Landscapes & Land Mines
A 4,500-metre high salt lake littered with pink flamingos. Vicunas hiding behind odd-shaped volcanic boulders. Wind gusting to create a sandy haze from the desert landscape and eventually, a purple sunset. It sounds beautiful, but cooking outside in near zero degree temperatures for a group of cyclists crossing South America, it was hard to focus on anything other than the struggle.
This is near the Chilean/Bolivian border, which is remote to say the least. A large fenced area, with a skull and crossbones sign, mark the unrecovered land mines planted during times of heightened tension between the two countries.
The cyclists on TDA Global Cycling's South American Epic cross from Cartagena, Colombia to Ushuaia, Argentina, a 5 ½ month journey covering nearly 14,000km. As an expedition chef the job is to keep those bodies fed, healthy and in good spirits. If you can succeed in at least 2 out of those 3 you're doing well.
Sand, Sea and Ceviche
South America presents countless opportunities to experiment with the local culinary scene, shop the small village markets and in the case of Argentina, gorge on local grilled meats and wines. One of my favorite memories from the trip was in a small Peruvian town. It was something like 10 in the morning, but as dinner was going to be at our small hotel's restaurant, the pressure was off me that day. Taking advantage of this, myself and some of the other tour staff found a nearby restaurant by the sea and ordered ceviche and beer. Nothing could compare to that ceviche, the perfect blend of citrus and fresh seafood caught just that morning. Being a chef takes its toll, but it is mornings like this that make travelling the world as a lost hobo with tongs worthwhile.
The Good & The Really Bad
On a trip that long you also encounter scenarios you could have done without, like having all your belongings stolen from your tent by someone who rather than using your tent's zip to gain entrance, just ripped a giant gash through it with a knife. For every instance like that though, there are ten more times that make up for it, like buying an entire crate of mangos in Ecuador for about $5, or zipping through a coastal Peruvian desert city on a Tuk Tuk to go to market to buy 10kg of crayfish.
All Good Things Must End
When I started working on the South America trip, I had only just finished the Orient Express tour in Europe a week before. This meant I’d spend three days travelling to the start line to be on time. Sometimes countries all become a blur and the borders take on an absurd hue that make you hope one day for their erasure. By the end of this trip I was truly finished. In the olden days I would finish a 4-5 month stint on the road by chain-smoking cigarettes while binge-watching TV shows but this time I flew to Colombia and meandered around Medellin with some local friends, enjoying the local Arepas and music scene. It was kind of a halfway house for my return home to Canada. At that point it had been about 15 years of moving at least every 6 months, so hard to say what is the transition and what is the normal state. I like transitions.