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On day 29 the 6 hour flight from Panama City to Santiago which took us over the equator proved to be the first logistical challenge which the airline and tour organiser were unable to meet. Either the plane (a Lockheed L1011) was not big enough, or we had too many bicycles/luggage. It was only after a 5 hour wait in the airport departure lounge that we eventually took off for Chile with 79 bikes (including mine) plus some of the support luggage left on the runway in Panama.
Arising from this our itinerary in Santiago was extended from 1 to 3 nights to allow the missing bikes and luggage to catch up with us. Fortunately Santiago is a very large and bustling City of over 5 million population so there was plenty for us to see and do in the area. This extension was welcome in one respect but something we would have to pay for later.
So on day 33 (and 2 days behind schedule) we were reunited with our missing bikes and luggage and we were now due to head south out of Santiago. However getting out of Santiago during the morning rush hour had all the hallmarks of a cyclists nightmare in spite of the detailed instructions on our route sheet for that day. It was thanks to our Chilean born traveling Doctor Raphael that we were honored with a motorcycle police escort out of the city.
This was one occasion when it was in every riders interest to ensure that we set off at the same time, it was in fact a memorable scene with many hundreds of cheering commuters (plus local TV cameras) lining the streets as 240 cyclists filed out of the hotel in the centre of Santiago with traffic held up in both directions. Together with our police escort we moved out of town and going through traffic lights on red with traffic held up at each junction we were safely escorted to the city boundary.
Due to the extra 2 days in Santiago we were now faced with 12 days of riding without a break in order to catch up with the itinerary for this stage. It was just as well that our route for the next few days took us through a fairly flat plateau with snow capped mountains on either side. Overnight stops during this section included San Fernando, Talca, Cauquenes, and Concepcion where we arrived back on the Pacific coast to a much colder climate and periodic rain.
It was around this period that yours truly (or my digestive system) decided to have a violent disagreement with something I ate or drank ? with the result that I ate very little for 2 days and became too weak to cycle. This was where I was pleased to say that I was grateful for the comfort of the sag wagon, a facility I had previously declared was for whimps and invalids. It was also getting colder as we progressed south.
The last 2 days (41 & 42) in Chile proved, as expected to be one of the toughest for this stage. This included climbing over the Andes to an elevation of 1308 metres, with the weather fluctuating between warm sunshine and prolonged showers which got colder as we got nearer to the summit. The reward for our efforts was some spectacular scenery and around mid-afternoon on day 43 (12th Feb) I crossed the border into Argentina to be welcomed by warm sunshine.
There were still 50 kilometres to our first overnight stop in Argentina at Villa La Angostura, and whilst the sunshine plus a descent was welcome we now had to contend with over 30 Kilometres of gravel road.
The second day in Argentina and our last day of riding in South America was a mere 89 Kilometres to the beautiful lakeside and mountain resort of San Carlos Bariloche. Most of our route that day took us along the edge of the beautiful lago Nahuel Haupi with snow capped mountains in the distance and all around. It was a spot that one could comfortably spend a few days but within 24 hours we were due to fly to Johannesburg and the start of the next stage.
My watch indicates 4am on 15th Feb and we have just had breakfast. As you will have gathered we are in mid air heading for Johannesburg, South Africa where I hope to complete and dispatch this email.
So our flight to South Africa took off in a Boeing 747 from San Carlos de Bariloche at 17.25 last evening. This was the largest aircraft in recent years to take off from this airport we then touched down for refuelling at Buenos Aries at 19.00 and the remainder of the flight is expected to take around 9 hours when we will be 2 hours ahead of GMT.
It is now 21.20 local time in Johannesburg and I am pleased to confirm that we touched down safely at around 12 noon today. Weather here overcast and wet under foot from heavy rain. Unfortunately yours truly had a delay of over 3 hours at the airport and will have another in the morning it appears that I have left my pedals in Argentina (So donít cry for me Argentina). Hopefully I will pick up a pair in the morning and will keep you informed.
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