Tablets and free digital maps for cycle touring

Nowadays we use the Garmin Edge 800 (Review)
for routing while we are on the bicycle and charge it with the dynamo hub on my front wheel. This is great for finding our way to accommodation or addresses or along a choice of roads to the next town. Cities become a pleasure to cycle through.

The Edge 810 is newer and has a better battery life but the 800 is fine. We tend to use the simpler but excellent free routeable maps from http://www.velomap.org/ on the Garmin.

For seeing a view of the whole route it is useless as the screen resolution /size is too small, so we end up buying physical maps or using the completely free Open Street Maps or Open Cycle Maps on a computer/tablet to work out our route.

Bike Route Toaster

The free Bike Route Toaster website allows you to work out all your routes before your trip using Open Street Maps, save them online or export them as Google Earth files. You can save in many other formats and can add the routes to your GPS and also view great height profiles too. It doesn't work well on a tablet but on a computer it is fantastic and the saved online routes mean you can get the routes wherever you can find internet. In theory someone at home could plan your route on the site and you could download it to your gps wherever you are.


We used an employer provided iPAD throughout our Eastern Europe trip but it was a bit restrictive about what we could do with it and it was difficult or expensive to get all the free Open Street Maps on it. It felt like anything new we wanted to do with it cost us more money. It was also big and heavy.

Nexus 7 (Android)

For South America we used a little Nexus 7 and were able to add all the free maps from Open Cycle Maps including contours and hill shading. We used the excellent app - OsmAnd which is free but has a low-cost paid-for option which gives routing. You can also add a contour lines plugin for incredibly detailed information about the route. The maps all work offline and even the routing works really well offline. The main reason for using the routing function is to find the distances to places as there is often only one suitable road.

This app was really useful and it is possible to add maps of anywhere in the world through the internal menus. We had the whole of Chile and Argentina on it and could check out the heights of passes or plan our overall route at night or on rest days, using the high resolution screen.

With OsmAnd it was possible to add gpx tracks from the computer and see them on the screen, so in theory you could plan your whole route before the trip and see it on your tablet.

The Nexus 7 is a really useful size and weight for travelling:
Compared to a laptop it saves a lot of weight and using a USB thumbdrive and an OTG cable we could put loads of TV programmes for Leo on it as well. Unlike the iPad we could charge it with our dynamo and it fitted nicely in the handlebar bag.


The Carretera Austral

This is a crazy road built to unify Chile under orders from Pinochet. The most recent section to Villa O'Higgins was finished in 1998. The way we did it (from Ensenada via Ralun) was about 1300km long.

You can find out more info here:
Crazy Guy on a Bike (Carretera Austral page) - all sections described - really useful
Wikipedia  - Carretera Austral - loads of history and context

Below are files that you can open in Google Earth. The kmz file can be expanded to see the separate sections in Google Earth and you can import it into the free Garmin BaseCamp software to send it to your gps:

The last 21km section across the border into Argentina involves a boat, pushing up a farmers track for 5km, 11km of OKish riding, and 6km of pushing, lifting and carrying your bikes and bags through a forest, over streams, roots, rocks and for the last 2km, down a heavily eroded gash in the earth 'just' wide enough for your bike.

Our route through Chile and Argentina

Purple = Bus/Plane         Blue = Train         Red = Bicycle         Orange = Ferry

Below are files that you can open in Google Earth. The kmz file can be expanded to see the separate sections in Google Earth and you can import it into the free Garmin BaseCamp software to send it to your gps.


Cycling finished, a broken rim ends the ride 200km early

As we rode the last few metres into Victoria, Isabelle complained that her brakes were rubbing. We checked it out and discovered that the rim was completely destroyed in several places and on both sides. Before we started we had wondered if the wheel would last because the surface was getting a little concave, but we assumed that with Isabelle's lighter weight it would last the trip. We were nearly right. The wheel has done about 20,000km so it's lasted well. Now she has to decide does she get a Rohloff hub on the next one?
We had to get a bus up to Chillan and then the train back to Santiago a day earlier than expected, but in the grand scheme of things we have been very lucky. My bike broke just after the Carretera had finished and Isa's the first day we arrived in a major town in Chile. If the weather hadn't been so shit in Argentina it would have broken on a dirt road or a high pass further North and we would have had a lot more trouble getting back for our plane home.


Motorbike museum

Just before Freire we saw a sign for a cabaña and went down a little track. It led to the house of Elizabeth and Irving, whose cabanas were full but who happily invited us to camp in their garden. Amazingly Irving had a small museum of mainly British motorbikes in various stages of restoration, and was the only Chilean member of various British motorbike clubs. He had Enfield, Triumph, Ariel and Panther bikes and was really pleased to see our Brook's saddles as one of his oldest bikes had one too.


La Difunta Correa

As we have been cycling along through Argentina we kept seeing small red shrines with a statue of a woman (who we wrongly assumed was the virgin Mary) surrounded by water bottles and red flags. We met an Australian cyclist who told us the fascinating history of the shrines which are semi-pagan in origin. Wikipedia has good article about it: http//en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Difunta_Correa

Deolinda Correa was an Argentinian woman with a small child who got lost while travelling in the pampas in 1840. When her body was eventually found her young child was amazingly still alive, supposedly drinking from her ever flowing breasts. From this story people started to visit her home town of Vallecito, and gradually travelling people started making roadside shrines with a female figurine, where they left water bottles to 'calm her eternal thirst'.
We've seen many of these shrines in Argentina and also a couple on the southern Carretera in Chile. Cattle drovers used to use them for a backup source of water when the weather was particularly dry.

Finally some pictures of us cycling

Down near Puerto Rio Tranquillo along the Carretera Austral we met a couple on a campsite. Carolina, had some British roots and had worked as a photographer in the past in Santiago. As they drove past us the following day she took some photos of us struggling on the ripio and sent them on to us yesterday.

A full house back at JuanJose and Carla's

Carla and Juan Jose, having had only one other Warm Showers guest since we left on our journey South in mid January, received four of us all at once. Firstly, Oriol from Barcelona who was heading South to spend the winter working in Bariloche after a really challenging 6000km ride from Peru, and the following day Micky from Berlin, with his inventive and fantastic self-made kitchen on the front of his bike, who had cycled North from Ushuaia.

Leo and Olivia were now able to interact a little more sociably and we had two great days there before we set of North to Santiago on the last leg of our journey, a really boring 300km up the Ruta Cinqo. The garden was full of apple trees weighed down with an incredible crop which the kids spent their time nibbling at, Leo having a bite of one before discovering a more interesting one nearby and leaving a trail of bitten apples around the garden.


He's still learning

Instead of just chasing the pigeons we decided to feed them some bread to attract a few more.
Unfortunately Leo decided to copy them and try and eat the bread we were throwing, much to our horror.


Back into Chile again

Crossing the border from Argentina back to Chile between Junin de los Andes and Pucon involves the most gentle climb up to a pass dominated by a forest of Monkey Puzzle Trees. What follows is a complete change of vegetation from the dry pampas which dominaties Argentina into lush green fruit trees covering the steep valleys of Chile
Dropping down 1000m we finally reached Pucon with its impressive snow covered volcano which turns the town into one of the busiest tourist destinations in the summer months.
From Pucon we headed North as fast as we could back towards Santiago, camping in the garden of a lovely Chilean-German-American couple and then stopping for a couple of days in Pillanlebun with some Warm Showers hosts Juan Jose and Carla who we stayed with on our journey South.


The boy is back

As soon as it's terrible it's good.

Leo went to bed moaning, with a bloody mouth, slept ALL night, woke up smiling, ate loads of  soft bread dipped in jam and then picked up his shoes and went to the door of the cabaña.  After we dressed him he went outside and played independently with some kittens, hitting them with a straw and trying to kick them :) We were so proud. No crying, just big smiles and free roaming while we stayed in the cabaña and packed. It was his first breakfast in 6 days.

The boy is back!
(until the next teeth come through)

Travelling with a teething baby

Leo is teething at the moment and it is just a nightmare for us and for him. He can't eat properly and has consequently become lethargic, moany, clingy and worst of all very little fun. Oh, he doesn't sleep very well either! Not something easy to deal with while camping or staying in hosteria. Sitting up for a couple of hours in the night playing 'Baby Einstein - Animal Expedition' is not my idea of a fun activity at 3am

It's so sad to have lost such a fun little man and to have found a horrible, whinging child who goes limp and lies on the ground crying if anything doesn't quite go his way. He used to laugh, stand up and clap when he fell over, now we have to pick him up and comfort him. It's quite disgusting.

Mealtimes are where we sit and hope he eats something to give him some energy and make our life easier, and every morning is full of hope that his swollen gums are a little better. He seems to have teeth erupting everywhere, molars, premolars, canines......probably even wisdom teeth at the rate he seems to be growing them. His mouth is sometimes bloody which doesn't exactly help with his tired, moany look!

We know it will pass, but with all this rain and snow and cold weather we have been having recently, sunny Chile just a few km away looks very enticing. 

Come on Leo, come back to us soon please!


Leo the birder

As we cycle along we often hear a cry of 'oooohhh' and if I turn I can see a finger pointing skywards at some bird that Leo has noticed.

Before he sleeps he also watches 'Sarah & Duck' on our little tablet and he is obsessed with quacking when he thinks it is bed time, but until the other day he had never seen a real duck!

Yesterday he spotted a beautiful bird of prey by the road so we stopped and let him watch and feed it. (It's called a Caracara and is a type of falcon)
Then we stopped for the night at a hosteria on a lake and there were loads of ducks. He was a happy boy!

Finally we meet Dan, Alice, Koby and Ava Fei

About 6 weeks ago at a Conaf campsite above Cerro Castillo in Chile, we met an English couple who told us about a Canadian family travelling in the opposite direction who we would meet the following day. We didn't! We never saw them and we were left wondering what had happened to them? Had they found another route? We assumed we would never see them as we were going South and them North.

Amazingly, yesterday we pulled up at a supermarket in Villa la Angostura and were approached by Dan and Alice with Koby (6) and Ava Fei (4) in tow. They had crossed into Argentina at the end of the Careterra and we had flown North to almost exactly catch up with them. The bad weather had made them stop in the town and we just happened to cycle through as they went shopping. Coincidences are great!
We sat and had lunch with them for a few hours before leaving. It was nice to hear how they were doing it, with a tag-along bike for Ava Fei and an attachment that allowed them to pull a small bike with Koby on it that could be removed at the end of the day! Behind Koby they also had a Chariot trailer to carry luggage.
It would have been nice to have ridden with them for a while but we need to get to Santiago and time is gradually running out.

Bike problems

All I did was buy a new chain!

This led to a 'chain' of events that lost us several days.

Firstly 35km after leaving Bariloche I noticed that the chain kept slipping under pressure and with mountains ahead we had to return to get it fixed. We found a cabaña 16km from Bariloche and I replaced cables, jockey wheels, took two links from the chain and gave everything a really good clean. No joy!

So I cycled back to Bariloche and begged Ricardo Zuber (ex Argentinian national team mountain biker) at his wonderful bicycle shop to help. With his help I replaced the rear cassette and the two smallest rings at the front which also involved some angle grinding to get the smaller one to fit over the bottom bracket and amazingly everything worked. I even got  a 34 tooth gear to replace my 32 for the hills! Using rings and a cassette for 20,000km isn't really recommended!

I then rode back to Isabelle, really relieved and looking forward to the ride ahead.

The next day I had two punctures on the rear wheel, which the following day, (after the third puncture) we traced to some rough rim tape. Probably the use of the compressor at the bike shop had rubbed the inner too hard on the already slightly crumpled rim tape.
This was then covered with duct tape and finally the bike was fine. This had been really hassly because we kept having to take off the trailer and all the bags to mend the inner tube, losing an hour each time.

Then it started to rain, then sleet, then snow! Overnight at least the snow on the road started to melt but after a really cold 55km and a tired hunt for the owners, we reached a gorgeous 'eco-cabaña' where we have dried and warmed up!
Now Leo's teething has got really bad so welcome back to the land of 'no-sleep'! Oh well, as we keep saying...'It is what it is!'


Trying to get to Santiago via Bariloche

After being blasted by the pampas winds and running out of time to cycle all the way back to Santiago, we managed to get a flight from El Calafate up to San Carlos de Bariloche for a reasonable last minute price, which would deposit us about 1200km North and a manageable distance from Santiago. From Bariloche we can cycle North and cross the Andes in a multitude of places depending on our rate of progress and the weather.
The flight entails getting bike boxes and packing tape and fitting the bikes and all our stuff in to our bags and boxes. It is hard work and always a little stressful. Our biggest problem turned out to be a delayed flight and we arrived in Bariloche about 2 hours before it got dark with 2 bikes and a trailer to be assembled as well as a (now)16 month old Leo to be entertained.
This proved to be impossible to do quickly, so we rolled the 14km into Bariloche in the dark with no lights apart from our head torches, hungry and a little bit stressed. Leo just slept and then we did find a hosteria, kindly woke up for an hour to be sociable and then went back to sleep.


Perito Moreno glacier

80km from El Calafate is this amazing glacier which ends just in front of a peninsula of land on which a series of boardwalks have been built to give really good views of huge chunks of ice falling off the end of the glacier, something that happens quite regularly in the early morning sun.

We just happened to be looking when a massive piece fell off. (see the flickr photos below)

Leo became a second tourist attraction as he lay on the boardwalk dropping bread through the holes for the birds below him to eat. Lots of people gathered around this strange blonde-haired, wrapped-up creature and took photos of him. He also kept spotting pic-pics below him and constantly tried to reach them despite their inaccessible distance.

At the end Isabelle got in a real strop (blaming me!) because she was convinced we had missed our bus back, only to realise half an hour later that her watch was set wrong. Oh how we laughed!

Perito Moreno glacier, a set on Flickr.