England: the South West

We were excited to be entering the South West region, however, first we had to cross the ‘Forest’.

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There were signs of wild boars but no wildlings were to be found. We passed unscathed. Onwards, negotiating the traffic of Gloucester, dusting ourselves down before we entered the perfect leafy streets of Cheltenham. No rest was to be had there. The Agombars tested our off road skills in the Cotswold back country.

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Nothing like being burnt off by a (nearly) 7 year old to put you in your place.

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It was difficult to leave the great hospitality of the Agombars. Best pizzas in Cheltenham – courtesy of their superbly built cob oven. However, Devon was calling so it was time to move on. We paused briefly in Tetbury before we were moved on.

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A brief foray into Wiltshire took us to the Thorntons. People’s hospitality was beginning to catch up with us and we were starting to grow bellies. We were joined for a section along the Avon and Kennet canal by Lydia and Tom. It is so nice to ride with company.

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The Bath / Bristol bike path was superb and got us traffic free into the wonderfully cycle friendly city of Brizzle.

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It was a novelty for us to be riding in a long line of cyclists, with bike lanes being two abreast due to the number of users. It was great to catch up with more BSES friends and our bikes enjoyed their first visit to an art gallery (http://www.itsall2much.com/JimStarr.html) Thanks for a great stay in Bristol Jim and Belinda.

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We cycled across the Clifton Suspension Bridge and were feeling on familiar turf now.

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Spring really had sprung.

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We enjoyed a good whizz down through Cheddar Gorge, dodging fallen rocks, tourists and sheep.

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A thoroughly enjoyable ride along the Bridgewater to Taunton canal.

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Very soon there was evidence that we had crept onto Exmoor….

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…and that Devon was just around the corner.

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It felt good to be on familiar Exmoor roads.

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Much excitement at the border crossing into ‘The Shire’.

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Followed by a superb downhill into Lynmouth.

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We couldn’t resist a ride on the Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway.

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Somehow the whole Hyne ensemble managed to squeeze onboard. Then it was a final steep kick up to Marine Heights.

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A suitably celebratory arrival awaited us.

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The weekend was spent catching up with my parents and commemorating my Grandad with an explosive indoor fireworks display.

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It was very difficult to drag ourselves away from the home comforts provided by the ‘crumblies’; washing machine, bed, roasts (yep, that’s plural!). However, time was ticking on. It was Monday morning and I had to be back at my desk on Friday. One final look at the sea…

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..and then we turned down the estuary, heading south to Hobbiton/Moreton.

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One final night under canvas…..

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…..and one final hail storm.

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We slowly pedaled our way along the Tarka trail, reluctant for the adventure to end.

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Hearts swelled at our first glimpse of Dartmoor.

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Despite the slowing of our pedaling, the end was nearing.

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The Hyne peleton was greeted appropriately.

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And then we were home.

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Somewhat bewildered by everything, we got off our bikes, brought them inside the house and celebrated with champagne in mugs.

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So, be gentle with us good friends. We are feeling a little lost now the adventure is finished and we are parted from our bikes. However, we manage to get up every day, breath in and out and attempt to fit back into society. Words fail me so I turn to the marvellous T.E. Lawrence to sum up how we feel:

“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”

Exploring the hinterlands: English Welsh border country

Our industrial north has provided us with plenty of canals which are great to follow by bike.  A flat ride with a variety of vessels to watch.

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We trended westwards and crossed the border into Wales. Our first stop was at the very impressive World Heritage Site of the Pontcysyllte aqueduct. 307m long and 38m high.

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We spent our first night in Wales in Llangollen where we had some serious route planning to do for the next few days. There was a brief discussion of how easy it would be to catch a ferry to Ireland to truly complete our UK tour. That idea was put to one side and I pondered on the possibility of reaching the Welsh coast within our time frame. The Badger’s eyebrows were raised at this suggestion so I realised that route maybe a bit ambitious so we agreed on his route taking in the Welsh hills. Within a few kilometres of leaving Llangollen we soon realised that Badge had surpassed me in challenging route choice…

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The struggle up the 20% hill out of Llangollen was tough but the view at the top was beautiful.

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Welsh lamb.

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The Welsh ‘hills’.

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Getting to grips with another new language.

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In search of dragons…

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We found a great camping spot behind the Llanfyllin Victorian Workhouse which is being renovated into a community building.

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Our Welsh visas were short, they were suspicious of Badge’s hairy looks, so we returned to England and the beauty of the Shropshire hills.

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The Youth Hostel at Clun is in a converted water mill and has the most perfect lawn for camping on.

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Not a bad view either.

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Another county pedalled through and soon we were in Herefordshire. We were beginning to see much more thatch and cider. The hills became more rounded and friendlier for cycling.

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We hugged the border and our final night in the hinterland was spent in the Wye Valley. Another lovely grassy camping spot attached to a Youth Hostel. Perfect for a snooze.

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We are within llama spitting distance of the South West. We can almost smell the cream teas and pasties of home.

England – The North

Our first stop over the border was Berwick upon Tweed. Beautiful old architecture and a very solid wall built to keep out the Scots. The sun shone as we left the town but the wind was building.

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We pedaled around the coast and stopped to have a look at Lindisfarne. The tides weren’t quite right for a crossing and we weren’t prepared to risk it.

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We followed the cost for a bit, then headed inland to Alnwick and then trended south westerly. Unfortunately the wind was attacking us head on and bringing some interesting weather with it. It was quite blowy across the moors.

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The weather began to deteriorate….

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…until it looked like this.

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Where was Spring? British riding was testing us somewhat and most definitely finding us wanting. The winds were strongly head on, the precipitation was cold and the roads were steep. We thought fondly back to those Argentinian days of seeking out shade and a barbecue with good red wine.

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We did have breaks in the weather that afforded us some spectacular views across Northumberland. A stunning county with superb roads for cycling.

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Eventually we had a glimpse of Spring….

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…. and even some sunshine.

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The roads were so busy around Kielder. We joined the traffic jam.

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Sometimes a tableau is so quintessentially English.

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We followed Hadrian’s Wall for a bit before popping into Cumbria.

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North Cumbria proved to be more tricky than anticipated. We had managed to navigate ourselves through the Americas without major mishap but we fell foul of the ‘classic’ Cumwhinton / Cumwhitton mistake. Several miles off course and in serious danger of missing out on Cumberland sausages followed by sticky toffee pudding we had to call in the Welton rescuers. Thankyou Chris and Henry for the lift and the excellent hospitality.

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A wet ride 10 miles down the road took us to Unthank (yep there’s two Unthanks within a 10 mile radius – we did not get fooled this time though). We encountered the toughest riding partner yet of the trip.

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After relentless riding up and down the drive we were allowed to rest up and enjoy some great hospitality with the Gilletts.

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And then we reached the Lake District.

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We took an off road alternative along Loughrigg Terrace for old times sake. Slightly more of a challenge than remembered and heavily laden on this trip.

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A proper trip down memory lane was had in Ambleside with a night at Melbourne (Millans Park) courtesy of Luke, a look around the new Charlotte Mason campus and a pint in the Golden Rule.

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With a bit of student-like rule breaking too.

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After coffee at The Drunken Duck Inn (hardly recognised the place) we headed round Coniston and southwards towards Barrow.

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The mist was thick so we never actually saw Barrow – was that a good or bad thing? We crossed over the bridge and finally made it onto Paradise Island, it’s only taken me 20 years to actually get to Walney. Border control was straight forward but the duty free queue was long. We had a great night with Mark and Sue. Check out Mark’s photos – http://www.lakelandlightphoto.com   Not too shabby for a boy from Walney. We were escorted off the Island the following morning.

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Higginsons in Grange over Sands. The picture says it all.

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We pedaled around the bay and stayed in Arnside. The weather was beginning to warm up.

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From Arnside we decide to head to the Forest of Bowland AONB. It was a large expanse of green on the map and neither of us had ever been there. What other reasons do you need? We were not disappointed.

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Lancashire was treating us well, Eccles cakes included. To top it off we stumbled across this gold post box (plus it was warm enough to be in a T shirt).

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We negotiated the urban areas of our industrial north and tackled the traffic of south Lancashire to pop out into lovely flat Cheshire and the wonderful hospitality of Debby and Ross in Congleton.

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They waved us off as we headed west along the canal, destination Wales: the land of daffodils, leeks, welsh cakes, male voice choirs, rugby and dragons. I was going in search of dragons….

Scotland: Aviemore to Berwick Upon Tweed

Badge has finished his tot-up of stats for the American part of the trip and here they are:

Alaska            3 weeks        1175 km

Canada           6 weeks        2520 km

USA                8 weeks         3010 km

Mexico            4 weeks         290 km

Peru               16 weeks        2676 km

Bolivia             3 weeks         1119 km

Argentina        5 weeks          1848 km

Chile               1 week            110 km

And here’s some bike stuff:

Punctures        6             ( Badge 6  Claire 0)

Tyres               5              ( Badge 3  Claire 2)

Spokes           5              ( Badge 4  Claire 1)

Chains            7              ( Badge 4  Claire 3)

Disc brake pads – 5 sets

And so, onto the next adventures back in the homeland. We were very excited to be back in Blighty and speaking English again. Our Spanish had improved but our vocabulary was limited to random cycling related words, such as strong legs and very hungry.

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We had a superb time with Doug and Lara. The weather was kind and we headed out for a day ride to check on the bikes after their flight.

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Back to the land of tea and cake – hurrah!

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After delaying our stay to include Lara’s Sunday Roast we finally tore ourselves away from the home comforts of Aviemore and headed off up Drumochter Pass.

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We had fantastic weather affording us superb views. We were even fortunate enough to see three red deer stags and a couple of red squirrels.

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We were following Sustans’ NCN Route 7. It was a mixture of quiet lanes and cycle paths through some stunning Scottish scenery. We managed to squeeze in a sneaky wild camp along the banks of Loch Tay…

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…. and awoke to a stunning morning.

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Not a bad lunch stop.

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Little bursts of sunshine.

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In Callander we awoke to snow. This made the lanes and cycle paths a bit more tricky.

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Some locals were better prepared than us for this kind of weather.

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Fresh tracks!

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Luckily we dropped out of the snow zone and had a scenic ride in to Glasgow….

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…. where we stayed with a BSES friend, thanks for the hospitality Susie. Team Ranford then accompanied us the next day along the Forth and Clyde canal towpath to the Falkirk Wheel, our own mini peloton.

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We then headed off, back as just Team Hyne, along the Union Canal to Edinburgh…

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… and then onto Portobello to stay with another BSES friend. Thanks Sally – great hospitality despite the lack of kitchen!

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The wind kept us busy whilst we pedaled around the coast on NCN route 76.

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Before we knew it we were at our final border crossing. The easiest one yet.

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It has been a bit of a shock to the body to go from 40C in Chile to 5C ish (and snow) in Scotland, with freezing temperatures overnight leading to frosts on the tent – brrrr! However, we have been enjoying catching up with people, the gorgeous scenery, the shared language and, of course, the many Cadburys products consumed. There has been much excitement over safe electrics in the bathroom and proper hot showers. New (to us) clothes have been scrounged from Doug which have kept us toasty warm and helped us not to look so much like homeless people. Re-entry into civilisation is slowly happening, however, Badge still has a tendency to lick his plate and is still somewhat fuzzy around the head area. They let us in the pub though, so all is good!

Onto the North of England. Land of stotties and Cumberland sausages!

Final weeks of riding in the Americas: Cafayate, Argentina, to Santiago, Chile

It has been a tough but rewarding few weeks of pedaling. We have put in some long days as towns have been far spaced and it has been necessary to reach them for water. However, interspersed between the long hot days have been some wonderful campsites and delicious barbecues and wine. The Argentinians have been very friendly and, yet again, South American hospitality has proven to be warm and generous.

The scenery has been spectacular with the vastness of the landscape reminding us of our ride through Alaska. Big wide valleys and impressive mountains all around.
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Sometimes it felt like the road was endless.
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Sometimes we road through the desert.
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To fortify us through the hardships we fortunately had empanadas. In Argentina you buy them by the dozen.
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We also found heavily laden fig trees to raid and I found an alternative use for my helmet.
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The camping has been varied. We have had ‘heated’ wild camping in desert areas where the warmth of the day radiates up from the ground all night, creating a sauna effect within the tent. However, the discomforts of the night are always negated by the glorious sunrises.
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Sometimes we thought we were heading to a campsite only to discover it is closed. However, it is often possible to still camp there but the facilities may be less than perfect. As these options are usually free we are content to shoulder a few hardships. We now have quite a good knowledge of toilet plumbing. Sometimes these options can turn out to be real gems. This campsite was at a closed thermal baths, however, we still had access to the baths. It’s the cleanest I’ve been all trip.
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Sometimes lovely Argentinians take pity on us cyclists and invite us to camp in their backyards. Thank you Oscar.
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And sometimes, when you’re just quietly sitting in a town plaza having a drink, someone will approach you for a chat and when you ask them if there’s any camping nearby they will whistle at a passing car, which will stop and you will then follow to one of the nicest cheapest hidden campsites you’ve ever been to. Camping on grass!
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There have been some interesting road signs in Argentina.
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Eventually all great partnerships disband as members need to strike out on their own for their own adventures. In San Juan we parted with our beloved Aussie tandem pals and headed forth as a team of two. Bremma, it has been a real pleasure and we look forward to further explorations together.
We headed south to Mendoza where we visited a vineyard that we knew through our membership with Naked Wines. Mauricio Lorca’s Bodega received us warmly and gave us a very interesting tour around. As it is harvest time there was a lot going on. We had a super time.
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They were kind enough to give us the remainders of the bottles we had tasted.
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We felt we needed to do justice to such fine wines and therefore had a final Argentinian barbecue to accompany them
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Leaving Mendoza did not turn out to be the ride we had anticipated. It was one of the worst riding days of the trip. In South America we had sought out the quieter roads, usually dirt and gravel ones. Therefore it was a real shock when we got onto Ruta 7 and were confronted by a steady stream of trucks, buses and cars. Within 6 kilometres we had been run off the road three times by on coming trucks overtaking other vehicles. The road did not have a shoulder and the ground next to the road had recently been graded so was soft, sandy and pebbly. On the occasions when we had to exit the road; Badge got spat off his bike onto the ground and I got spat back onto the road. The final words my colleague Richard said to me when I left work were ringing in my ears ‘Don’t get squashed or crushed”. Team Hyne gathered together on the rocky shoulder, had a discussion, mopped up the tears, and then pedaled back to Mendoza and caught a bus.

Into Chile through a very strict border control that doesn’t allow any fruit, vegetables, cheese or meat. Then onto Santiago for a few days of celebration, relaxation and jobs. The perfect way to salute the end of the South American leg was a Chilean wine tasting session.
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Then it was down to the serious job of finding appropriate boxes and packing up the bikes.

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It was time to say goodbye to some well loved items.

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Raul and Gemma’s bnb provided us with a lovely environment in which to pack up our kit. We were fed well and treated like one of the family.

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And now we turn our thoughts towards the next leg of the trip: Scotland to the Shire. There is sadness for leaving South America as it has been awesome here. However, we are excited to be seeing family and friends, as well as sampling local UK foods and beers!
It has been a concern of ours that re-entry into ‘civilisation’ is going to be quite tricky. I would like to apologise now to our fellow plane passengers about our appearance. I can assure you that our clothes are clean (I have done the sniff test), however, their shabbiness may make us look somewhat tramp-like. My flip flops may seem an unusual shoe choice, however, believe me you would not want to be sat next to my rotting trainers for 12 hours on a flight. We now need to work on our behaviour!
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Argentina: La Quiaca to Cafayate – crossing the Puna

It took us a while to get across the border into Argentina. There were no problems, just volume of people and thoroughness of paperwork.

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Within 18 hours of crossing the border we, unexpectedly, found ourselves crossing back in to Bolivia again. With it being a Sunday, banks were closed and the only place to change money was on the Bolivian side. Luckily the crossing went smoothly and we were soon back to the campsite in La Quiaca, after 2 hours and 4 new stamps in our passports. Our first night in Argentina boded well as there was a municipal campsite and friendly Argentinians.
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A wrong turn out of La Quiaca took us onto an eastwards trending road. Our tandem friends were having a bad day of punctures and broken spokes so we continued onwards, with the promise of catching up down the road. Unfortunately, we took a little longer than our Aussie friends to realise our mistake and our paths took very different journeys for a while. Catching up down the road ended up being a lot further south than anticipated.
Our journey took us back onto the dirt roads to try to correct our mistake and get us back to the right road. However, the dirt was so good and the scenery so beautiful we decided to keep on the dirt for as long as possible. There followed 6 days of quiet unpaved roads through the Puna.
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The flora and fauna must be so tough to survive in such a harsh, dry environment.
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Every late afternoon and night the clouds would gather and give us the most spectacular electrical storms. There would be ground shaking thunder claps and strobe-like lightening strikes all around us. The winds would gust from all directions.
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However, every morning would dawn peacefully and calmly, as if nothing had occurred during the night.
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Despite the ferocious storms, the area is very dry and we had to carry plenty of water and bang on the doors of random houses to ask for more. The high altitude sun is intense and we sought shade wherever we could.
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We arrived in San Antonio de los Cobres in a very dirty, dusty and tired state. The perfect celebration of making it to civilisation was our first Argentinian meal of steak and a lovely Malbec wine. After a day resting we were ready to tackle the highest mountain pass in Argentina, Abra del Acay, and then drop down off the Puna and head towards wine country. The climb was a steady ascent up a dirt road, with a stunning camping spot on the way.
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We felt jubilant at the top, little knowing the descent to come was going to be one of the most challenging of the trip so far.
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The road is closed to traffic for the rainy season as sections of it are washed away. It is not maintained until the dry season returns. It was lovely not to have to share the road, however, the road conditions were a bit bumpy.
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This was not the challenge though. We had to cross the main valley river 5 times, each time the river was bigger and stronger.
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Having survived the mighty torrent, we found ourselves in greenery.
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Cycling in the opposite direction were a group of local cyclists heading up the pass, with a pick up truck support wagon. They were very friendly and shared their Powerade, however, it seemed wrong to take this away from a 77 year old. Respect to the group, I hope I’m tackling such challenges when I reach that age.
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Part ways down the valley we finally reached wine country and treated ourselves to a night at a vineyard. What luxury after the wilds of the Puna.
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Thereafter followed three days of tough cycling through very sandy and pebbly road conditions. At times it was like pedaling through treacle or you were worried about being spat off your bike in a very soft patch. The landscape distracted us and the thought of reaching the heady delights of Cafayate kept us going.
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We were delighted to enter Cafayate and even more excited to be reunited with our Aussie tandem buddies. Celebrations were suitably Argentinian.
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Bolivia: La Paz to Villazon

Leaving La Paz was difficult for two reasons: one; we were leaving behind new and old friends and two; the traffic was frightening and it was a big hill out of the city.

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We had tarmac roads through to Huari and as we were on the altiplano they were mainly flat. However, we did encounter some wind and rain that kept us on our toes.

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We stayed in a mixture of hospedajes and random camping spots. A highlight being the thermal baths at Poopo (schoolboy giggle!).
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After Huari we hit the dirt roads. The road between Huari and Uyuni is currently under construction so we had the delight of our very own tarmac bike lane for some sections. This, however, was interspersed with sections of sandy, muddy and wet so we didn’t become complacent.

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When we reached Colchani we found a salt hostel where everything is made from salt and there are even salt granules as the floor covering. There were a couple of different room options but we couldn’t resist the room with eight beds ready for Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Thus followed a discussion on who was Grumpy, Sleepy etc. I’ll leave it up to you to decide who was who…
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From Colchani it was a 5k ride to the Salar to Uyuni. As it is the rainy season the salt flats are covered in a layer of water. Although disappointed that we could not ride the bikes on the Salar, the views and reflections on the water made up for it.
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The road from Uyuni to Tupiza was four days of tough riding. The road condition was variable from ripio (washboard) to deep sand to sticky mud. We had strong head and cross winds. Several hills had to be climbed and descended. It truly tested us and found us wanting. Nevertheless, the scenery was stunning and it was some of the most spectacular riding of the trip.
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This was the country of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. You could really see how they could have hidden out and ‘disappeared’. Being a huge fan of the film, riding through this area was a highlight for me. We had been following the railway for most of our journey and I am sure that it has not changed much (if at all!) since they were busy robbing the trains. We contemplated it as a way to fund our trip further but decided that our skills sets were not quite up to the job.
A final blast of tarmac and we were at the border to Argentina.
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Bolivia has a unique beauty that takes a while for a cyclist to appreciate. However, the stark landscape and rugged environment soon seeps in and the wonder of your surroundings takes over. It has been the best of times and the worst of times. Bolivia – we shall be back. Only not in the rainy season and next time with a fat bike!