From Uyuni, Bolivia to Santiago, Chile
The day I wanted to start cycling the ruta de las lagunas in Uyuni, It snowed all day long. This was bad news because it would turn the already challenging route, into a series of ice cold mud pools. For the next week I rode and pushed my bike along one stunning lake after another. There are no towns on the route to get extra provisions and temperatures at night fell to minus 10 degrees. I would wake up in the morning with all the water frozen. Packing up the tent would inadvertently lead to frozen hands and with no way to shelter from the ice cold winds it was hard to get my blood flowing again.
The final day before arriving in San Pedro de Atacama I got sick. The exhaustion of the last weeks and the cold took its toll. Also it turns out that drinking from streams and drinking tap water in Bolivia is not the brightest of ideas. I was more than happy to go downhill back into civilisation and the milder temperatures of the Atacama desert. It took me quite some time to recover and I seem to have permanently lost sensation in a couple of toes.
Another ice cold crossing of the Andes over the paso de Jama took me to Argentina.
Here, I found the remedy for all this hardship in the form of some other weary cyclists. From Salta I rode with Iris from Belgium and her dad who was visiting her, Juan from Argentina on his way back from an impressive vuelta through Brazil and Marge from France cycling from Canada to Argentina.
I continued cycling with Juan and Marge along the ruta 40, a road that runs all the way from the north till the south in Argentina. It is by no means an epic route. It runs mostly along endless pampa. It fails in comparison with the lagunas route in Bolivia or the countless mountain passes in Peru. However it was memorable in an entirely different way.
Cycling along the ruta 40 reminded me of ‘Autonauts of the cosmoroute’. A book in which Belgian / Argentinian writer Julio Cortazar and his wife Carol Dunlop write about their drive from Paris to Marseille. They spend a month for a journey you could make in a day. In that month they did not leave the highway and they meticulously stopped at every rest area. The book is an ode to travelling slow and it could just as easily be about the Ruta 40.
‘It’s a land of great silence, a land of time that lengthens and nevertheless moves on unnoticed.’
On a road like that, distance becomes meaningless.
‘The more we advance, the greater liberty we seem to enjoy. And not at because we are getting close to Marseille. On the contrary, probably the of having gained distance from the departure point and at the same time completely lost sight of the end of the journey is what gives it this quality.’
Along the ruta 40, our rest areas were the Grido ice cream stands. We had one rule that it was impossible to pass a Grido without stopping and ordering at least a liter of ice cream. We called it cycream, the wonderful art of cycling and eating as much ice cream as possible in the process. One day, after jointly devouring 2 liters of icecream for lunch, I said I don’t know what is happening but I feel like I could eat all day. That is because you are happy my companions replied in unison . I never thought about it that way but it makes a lot of sense to me.
On the penultimate day before arriving in Santiago I crashed a fiesta at the firestation. I barely put my bike against the wall before I was offered a gigantic plate of food. These people knew all along that food makes you happy!
However on the culinary front not all was well in Argentina. They like to massacre red wine with ice cubes and the size of the empanadas is way too small.
After saying goodbye to Marge and Juan in Mendoza it was time to meet another old friend of the road. I cycled with Victor in Alaska and Canada and met him a couple more times along the way. Now it was time to pay him a visit in his hometown. Not surprisingly, there was more food and more drinks. I arrived just before the national holiday, which in Chile they celebrate for a week. I finally got to taste a drink called teramoto or earthquake. It is a mixture of cheap red wine and pineapple ice cream. And after a few of these you feel like you have been hit by an earthquake.
The aptly named Museo de la memoria in Santiago is dedicated to the lives of all the people that went missing and got tortured during the Pinochet regime in Chile. It ensures the stories of the victims will not be forgotten in order for this to never happen again and it is a constant reminder for those who would like to forget this dark page in history and their role in it. For violations of human rights recycling experiences into a collective memory is crucial to ensure history will not repeat itself.
The same does not go for everyday experiences in life. As I get closer to the end of this journey, I ask myself why we feel like we should remember everything. It is not possible and it is probably also not better. It is the desire of humans to capture or master time I guess. As if the value of experiences lays in the degree in which we can share or remember them. While experiences have value in and of themselves.
Lately I find pleasure in collecting moments rather than memories. To see something amazing and not take a picture. To experience something incredible and to not tell anyone about it. In this case, everyday experiences are probably one of the only things where consuming is prefered over recycling.
These last couple of weeks have been filled with new experiences. I made new friends and connected with old friends. I experienced what it is like to eat a shitload of carbs each day. Very windy. I experienced what it is like to have dinner at midnight as argentinians do. Excruciating. I experienced what it is like to ride into a headwind keeping another cyclist sheltered from the wind and to be sheltered from the same headwind by another cyclist. Meanwhile, I am left feeling sorry for some of my toes who seemed to have lost the capability to experience. It was a memorable experience and time will decide what memories will remain. After all experiences and memories are not mutually exclusive. Experiences feed memories. Like most things in life it is probably a matter of finding the point somewhere in between.