins are out at sea catching fish and you don't see so many.  After seeing enough penguins that you might feel you are sick of penguins, if you were not a penguin lover like myself, we saw the next gem, a group of sea lions lounging around on top of some rocks.  Then it was full speed back to port ready so that a group of hungry cyclists could get their evening supper.

The following day the ride started off on the same silt road that we had been on the previous day, and there was almost no traffic.  Not far from the camp we were lucky enough to spot a family of 3 vicuñas.  They are a relative of the llama and were once considered endangered animals.  They didn't seem scared of us at all, and I was able to approach one on my bike to within 15m before he casually walked off.  What a treat that was for the day.  After that we continued our ride on the silt road towards higway 5, which by now has became our good old friend.  The first half of the ride was uphill, the middle part rolling, and the final section downhill to Taltal.  Once again the hard shoulder became very narrow in places, and I chose this time to cycle continuously in the gravel verge as despite being gravel it was not that rough a ride.  Taltal was also a beach camp, but this time there were lots of other people on the beach, most of whom left once it was dark.  We did get some new vistors in the night though, a couple of cars that decided to come down to the beach and park near our tents and play the same reggaeton song over and over again all night.  I was too busy throwing up to be bothered by them, but I am amazed the rest of the group was able to sleep through it or abstain from going over to them and asking them to turn it down.

From Antofagasta we now have 3 more riding days before we get to San Pedro de Atacama, where we will spend 2 full rest days.  There will be quite some climbing to be done before then though.  Then one of the highlights of the trip awaits us, cycling on the salt flats where apparently you can close your eyes and cycle for one hour if you are brave enough to try it.  The problem there will be navigation more than anything else.  And if it rains our bikes will be write offs from all the salty water that will get on them.  So lets pray for no rain when we are there.

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