Monday, March 14, 2011

Thursday - Saturday 10-12th March: Returning home

The final day in Mendoza was spent packing up and shopping. Packing materials in the form of thick polythene sheeting, bubblewrap, cadrboard, and packing tape were used to pack up Dobbin. We were directed to the other side of town by a very helpful man at a hardware store for the plastic. There we found a few shops selling nothing but different forms of plastic, from bowls and kitchen utensils to plastic bags of many sizes to large rolls of sheet plastic of different types being sold by the metre, it was all there. So getting hold of packaging material was not as hard to find as we feared. The cardboard we sourced from the restaurant/cafe in front of the hostel, and used to protect the tubes as pipe lagging wasn't available - frozen pipes is not something they need to worry about in the city. We removed the forks and rear mudguard, and disassembled the rear wheel and put the hub back into the frame to act as a spacer. It took Joth 2+ hours to pack up the bike, while I sorted out and packed up the rest of the kit, discovering how little space we had for presents to take home. We then went shopping for gifts. Surprisingly, we couldn't find any posters or decent postcards of the Andes. We'd promised ourselves a picture of them which we could frame and hang up at home, but couldn't find any anywhere! We spent the evening in a nice parrilla restaurant with some juicy steak and a splendid bottle of wine. We also came up with some good ideas of what to do during our unexpected two weeks off.
The following morning started ridiculously early. We'd booked a (van sized) cab at the hostel reception the previous evening, but weren't completely confident that we were going to get the transportation we needed to the airport. There were quite a lot of cabs around, so when a very helpful cabbie stopped to see if we needed a taxi (without being hailed), about 15 minutes after are booking time, we showed him Dobbin. After much hmmming and us vetoing the idea that he could travel with 2/3rd of him sticking out of the boot, we managed to get him inside the car diagonally with the front passenger seat down, and with Joth squeezed in the back propping him up. The cabbie then got another cab for me and the rest of the luggage. Having managed to get Dobbin into a fairly small (Ford Escort sized) car, we felt confident we'd manage to get him home OK. (As it turned out, the only section of the journey which was difficult was getting a taxi to take us from Heathrow. "A bicycle? to Morden?? haha no mate!").
The check-in desk was still quiet, and the the singular check in woman at the LAN desk didn't even blink when shown Dobbin, and after performing the necessary paperwork, summoned a porter to take him away. The forty minute flight to Santiago was amaz. We flew over the same pass we had cycled down, and in the morning sunlight it was incredible. As the journey was so short, the plane literally hopped over the Andes, spending the whole flight either climbing or descending. The passenger information screens showed an altitude of just 4800m as we flew past Cerro Aconcagua which at 6962m, is significantly higher than we were! It was incredible to look out at a mountain from an aircraft, not just down on it. The flight to San Paulo was less inspiring, but we were both impressed by the music collection on the IFE system - 100+ classical albums, 300+ rock and pop albums, and many many more in the other 4 categories. We had been late leaving Santiago, and we were 40 minutes late by the time we reached Sao Paulo where we had a theoretical 4 1/2 hour transfer time. As we had bought the tickets to Sao Paulo separately to the next leg, we actually needed to go through immigration, check back in and then go duty free shopping. What we didn't count on was the queues. We had to queue to go through arrival immigration, wait for baggage, queue for the check in, queue to go through security, then queue to go through departure immigration again (for the stamps to say we were leaving the country). So 2 hours in immigration queues for 1 hour actually in the country! We did get to spend a few minutes in duty free before they called final boarding for our flight though. After Brazil, Heathrow seemed hugely efficient. It took less than an hour from the wheels touching down to us exiting the airport. We managed to get a phone booked cab home, and so it was the end of the adventure.
We'll hopefully post a few more entries though on more general aspects of the trip, such as kit reviews and what'd we'd do differently another time. I might write something about food too :-)