It gnaws at us. We miss cycling but also miss writing a blog. And we are a bit bored. The nails can not be cut shorter, the teeth can not be flossed better, all dishes within the range available in Argentina have been cooked, and cakes baked, the poodles are caressed until bruised, the window frames of our host are painted. Harry has found a second sweetheart on the internet: Floor Jansen and experiences several Floorgasms with thousands of other Youtubers every day. That is why Roelie, plus her previous addiction to CandyCrush, has become addicted to the game Gardenscapes. In the meantime, we are well on the way with the '30-day jump-rope-challenge' and '30-day home yoga with Adriene' and we already know the majority of the online fitness classes in Limburg accent from Heerlens fitness club Anytime. Nevertheless, the clothes are a bit tighter. The days have no real highlights, no travel stories of course and no beautiful landscape photos, but is there still something to write about?
Phew, we have been quarantined for weeks now and have just got to the third extension. It's hard to believe that almost a month ago we cycled into the Argentinian town of Chos Malal, on the northern edge of Patagonia and got stuck there.
Covid-19 has turned the world upside down and indefinitely suspended our cycling trip. When we arrive in Chos Malal on March 15, Argentina has not yet taken any measures, but in the days after, the restrictions follow in quick succession. First we hear about closed provincial borders, then it is our campsite that closes and sends us away and then quarantine. The country is in full lockdown, which means that only one person is allowed to go out on the streets and only for necessary groceries at the nearest supermarket. Taking a breath of fresh air by walking, running or cycling is prohibited. There is police everywhere to check this. Very unusual how many police officers and cars a small town with 20,000 inhabitants contains.
When it is Roelie's turn to do the shopping, the supermarket manager calls the police. A few moments later, the officers walk straight up to Roelie and ask out of a blue. Unfortunately, Roelie doesn't understand much. Her Spanish is clearly still far too bad. During the "interrogation" she quickly sends a message to Harry who signals Carina, our hostess. Carina immediately jumps into the car to relieve Roelie, but when she arrives at the supermarket, Roelie (and the police officers) are no longer there. Roelie has to go to the office and together with the otherwise friendly officers she cycles to the police station where a doctor is called to ask the questions in English to determine whether there is a risk that she is infected with the coronavisus. We have been in Argentina for weeks, but that does not mean that we are completely sure corona-free, even in Argentina there are some infections. But Chile (more infections) is already three weeks behind us, Buenos Aires over two months and Europe a year and a half. The reassured doctor informs the police that the risk is no greater or less than all residents of Chos Malal and then Roelie can return to the supermarket to pay for the groceries left behind. Even though everyone has been just as friendly, she feels rotten that she is being picked from the supermarket as a foreigner, under the prying eyes of the Argentinians in the store. We have heard many such stories. In Vietnam, foreigners have been banned from restaurants and hostels, even if reservations were made. And closer to home in Salta further north, "gringos" weren't allowed to enter a shop days before the lockdown. Are we going this way too?
But Nestor, the extremely amiable and helpful owner of our mini hostel, knows the doctor Roelie spoke to. He goes to the doctor and together they prepare a written statement to safeguard us from going to the police station during future checks.
Our 'free letter'
The next day, Luc, the French motorcyclist and our hostel mate, goes to the same supermarket where the same manager picks up the phone again and calls the police. Meanwhile, Nestor is listening to the local radio and, before Luc is back, already informs us that a foreigner has been questioned by the police in the supermarket. However, Luc speaks Spanish very well and he now has the same medical certificate with him and can therefore continue shopping. And luckily it stops there. No additional checks on the three foreigners stranded in Chos Malal afterwards. We suspect that we are now sufficiently known among the inhabitants of this small town.
On the second day of the full lockdown, but even before the above adventure, we receive a call from Frank van den Heuvel, journalist at the Eindhovens Dagblad. He has already written two articles about us and is now curious about the first setback on our world bike trip. Of course, that has more news value than a trip without significant problems. As before, he writes a nice article and we are again world famous for a while in Eindhoven and the surrounding area.
Nice article in the Eindhoven Daily of March 25, 2020
One of the things Harry looks forward to when we get back to the Netherlands is a dog. Rex, the shaggy wolf shepherd he grew up with, is still deeply entrenched in his heart. From Austria to Malaysia, dogs have accompanied us on the bicycle journey and occasionally attacked us. The love for dogs has never diminished, although we have scolded the latter group, thrown stones and waved sticks. Nestor and Carina have three gray poodles, a giant black labrador and a mega white Dogo Argentino. For a moment we hope that we can walk the dogs. But unfortunately, the Argentinian government has also banned dog walking (something that is hardly done in Argentina, by the way) and we try to compensate that by hugging them a lot. The dogs are without exception quite dusty so our trousers and shirts must be washed daily. Well we have the time.
Our quarantine mates
Compared to Europe and the USA, the Corona virus in Argentina appears to be under controle. In mid-April, 2000 infections were reported out of a population of 45 million. Most of them are located in the capital. But a warned country counts for two, and Argentina is apparently shocked at the speed with which the virus has paralyzed other countries. There are "only" 100 infections and 2 deaths known if the government decides on a total lockdown on March 19. People follow the restrictions in a disciplined manner, including in Chos Malal, where no contamination has been reported to this day on. Additional measures are introduced during the lockdown. For example, the supermarkets have to close their doors on Sundays and in the evenings. And a week later, the mask is made mandatory, even if you walk alone on the street. We don't have one and wouldn't know where to buy them, but luckily a "different form of covering" of the mouth and nose is also okay. It takes some getting used to, as a robber, to walk into the mini gift with the Buff over our face.
It is Harry's turn to rob the supermarket
But there is no gagging, on the contrary, in general, the population seems to be very satisfied with the speed and decisiveness with which the Argentine government responds to the virus threat. But the already fragile economy is creaking and the Argentine peso is sinking even further. Fortunately, the high season has already come to an end and the misery for the still young tourism sector is not too big. We ourselves doubt the usefulness of a complete lockdown, but of course we carefully follow the restrictions as a guest in a foreign country in crisis. And that the peso is worth less and less, means that staying here becomes cheaper for us and Argentina already isn't very expensive. Every disadvantage has its advantage.
Eco-friendy cole mask
The daily rhythm in quarantine time differs, of course, from cycling days but it also differs from our old-fashioned weekend programs. No alarm goes off and we usually wake up around 8 AM. After a cup of tea and / or coffee, the day starts with jumping rope. Our former clothesline is the jumping rope and it does not really do the job very well. The poodles now know that the rope is painful and stay away. Nestor once secretly filmed us and to his great hilarious Roelie jumps rhythmically and flawlessly this time and Harry jumps in a few series of up to five until he throws the rope aside in frustration. Nestor offers to send the videos to us, but Harry declines politely.
At 10 o'clock one of us is at the supermarket. Then the queue outside is not very long. The store is open to seniors during the first hour (between 9am and 10am). A huge advantage of the quarantine is that the queues for the cash register have disappeared. There we were often waiting an awful long time. Now we do that outside in front of the store. The security guards, standard present in the Argentine supermarket, who never had anything to do before quarantine, now have to regulate that if one walks out of the store, one can enter.
It is time for lunch around 1 PM. Thanks to Luc, it has become customary to share a beer. We now also understand the system of deposits on the beer bottle. Buying one without returning turns out to be difficult, buying one and returning three is not good either. The system is that when you buy beer you hand in the same number of bottles empty. After lunch Luc takes a siesta and we turn on Duolingo for Spanish lessons and when our eyelids get heavy, we start a fitness lesson on YouTube and we pump some energy through the body. Afterwards take a shower, followed by the daily hand wash and then the 5 is on the clock. We saw a carton of wine open and drink a glass of wine. At least we call it wine, but French Luc object to that. By then Luc is back and drinks a tea, Fanta or occasionally real wine from a bottle. The cooking process starts around 8am and after late dinner Luc goes to his bedroom and we watch something on Netflix. Around midnight we call it a day.
Online fitness lesson: the lunges, squats, clean & press are weighted with a carton of milk and wine
We really get along with our Luc. He is very relaxed: he answers most of our questions invariably "if you want". Meanwhile we also respond to his questions, of course with a wink. Luc is an interesting person, he comes from a small village near the Spanish border in the Pyrenees, where he was a shepherd. Due to a condition in his hands, he is now incapacitated for work and has been traveling with benefits from the French government. He can tell us a lot about the route to Alaska, which he has taken in the opposite direction; from Canada to Panama by bicycle, from Colombia by motorcycle. But his main plus is his cooking skills; for much of his working life he was a chef in several French restaurants! With a touch of Luc we are often surprised with simple, delicious diners in the evening. Luckily we can also surprise Luc with some typical Dutch food, such as hutspot and gehaktballen, or with our (labor-intensive) recipe for a delicious bolognese sauce.
Easter dinner from our chef: pasta from the oven with spinach, panchetta, bechamel and egg
It is never really boring. Harry helps Nestor and Carina paint window frames or spray the gravel road in front of the house to prevent dust from blowing into the paint. Sometimes Roelie bakes a cake and gives a slice to Carina and Nestor. The Dutch apple pie is so well-liked that Carina wants the recipe. After a seemingly successful attempt at a Spanish translation of the recipe, Carina has baked such an apple pie twice, of which we had to taste, and tell her whether there are any improvements needed. In turn, we are treated to homemade pizza, empanadas and tortas fritas (fried bread). We invite them to a barbecue and they invite us to a parilla on the same barbecue and a chicken stew in their kitchen. We are so happy with these lovely people, of course we pay for the hostel, but their hospitality goes so much further. Zoë and Olivier (#WeLeaf), the traveling couple from the Netherlands and Belgium thought they had found a nice shelter in Canada to sit out the crisis, but were asked to leave after ten days.
A lick of gratitude and the Spanish-language recipe for a Dutch apple pie
And we call, Skype, Whatsapp, Zoom and FB with a lot friends and family. The activity in the whatsapp group of cyclists in Latin America is declining and people are leaving the group. No more panic, no questions about how to reach the capital and score a bicycle box somewhere. Many cyclists have now returned home; of the Dutch cyclists known to us, no one is in Latin America anymore. Our call within the whatsapp group as to whether Dutch people are still here in this part of the world remain unanswered. We skype with Nienke and Pim, known on social media as #outdoorroamers. They are in a holiday home on NP the Veluwe in the Netherlands, because their house is still rented out until the summer. We met Robert and Lyn (#rolynaround) in Thailand and cycled towards us but decided to return to the Netherlands in Ecuador. Jelle (#orangeguyonabike) cycled when we met him with his father Peter to Ushuaia. Peter flew to the Netherlands, Jelle still wanted to cycle from Seville to the Netherlands but ended up in the lockdown of Spain.
Daniel, the Spanish cyclist from Zarragosa whom we have encountered about three times since the end of January and also on his way to Alaska, is stuck at a campsite in Zapala 200 kilometers south of us. Ivan, the super nice Englishman who we sheltered in Oirschot and then met again in Georgia, is stuck in Nicaragua. He camps in the garden of a Dutchman living in Nicaragua, found through the cycling network of Warmshowers. Are we ever going to run into him again in South America as we hoped? We met Jenne and Annalies in Laos and they now cycle in Taiwan and hope to continue in Japan. We keep in touch with them via email, Messenger and Whatsapp. We have lost contact with Scott, the American cyclist we encountered in Thailand and Australia. The last time he was (again) in Cambodia. We hope everything is fine with him. Carla and Jelle, who we met in Australia and who are still there, are doing fine. They could continue cycling for a long time, but on the way to Perth via the famous Nullarbor they are also stranded in quarantine.
Oh, and what about your command of the Spanish language? Mwah, the Spanish classes are quite disappointing. It has a reputation for being an easy language, but it still takes us a lot of effort to tell a story or understand what is being said after these 30 days. We try to learn Spanish through the Duolingo app. After many hours and about 100 levels, the past tense and the past participle are starting to make things quite difficult. Nobody is doing difficult about that in a conversation, but at DuoLingo we lose a heart (you have five and they are finished, you can wait at least in the free version for a day). And if we don't want something, we lose hearts!!!
Enjoy the Argentine life: good food from the barbecue or stew and of course dancing
We are often asked what our plan is. We do not know. We are currently in a perfect place in a total lockdown. We hope that the restrictions will be broadened slightly and that we can at least take another detour as is allowed in the Netherlands. And of course that we can pick up our original route plan to Alaska again. However, going back to the Netherlands is not an option without a home and without a job and we are well aware that the crisis situation in Europe is currently more serious than here in Argentina. Cycling further will not be possible for weeks and maybe months. We have no idea if, after a future lockdown is lifted, we will be forced to leave Argentina in the shorter term. Maybe fly to Alaska in July and then cycle south? Maybe cycle to Europe and go there and experience two beautiful parties in the hope that the marriages of Joyce and Richard and Harjan and Sacha will continue? Maybe back to Asia? We wait, keep all options open and continue to enjoy some well-deserved rest, good company and delicious food.