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Tierra del Fuego and Chile Chile Chico to Buenos Aires Uruguay & Rio
Southern Brazil to Paraguay Bolivia & Peru Northern Brazil Venezuela


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Friday, May 28, Montevideo, Uruguay
Finally we´re in our third country of the trip, and are we ever excited! We took the ferry from Buenos Aires to the history-rich city of Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, three days ago. Colonia was founded in the 17th century by the Portuguese and was a key smuggling port before Spain captured it. It´s old quarter is all cobblestone streets, historical buldings, and tourists. I couldn´t imagine being there in the high season.
The two-day ride from Colonia to Montevideo was entirely paved, but the ceaseless roller coaster of hills was a bit of a shock to our legs, which had become accustomed to the flat pampas of Argentina. The highlight of the journey was finding a tenedor libre (all-you-can-eat buffet) for lunch on our second day, and we ate more than our money´s worth, baerely managing to get back on our bikes for the final 20 km to the capital.
Montevideo is a nice-looking city, although to get into town we had to cycle past El Cerro, a squalid slum of makeshift homes strewn together from a variety of materials, from corrugated steel to scrap plywood. Next to the ghetto is a filthy river with garbage floating all over it, for beside it is a garbage dump that veritably flows into the river itself. Clothes were drying on lines surrounded by piles of garbage and recyclables, possibly the only way several of its residents earn an income. The slum smelled of cooking fires and burning garbage.
On the other side of the city, in a posh neighbourhood called Carrasco, we´re staying with the children of a couple we met near El Chalten a couple of months ago. We´re seeing how the other half lives, with a maid that cooks and cleans up after us, and a large swimming pool in their walled backyard (although it´s too cold to swim). The parents are away on business but we{re being entertained by María, Margarita, Cecilia and Alfonso, and it sounds like we´re going to have a great time in and around Montevideo.
So far on tap we have a soccer game (Uruguay vs Peru in a World Cup qualifier), a theatre performance that takes place on board a bus, and possibly a few road trips to the country, or to go surfing in Punta del Este, professed to be the most swank resort in South America.

B>Friday, June 4, Montevideo, Uruguay
I´ve just got to say, I love Uruguay! This past week has been great, hanging out and partying with our new friends, the Gallinals, who we´re staying with here. In the past week we´ve had beers in a variety of pubs and clubs, wandered the streets of the old city, had lunch in the historic mercado del puerto (port market), visited a country that doesn´t exist, and chilled out in possibly the most tranquil place on earth.
Hmmm, I guess some explanations are in order....
A few nights ago we were invited to the graduation party of one of the Gallinals´ cousins, which was held at a private clubhouse they´d rented. As we entered the compound it was explained that the clubhouse belongs to a men´s organization that believes they are an independent country. Really neat place, with its own flag, pictures of its government all over the walls, and its national anthem on a plaque above the stage in the room we were in. Outside the building is a network of walking paths, each with its own "street" name. Weird. We ate their food, drank their beer, and stole one of their "royal" plates.
The chilled-out spot was Cabo Polonio, where we´d gone on the advice of a couple of cycling Americans we´d met in Tierra del Fuego (Thanks Micah & Tyler!). Cabo Polonio is a tiny spit of land surrounded on three sides by the ocean and separated from the rest of the country by a vast stretch of sand dunes. You have to get there by a 4 x 4 vehicle, but once you´re there you immediately feel the stress ooze from your body. I don´t think you could ever be relaxed enough for Cabo Polonio. We rented a tiny cabin on the beach for $2.50 CDN each per night, and spent three days sandboarding in the dunes, trying to surf the nonexistent waves, and eating fried fish at the only restaurant in town. Apparently the place gets pretty busy with tourists in the summer (Jan-Feb) so I can´t speak for the place then, but I´d recommend it highly in the off season for anyone looking for some decompression time.
Other news bites: I bought a ticket to Rio e Janeiro for Monday, so I´ll be off to the sun to spend two weeks with my girlfriendm, which I´m stupid excited about. Funny thing hapened when I bought my ticket though - I may have gotten a job!
The woman who sold me my ticket told me that she also produces magazines and is launching a new Uruguayan men´s magazine. Since I´m doing a cool trip, she said, and since I´m a journalist, she offered me a regular column about my journey in the magazine. She´d even translate it into Spanish for me! I´m trying to not get too excited about it since the magazine doesn´even exist yet, but it´s something to think about.
On a sadder note, while Damien and I returned from Cabo Polonio by bus, Gwendal continued by bike up the Uruguayan coast toward Brazil, so the trio has disbanded. Damien will likely set off on his own this weekend, and I will be alone after my two weeks in Rio. It was strange watching Gwendal cycling alone, but I know it will be much harder when it´s actually my turn to go it alone. Nonetheless, it´s part of the journey.
Not really sure what´s on tap for the weekend, but I´m sure it will be entertaining. My advice for the day? COME TO URUGUAY!!

June 21, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
So here I am in the bus terminal in Rio, waiting for my bus to Curitiba, where I´l catch a flight back to Uruguay to continue my bike trip. My girlfriend, Jess, and I have spent most of the past two weeks laying on Ipanema beach doing as little as possible, but there were some other highlights as well:
We spent one full day shopping at two big malls, one of which is supposedly "the largest in Latin America." On the way back we hopped on the wrong bus and ended up downtown after dark, a pretty spooky place. Luckily, a nice couple we met on the bus helped us find our way to where we could catch another bus back to Ipanema.
Of course one day we went to see the famous statue of Christ the Redentor which towers over the city from high atop Corcovado mountain. What an amazing view from the feet of Christ! In such a beautiful location, from such a beautiful vantage, it´s hard to believe that the streets of Rio far below are crawling with all sorts of ugly dangers.But more on that later.
Another day we took the cable car up to the top of Sugar Loaf, another famous mountain that´s ubiquitous in postcards of Rio, but it was a cloudy day and we couldn´t see a thing from the summit.
But about those ugly dangers....
One evening Jess and I were walking along Copacabana Beach at around 6:30, just after dark, when a man approached us and said something in Portugues while rubbing his stomach strangely. I thought he wanted a light, so I told him in Spanish that I didn´t have one and started to turn away. It was then that he said, in English, "Your money. Give me your money mother fucker," and I realized that he was holding tight his t-shirt to reveal the outline of a gun concealed beneath. I gave him the 35 reals (about $10 US) from my shorts pocket and he reached into Jess´ pocket but found nothing, then he fled across the street. I had most of my money in another pocket, so losing the bit of cash wasn´t a big deal. What we really lost was our feeling of security after dark. After that we spent the best part of the evenings in our hotel room, and we very nervous whenever we ventured out.
It´s really too bad, Rio is such a beautiful place, and Ipanma and Copacabana beaches are the nicest ones I´ve ever seen, but I can´t enjoy a place that I don´t feel secure in. We met an American girl at our hotel who was robbed on the beach in the middle of the day, and another young European guy who´d been robed three times in four days. Although it was hard to say good-bye to Jess, I´m more than happy to be leaving Rio.

Wednesday, July 14, Paysandú, Uruguay
I left Montevideo by bike on July 1, heading north towards the farm of the family I´ve been staying with, about 350-375 kilometres north. The route was full of small rolling hills which were nonetheless tough after not being on my bike for more than a month. Highlights along the way were a lunch stop at the home of an old man who stopped me on the side of the road to offer me mate (a bitter tea that everyone drinks down here and which I now love), and a night in which I slept in a truckstop shower (much more comfortable than it sounds).
My left knee started hurting a bit on day two, and by the time I arrived at the farm on day four it was in full scale pain. I tried to cycle too far too fast after too much time off, and the price I had to pay was another week and a half of rest. The same thing happened on my first attempted bike trip, from Toronto to Montreal several years ago, and the doctor said I had to be off my bike for two weeks.
There could have been worse places to be holed up. I was in complete luxury at the country house, sitting in front of the fire all day reading, or playing cards with my new Uruguayan "sisters." (The Gallinals are really starting to feel like my family here)Unfortunately, the farm has no electricity and so I was unable to send any emails for the whole time I was there, thus my long leave of absence. While at the farm I also got a taste of the "real Uruguay," the life of the gaucho (farm workers, the Uruguayan equivalent of a cowboy).
My third day there I went along on a "tropa," when they drive a herd of cattle to another farm, on horseback of course. It was my first time on a horse, but once I got used to it it was pretty fun, although often my horse did whatever it pleased. Although the tropa lasted two days, Maria and I only went along until lunch, about five or six hours of riding, before heading back. Believe me, that long on a horse your first time is plenty. Lunch was great though. Eduardo, one of the gauchos that work for them, made a fire and roasted some meat on skewers, which we then carved chunks off with our knives and ate with our hands. Very messy and very tasty.
Another day I had the pleasure of watching while Eduardo and Maria castrated a bunch of young sheep. They told me that if you go to a veterinary clinic they´d use anesthetic and the whole bit, but "out here we do it the gaucho way." First they hole-punched their ears (like branding a cow) and cut off their tails, which shot a jet of blood over Maria´s coveralls. The castration was done with a little knife like you might find in your kitchen, slicing open the scrotum and then pulling the testicles out by hand, which didn´t look easy judging by how hard Maria was pulling. Apparently that was the hard way, and the easy way is to get your head right in there and pull the testicles out with your teeth. "Ha ha," I said, until I saw Eduardo do just that. And he kisses his mother with that mouth?
Another day I got to help wrestle down about 35 calves while they were castrated as well, and then I had to hold tight the tails of several larger cows while Eduardo branded them, not as easy as it might sound. You know that bad smell you get when you burn a piece of hair with a butane lighter? Multiply that by a kajllion and then throw in a tail covered in mud, thorns, and feces that you have to cling to while the cow bucks and rears violently. A good time had by all.
Somewhere along the line I was given a nickname: "Gaucho Gringo."
After so much time at the farm I´m really anxious about moving on, especially since I have to be in La Paz, Bolivia on Aug 22 to meet my friend Kris, who is coming down to cycle a bit with me. This means that I´ll have to travel a much larger chunk than I´d hoped by bus or truck, which I´m quite disappointed about, but I can´t risk hurting my knee again by pushing too hard.
And so here I am in Paysandú, a small Uruguayan city on the border with Argentina, where I was driven this morning and where I´ll spend the night with relatives of my Uruguayan family (I guess they´re my relatives then too) before crossing into Argentina by bike and trying to hitch a ride with a truck up towards Iguazu Falls in northern Argentina. The father of the family I´m with tonight owns a trucking company so they´ve really helped me out.
And so the journey continues, more or less, and alhtough I´m nervous about how my knee will hold up when I get back on my bike, I´m excited about the road ahead.

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