Archive for the ‘Chile’ Category

The Rising Oceans

Friday, March 16th, 2007

   I am sitting in an internet cafe in Punta Arenas, Chile, right now, doing web searches to figure out just how big of a problem sea level rise will be. The sea level has already risen over the past century, although only about one inch. As more glacial ice melts, what will it do from here on?

Monterey Bay and Research Station
Malibu, CA
La Paz Shoreline

   The most likely result is not that bad – maybe a foot and a half this century. This could be very bad for many places I have visited – especially along the Caribbean coast—and also make storms much worse, not to mention erode some nice beaches. But I might not call it a disaster.

Mazatlan Coast
Beach at Placencia
Coast at Omoa
Panama City
The San Blas Islands

   The problem, though, is that it takes a long time for ice sheets to melt, and we don’t really know how long that is. In the ‘long run,’ which could be centuries or millennium, with a likely 3 degree C warming, the ocean could rise 80 feet. We don’t know if it is centuries or millennium, because computer models for ice sheets are very inaccurate. If it is centuries, as some argue, the oceans could rise much faster than we would like – maybe a foot a decade. And, again, we don’t know, but, well, do we want to find out?

Cartagena sits barely above sea level
Santa Fe Coastline

   As I have said before, I am in Punta Arenas right now. Punta Arenas sits on the shore of the Straight of Magellan on the southern tip of South America, and is just one of the many cities on the coast that I have visited. Throughout this entry I have interspersed photos of the coastlines I have visited on this trip – take a look at them and envision what a 1 foot, 10 foot, or 80 foot sea level rise would look like.

Puerto Natales
Puerto Natales Shore
Punta Arenas Shoreline

The Carretera Austral, Fitzroy, and the road to Punta Arenas

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

   Since last entry, I have zig zagged south, following the Andes to the tip of South America (see map). I am now in Punta Arenas, a city at the southern end of Chile.

   The first segement of this journey, riding south from Coyhaique, Chile, involved riding Chile’s carretera austral, which was ordered built by the dictator Pinochet in the 1980s. The road is famous among cycle tourists, and I soon learned why. I camped every night, often next to giant turquoise lakes or rivers, or within sight of glaciated peaks and the nearby ice fields of Patagonia.

Carretera Austral, near Cerro Castillo
Campsite over Lago General Carrera - South America's second largest lake
Micheal ahead on the Carretera Austral
Couple from France crossing South America, south to north

   I met many cyclists on this route, almost all of whom were also on long journeys. It was a little strange to meet people who were crossing all of South America and think nothing of it – just give casual advice about the many months ahead.

Cyclist from the Netherlands - biked across Asia, then Australia, and is now going from Argentina to Alaska.

   I met Peter from the Netherlands, who left the Netherlands well over a year ago and biked across Asia. He realized he had some money left over, so he flew to Argentina and is now biking to Alaska. And that is nothing – If I had been on this road just two weeks earlier, I would have met the famous Heinz Stücke, who started bicycling 1962, and hasn’t stopped since. He was in South America because he was trying to get a boat to bike part of Antarctica, one of the very few places he has never biked. His boat fell through, so decided to bike the carretera austral, because last time he biked Chile, the road had not yet been built.

Local mountain guide Yoani explains that this section of the Rio Baker is going to be damed
Debate in Patagonia about dam building

   Along the carretera austral, I had a number of conversations with locals about the hydroelectric dams that will likely be built in the region. Most seem to support building the dams, as it would bring more infrastructure and development, while others complained that giant beautiful valleys would be flooded. These dams, though, would also provide incredible amounts of carbon dioxide-free electricity to Chile’s cities. No power source is without its drawbacks, and while I support dams over the use of coal, seeing such projects reminds me that energy efficiency–reducing our energy needs–is one of the most important investments we can make.

The melting face of Glacier O'Higgins

   The carretera austral ends at lake O’higgins, which you can cross by boat. I paid a little extra to see the O’higgins glacier, which you can see on the left and which has melted 9 miles over the past century. Once we reached the far end of the lake, I had to take a trail through the woods (sometimes pushing the bike and getting rained on) to another lake, which, when crossed by a boat, brought me to the roads of Argentina and the mountains of Fitz Roy, shown below.

Fitz Roy
Cerro Torre through the trees
Departing El Chalten

   (A thanks to the people at Cerro Torre Cabañas – a great place to stay in El Chalten).

   From these mountains, I headed south once more, crossing the dry steppe of Argentina before once more crossing over to Chile, where I stayed with families in Puerto Natales and Punto Arenas. In Punta Arenas, I visited my first school, Liceo Sara Braun, in many months, as the summer vacation for Argentina and Chile has just ended.

Sandra, Felipe, Carlos, Yara, Karen, Jonathen, Gloria, Juan Carlos in Puerto Natales
Liceo Sara Baun, Punta Arenas
Liceo Sara Baun, Punta Arenas

   I am now at the end of South America. From here, I take a boat across the Straight of Magellan, and bike a few days across the island of Tierra del Fuego to the Argentine city of Ushuaia. And then there will be no more road left.

Into Patagonia

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

   I just recently purchased my plane ticket home – I will fly out of Buenos Aires on the 1st of April – and it is a strange feeling to suddenly have a firm ending date to this trip. To make it to Tierra del Fuego and back in that time frame, though, I have to hurry a bit, and I am likely not going to be uploading many photos to the site until I reach the end.

¡Gracias a Sergio y su familia!
An excellent 'Once' in Osorno

   I realize I haven’t written much about my route after Santiago Chile, so I thought I would let you know more or less what I have done since then. I left Chile’s capital a little over a month ago, and followed mostly the main highway south. Having already appeared in the national media and having been featured on a few key Chilean bicycling web sites (here for instance, or here), I had a number of contacts down the road and stayed with many families through southern Chile.

Crossing Lago Todos Los Santos on the way to Argentina, Volcon Osorno
Arrive in El Bolson to spend time with my friend Denali

   I crossed over to Argentina via a series of boats crossing lakes. Those of you who saw the Motorcycle Diaries, it was the same series of lakes that Che Guevara and Alberto Granado crossed with their motorcycle. From there I spent a day in the tourist capital of Bariloche, and then south to town of El Bolson where I spent a week with a friend of mine who is living in the town.

   From El Bolson, I biked straight south, following a paved road through the dry windy steppe of Argentine Patagonia. Not many people live here, and after a few days enjoying the solitude, I suddenly realized I wanted to see both people and vegetation. Following a seldom used dirt road, batteling fierce headwinds, I crossed once more back to Chile, where I am now, and will follow a windy dirt road known as the ‘carretera austral’ through pine forests south. See map – (In Patagonia, the east side of the Andes, in Argentina, is dry, and the west side, In Chile, where you see all the fjords on the map, is a temperate rainforest similar to coastal British Colombia).

   There is not much road left, only about twenty some days of pedalling separates me and the end.

Travel Summary – Bolivia, Argentina, & Chile

Monday, February 12th, 2007

(If you are signed up for the email list, you would get this entry emailed to you)

Ride for Climate followers,

   Hello from northern Patagonia. It is summer here, and I am relaxing in a small town before continuing on for the very last stretch of this journey. I have recently read through my personal journals for the past 15 months and I am literally having trouble processing everything that has happened. I find it difficult to believe how long ago it was that I was crossing Mexico, let alone how long ago it was that I left my front door in California and started biking south.

Wouter and I camped at this rural school and then talked to the kids in the morning - Escuela Eduardo Abarua
Bike, full moon
Lago Aguas Frias
Article in La Nacion

   Since last update I have zigzagged southward across the Andes (see map of Boliva and Argentina & Chile), crossing the Atacama desert, northern Argentina, and central Chile. I have just crossed back into Argentina for the final push southward through Patagonia. As schools have been on summer vacation, I have given almost no presentations, but I have appeared on a few news programs and publications across this end of the continent.


  • Dec 11 Biking Southern Bolivia and the Atacama Desert
  • Dec 17 The fork on my bike breaks
  • Dec 29 Northern Argentina and biking with Dave Johnson
  • Jan 16 Santiago, Chile
  • Jan 17 Melting Glaciers and a climb of El Plomo
  • Jan 19 Heat Waves
  • Feb 1 What happens when the poor become rich?
    Youtube video of me on Chilean National TV
    Biking off into the sunset on the world’s largest salt flat
    Official Christmas video of Ride for Climate
    Lots of bikes are used in northern Argentina
    View from 18,000 ft in the Andes near Santiago

    Campsite (Mt. behind me is 19,000 ft tall and has almost no snow)

       Since the last update, I have written about the danger of future heat waves as well as the risks to water supply for people who live along the Andes and depend upon snow and glacial water. There are many risks that I have not written about recently – such as rising sea levels, increased chances of both droughts and floods, and loss of biodiversity. As many of you know, the IPCC – an international team whose results almost all governments of the world have accepted – recently published their conclusions that we are to blame for global warming, and that it will get much worse unless we do something. The time to act has come.

       Travel dates for Ride for Climate USA, the planned trip around the US, are being set. I have added to the bottom of this email our schedule for the first month of travel. Do you know people in these places that would be interested in events? If so, send the website their way. We are still in the process of setting up presentations and finding places to stay, so spread the word!

       If you know people in the southern cities of Punto Arenas or Ushuaia (or any towns along the way), let me know. I will also be flying out of Buenos Aires, likely spending a few days in the capital city. Schools will be in session, so if you know of a school that would like a presentation, let me know.

    I should know what building this is
    Campsite, one day south of Temuco
    Biking along Lago llanquigue, Volcon Osorno
    Dirt roads in the Altiplano

       Look for one more final update when I reach the islands at the tip of South America. I am almost there…..

    In Patagonia,


    Flats by country:
    Bolivia: 1
    Argentina: 1
    Chile: 4

    Ride for Climate USA Schedule (subject to small changes)

    Boston, MA ~ Ride begins! – April 21
    Amherst, MA ~ April 23
    Hartford, CT ~ April 25
    Brooklyn, NY ~ April 30
    New York, NY ~ May 1
    Lambertsville, NJ ~ May 3
    Westchester, PA ~ May 5
    Philadelphia, PA ~ May 6
    Gettysburg, PA ~ May 7
    Chambersburg, PA ~ May 8
    Pittsburgh, PA ~ May 13
    Oberlin, OH ~ May 20
    Bowling Green, OH ~ May 21
    Monroe, MI ~ May 23
    South Bend, IN ~ May 26
    Chicago, IL ~ May 28

    You can see more of what might come at

    What Happens When the Poor Become Rich?

    Thursday, February 1st, 2007

       Chile is very different from almost every other country I have traveled across for one reason: the economy here is stable and growing.

       When I first crossed into Chile from Bolivia, I was shocked to bike to a mall and see a large selection of wide screen TVs. Biking across Chile, I have been surprised by new highways and new housing complexes for a middle class. Little things on this trip keep on shocking me – like camping next to a house in the countryside and having one of the kids pull out a six mega pixel camera to take my picture. I am writing this right now using a laptop borrowed from the family I am staying with, surfing the internet on their WiFi.

    Biking into Santiago, following a cyclist on Apoquindo, Santiago's principal road.
    Biking the freeway south of Santiago
    Being photographed by the local kids.

       There is still much poverty in Chile – like the rest of Latin America, it is incredibly unequal—but the country is, more or less, growing its economy. A quick look at the statistics of income growth per person over the past 30 years shows that Chile’s per person income has grown at almost 4% per year. No other country I have biked across has grown even half as fast, and in some places, such as Peru and Venezuela, the average person is poorer than they were 30 years ago.

    All the forests in this picture are plantations

       To be sure, Chileans I talk to are very critical of their own growth. They often complain it is not equal (minimum wage is still only $200 a month) or that it is not ecological (a lot of growth is based off of natural resource extraction), and, above, all, they don’t like it when I make any comparison, good or bad, between Chile and other Latin American countries. But, I will do it anyway: the average Chilean is far better off economically than the average citizen of almost every other country I have biked through. (Possible exceptions of Argentina and Costa Rica.)

       Chile is achieving what so many people who I have seen across Latin America want – more wealth. On the whole, this is good, and it makes me feel comfortable to be somewhere where there is a large middle class.

       There is a flip side, though, to this growth. Comparing how carbon dioxide emissions through fossil fuel use have grown over the past 20 years, you can what effect this has had. The average Chilean produces almost 50% more carbon dioxide from fossil fuels then 20 years ago. In every other country, the number has barely changed.

    Santiago by Twilight

       I can see, here in Chile, lots of new cars and construction. New wealth has brought more electricity use and more driving. If all of world were to achieve what Chile has achieved, the atmosphere simply couldn’t take it.

       So, what do we do? To me, the answer seems clear: we need to find new technologies to replace fossil fuels as soon as possible before these poorer countries develop.