Stage 4: South America
Cultures long since vanished;
An ancient ecosystem on the verge; Hope for the future arises only from self-sacrifice…
Both in terms of length and the unbounded variety of experiences to be had, Stage Four, through South America, surpasses all the others. Soaring mountains and the serpentine coastlines of two oceans, parched deserts, windswept steppes, and dense rainforests exploding with life, immense volcanoes and rivers of unsurpassed power, wildlife found nowhere else and a melange of human societies flowing from both indigenous and colonial pasts, the intensity of modern history and the mystery of ancient cultures; all of these will be found as I meander though the last of the great Gondwanan remnants. It's hard to imagine a more enjoyable place to spend several months on a bike.
Once again, I think that this stage will be as challenging as it is rewarding. The length of the route and the constant rise and fall of the terrain will obviously keep things strenuous to say the least. Though the incredible natural beauty and numerous historical sites should nicely compensate for any difficulties. In fact, I think that on some sections of this route the fascinating things to see will be so frequent that it will be hard to keep moving. Fortunately, with all of the major ocean crossings and their restrictive schedules now behind me, the generally mild climate over most of the route, and an ever-shortening distance to home, I will now have much more liberty to slow things down a bit, if I so choose. That ability could prove invaluable after the considerable distance already covered. Though, however hard it may be, or however long it may take, I plan on seeing as much of this fascinating place as reasonably possible.
My arrival on the continent will be at the port of Buenos Aires, however, the ride will begin across the Rio de la Plata, at the charming Uruguayan city of Colonia del Sacramento. The route through that small country will lead towards, and along, the coast, heading to the northeast. Before long, I will cross into Brazil and spend some time traveling though the southeastern states of that somewhat larger nation. After a bit more coastal riding, I will say goodbye to the Atlantic for a while, and head inland, to the northwest and the state of Mato Grosso do Sul.
At that point, I will make a turn to the south and enter the landlocked country of Paraguay at its northern frontier. The route crosses some lonely plains for a few days before reaching the capital, Asuncion. Moving on, I will visit the southeastern part of the country followed by a short turn back to the north arriving where Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina meet at a single point.
My reason for riding to that particular spot, of course, will be to see one of the main attractions of the early part of the Stage, Iguazu Falls. This impressive cataract on the Rio Parana is one of the most powerful in the world and should provide quite a spectacle. After the Falls, the route crosses into Argentina, for a long segment down it's east coast. I will try to stay slightly inland for a while to avoid the hectic area around Buenos Aires. Traversing through the famous ranch country of the Pampas, will lead me to the Atlantic once again near Bahia Blanca.
From there, it is onward ever south along the nearly uninhabited shores of Patagonia's east coast. There will be some spectacular opportunities for wildlife viewing along the way, including the famous whale-watching area around Peninsula Valdez. Obviously, the prime goal here is to reach Ushuaia, on Tierra del Fuego, the most southerly city of the tour, in fact, the most southerly in the whole world. After arriving at the bottom of the continent, there is only one thing to do, namely turn around and go right back up again. That is what I plan to do, though on the west coast this time.
The early portion of the route up the west side of Patagonia crosses the border into Chile on a few occasions, but remains in Argentina for most of the time. Along the way, I will have a chance to visit some of the famous Patagonian mountain parks, and enjoy my first experiences with the mighty Andes range. Before long, I will make a more permanent crossing into Chile, and ride though its beautiful fjord-lined coastal region. I don't think that many of the fjords are accessible by road, but it should be pretty, nevertheless. Before long I will catch a ferry to the interesting island of Chiloe, which boasts many structures with a distinctive architectural style. Back on the mainland, I will slowly continue north, trying to stay on the quieter roads towards the coast. I have a feeling that the main highway, which runs down the spine of this long, thin country will be a little more crowded than I would prefer.
I will do my best to avoid the major cities as I head north as well. After passing by the west edge of Santiago, I will turn to the east and begin the first really big climb into the Andes. From that point on, the remainder of Stage Four will oscillate up and down, almost incessantly, through one of the worlds most impressive ranges. After the first summit I will arrive in Argentina once again, but this time the elevation will remain lofty and the air thin. The route turns back to a northward course, and winds through the dry, rugged country of the Argentine northwest. Passing though towns like Salta and San Salvador de Jujuy, while continuing to climb higher, leads me to the border of Bolivia.
Bolivia is another country that I am immensely looking forward to seeing. I feel that its natural beauty, and its indigenous-flavored culture will be very appealing to me. There I will probably spend more time on the main highway, and plan to pass though the interesting towns of Potosi, Sucre, and Oruro, on the way to the capital, La Paz. After La Paz the frequency of amazing destinations increases rapidly. The fascinating and high-altitude Lake Titicaca is one of the first along the way. This area is also where the shadows of the great civilizations of the past, such as the Wari, Chimu, and Inca begin to appear. I expect to be so enthralled with the many archeological sites that line the rest of the Stage route, that I may have trouble moving forward. Hopefully, the fact that there is always another great site just over the next mountain will help me keep going.
Peru is next along the route, and what an amazing visit it will be. The list of places worth seeing there is truly astounding, and includes some of the world's top destinations. My route attempts to see as many as humanly possible, and I start by continuing north towards Cuzco and its famous environs. Of course, no visit to that area would be complete without a stop at Machu Pichu, and I certainly plan to do just that. From there, I will stay on the east side of the Andes for a while, passing though Ayacucho and Huancayo on the way to Lima.
Sprawling Lima is the type of city that I would typically never plan of riding though while on tour. In this case, however, I will need to make a stop there. My indlugence for this Stage will be a side trip to the city of Iquitos. That unique city is located in one of the most isolated areas conceivable, right in the middle of Peru's portion of the Amazon basin. In fact, it is so isolated that the only way to get there is by plane, or by boat up the Amazon from the east. That fact means that there are very few automobiles in Iquitos, and that alone is enough of a reason to make me want to visit. Also, from there one can easily visit the considerable parcels of intact, but threatened, rainforest, which surround the city. Obviously, since I'll be on the wrong side of the Andes, transport by boat is out of the question, so I will be forced to take to the skies once more.
After returning to Lima, the route continues its northward progression, allowing me the opportunity to visit several more archeological sites in the coastal hills. Still more are to be found north of Chiclayo, in the region dominated by the Sechura desert. This short stretch along the coastal lowlands does not last long as there are still a few more mountains to climb before the end of the Stage. These, once again, lie in the high Andes, this time in Ecuador, and passing nearby will allow me to visit a few more mountain parks and the interesting towns of Cuenca and Quito.
After an almost inconceivably compelling ride throughout the continent, The route finally makes one last descent to the coast and, once there, Stage Four finishes in the port town of Guayaquil, Ecuador. A more interesting route would be hard to come by, at least as far as I'm concerned.
Stage statistics are below the map, and highlights are in the sidebar.
Dates and Distances
Approximate Start: November 21, 02006
Finish: around June 21, 2007
Estimated Distance: 20,700 km
Ride days: 153
Rest days: 61
Not really 100% sure about this yet. It could be the city of Potosi
, Bolivia at 4,070 meters
Countries to be visited
; Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Parana, Mato Grosso do Sul
; Missiones, Corrientes, Entre Rio, Cordoba, Buenos Aires, Rio Negro, Chubut, Santa Cruz, Tierra del Fuego
; AisÚn, Lagos, Araucania, Biobio, Maule, O'Higgins, Valparasio
; Mendoza Luis, San Juan, La Rioja, Catamarca, Tucuman, Salta, Jujuy
; Potosi, Chuquisaca, Oruro, La Paz
; Puno, Cuzcco, Ayacucho, Ica, Lima, Iquitos, Ancash, La Liberdad, Lambayeque, Piura
; Loja, Cuenca, Quito, Guyaquil
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