A camping stove. It is a must-have item for living outdoors. It cooks our food, it makes us hot drinks to warm us up on cold, rainy days, it boils water for drinking, it keeps us alive without having to do all of those tasks over an open fire which would be way too time consuming.

We started in the U.S. With an MSR Dragonfly. Though an obnoxiously loud stove, it was small, efficient and ran on both white gas and regular unleaded gasoline. We would have loved to bring it to South America with us, but of course we aren't allowed to take stoves on airplanes. You can always try to hide it, but if it's discovered, not only do you end up at your destination without a stove, but you also permanently lose your possession to the ever-multiplying collection of items confiscated by the TSA. And good camp stoves are not cheap so we sent ours home and painstakingly searched for another one once we arrived in Ecuador.

The second stove of our bike tour was the Coleman Exponent 442. Though it didn't pack down nicely, it was pleasantly quiet and also ran on gasoline which was a huge plus for us down here because it's inexpensive, readily available and we never had to worry about finding propane fuel canisters which are very costly.

However, there's also a downside to using gasoline. It's a dirty form of fuel and over time it tends to clog the stove. Ours decided to crap out on us much sooner than we expected. After 2 months of use there's already corroding parts and Mike's disassembled and cleaned the thing a dozen times to no avail. It's infuriating how these items are outrageously expensive, are marketed to work with 2 types of fuel yet really designed to only function properly for extended periods of time with one of those fuels. Then when it breaks on you, it's impossible to fix and you're left out on the road or in the mountains without a stove.

Today we went searching for yet another stove to last us for our next 2 ½ months in South America but didn't find what we were looking for nor were we thrilled on the idea of wasting another $150 on a stove that we'd have to dispose of when we were ready to fly out of here. Our solution was to make an alcohol burning stove that was so simple it couldn't break on us.

Mike had a blast with this project. We went to a pharmacy and bought a bottle of rubbing alcohol (our new fuel). Then we stopped at the grocery store and bought a huge canister of dry milk, a can of tuna, a can of peas and 4 beers. Mike was pleased that today's beers got to go under the “essential supplies” column in our budget instead of the “food” column. The only other things we needed were some copper wire, which Mike found laying on the sidewalk and some bolts and a few other tools, all of which we had in our spare parts bag.

We dumped the dry milk in the trash because that stuff is gross, but the large can was needed to provide a solid base for the stove and to hold our large cooking pots. A shorter can would have been ideal but this was all we could find. Vents were cut in the can and then set aside.
The base.

The pea can was needed to build a pedestal to hold the burner. This was only essential because we used the large milk can and could have been omitted had we found something shorter. Mike attached the pea can inside the bottom of the milk can with copper wire.

The very bottom couple of millimeters was all that was needed of the tuna can. This piece became the preheating tray which holds the burner as well as a tiny bit of alcohol that gets lit to heat up the alcohol inside the burner. Mike attached the preheating tray to the pea can with a non-essential screw from the TV stand in our hotel room because we didn't have one in our tool bag.
Looking down at the pedestal and preheating tray.

The final part to the stove was the burner which was made out of the bottoms of 2 aluminum cans. One can was cut about 1 ¼ inches from the bottom and the other about ¾ of an inch. With a sewing needle, Mike poked 16 evenly spaced holes around the beveled edge of the can, which is where the flames will come out, and with a drill bit, a larger hole in the center of the can which will be the filling hole. He then carefully fit together the 2 bottoms of the cans making sure not to dent them, filled the burner with alcohol and inserted a bolt into the filling hole. Since it's impossible to regulate the flame with this type of stove, he also made a burner with only 8 holes so we have the option of both a high or low flame.
The burners.

All of our trials throughout the day have been a huge success – we've cooked on it, boiled water and are pleased with the outcome. Now the major test will be to see how it performs in the never-ending winds of Patagonia. We now have a stove that is light but kind of large, quiet, we can take on airplanes, looks ridiculously awesome, is unlikely to break, but if it does is easily repairable and only cost us about $12. Beat that all you big camp stove manufacturers!
Our awesome new alcohol burning camp stove at work.




I love running into people who completely prove wrong the all-too-widely accepted notion that once you have kids your ability to live a wild, adventurous lifestyle goes down the toilet. We met a Scottish family (mom, dad and 10-year old daughter) last week on one of their many grand adventures. They started in Northern Canada, have been cycling for the past year-and-a-half and have ridden over 14,000 miles through North, Central and South America.
Sean, Ingrid and Kate 

The tandem Sean and Kate ride

Had you been in the gas station at the moment the 5 of us met, you likely would have assumed that we were old friends bumping into each other after years of being apart. We were all so far beyond excited to meet other English speakers that none of us could wait for our turn to talk. I think there were 5 conversations going on at once. It had been a long time since Mike and I have had people other than ourselves whom we could actually understand, have in-depth conversations with and not have to play charades to get our point across, and an even longer time for Sean, Ingrid and Kate, so you can only imagine the eruption of excitement, wanting to spew out stories from all of our latest experiences.

We spent a night camping together and it was awesome and inspiring to hear their stories. We learned how other parties celebrate a touch of Christmas while living on bicycles by being the audience for Kate and Ingrid's Christmas pageant dress rehearsal, the actors being 5 stuffed animals they have either been given or have picked up along the roadside somewhere along their journey. We rode off in different directions from our camp site, but they too are riding south and we can only hope that we'll be so lucky to have our paths will cross again at some point.
Kate and the actors


We had one of our first really cold and rainy days in South America last week. It's really not fun riding on those days, but it must be done and we better familiarize ourselves with the discomfort of it because they're only going to get more and more frequent the further south we ride.

We had just enjoyed a long, relaxing lunch and hot drinks and then took off riding in the rain. Not long after, I started feeling that rainy-day tired feeling setting in. It's not difficult to lose yourself in your thoughts while on a bike, your mind totally at ease, and then suddenly find yourself 20 miles down the road without knowing where the miles went. But this time my mind went a step further; it got both lost in thought and hypnotized by the rain, I turned around to see where Mike was and suddenly I found myself roaring down a hill, stuck in a sloping gutter, smashing into the guard rail and then skidding on my side on the pavement. Ouch. I was no longer lost in dream world after that.

My bike took a bit of a beating, bending the handlebars and leaving some awesome scrapes. Just a little more character added to the good old Cougar, I guess. Fortunately for me, it was both cold and rainy that day so I had on extra layers along with my rain jacket and gloves to protect me from the pavement. I walked away with a banged up, bloody elbow and knee, a throbbing thumb, aching neck and a lot of holes in my clothes that I'll soon have to patch. It would have been much more painful had it been a warm, sunny day so I guess I was thankful for the crummy weather that day.


One night we were making dinner in the center of the town of Villarica, Chile. The huge cement slab we were sitting on was surrounded by little booths with people selling all sorts of touristy trinkets. On the other side of the slab was a portly man who turned out to be one of the men selling his wares and as we were cooking he made a comment of how good our food smelled. Once we finished cooking we realized we had made way more than we could eat (our eyes are often much too large for our stomachs on the days we find a grocery store with good looking produce), so we made up a plate of food for the man and Mike took it over to his booth.

I have never heard anyone cry out in such ecstatic happiness over a simple plate of stir fried broccoli, mushrooms, red peppers, garlic and onion over rice. His continuous laughter was deep and jolly, he repeatedly cried out, “Que rico! Que rico!” (meaning how tasty), told us Chilean food was boring and bland and made sure that every single other vendor knew that he was the lucky recipient of a delicious plate of food from a couple of grubby looking cyclists.

It made our day to see him so thrilled about our food and when he finished, he returned with our plate and a little wooden mug from his booth. Not that we need to be carrying any more stuff with us, but we couldn't turn down his gift, so we now have a mini-mug from Villarica that will certainly finish out our bicycle journey with us.
Mike, the stir-fry guy and Cari


Though it hasn't felt much like the Christmas to us, we get occasional reminders that it's the holiday season when we cruise through towns and see all of the decorations in the store windows and Christmas music playing on the radios. We couldn't let the holidays pass without acknowledging them at all, so one day while we were spending some time in a town and Mike was busy on the computer, I picked up 5 tiny ornaments from a roadside vendor. When we got to camp that night, I picked up a branch and surprised him with our own little Christmas tree. We get a new “tree” every night and it adds a nice touch of holiday spirit our vagabond life.
One of our beautiful Christmas trees

Today is Christmas. We had a beautiful ride along Lake Nahuel Huapi which, in my opinion, closely rivals the infamous Lake Tahoe in spectacular scenery and splendor with its vibrant blue water, snow-capped mountain setting and elaborate lakeside homes. To make our day even better, the weather gods decided to spare us from another rainy day, gave us perefct temperatures and mostly tailwinds for a change. Our gifts to ourselves when we arrived at our destination was a restaurant meal, hotel, soft bed to sleep in and the first shower we've taken in 2 weeks. It has been a great day.



The riding since we left Santiago has been absolutely perfect. Finally, we got the terrain we've hoped for every time we start out after a long break. The first few days were completely flat and everyday thereafter got slightly more hilly. Although at first it makes for fairly boring cycling, it was just what was needed for my aching knee, which thankfully is feeling much better.

The scenery has changed dramatically over the last 400 miles. We have cruised through flat lands and rolling hills which seemed to be a cross between the central valley of California and the Midwest; endless fields of corn and wheat, pastures of horses, cows and sheep and orchards of cherries, apples and nectarines. The wildflowers are out in full force as Summer approaches, making the landscape beautiful with color, but at the same time are giving Mike a major bout of allergies. We have just reached the edge of where the hills are starting to last longer than a few minutes, the air is clear, free of city pollution and smells of the sweet conifer forests the highway passes through. On the horizon we can now see towering, snow-covered volcanoes and are excited to be riding amongst them.

Saltos del Laja

Up until this point we have stuck to riding on the Panamerican Highway, the main road running north and south through Chile. It is a superb road with excellent pavement and huge shoulders, but it feels kind of like riding on an Interstate with all of the traffic. It has been difficult finding places to camp as there are fences around virtually every parcel of land, so we have continued living trucker-style, riding from one truck stop/gas station to the next and pitching our tent there. It's convenient because we have a ready supply of water and snacks if our food stash is running low (or if we just have a late-night sweets craving which is usually the case) and if we're really lucky they have showers, but that's only happened once. We typically find a corner in the back so we're out of the way and out of sight, but there have been occasions where we've had to camp right out in front. Imagine a U-shaped floor plan with a small grassy courtyard and 24-hour pumps with blaring bright lights. Now place 2 blonde haired foreigners on bikes and a bright orange tent in the courtyard and imagine the perplexed stares we got. Another interesting campsite was the night we got permission to sleep on the front porch of a quiet, small town mini market. We waited until dark to set up our tent, but it turned out that instead of shutting down, this market came to life at 10 pm. Suddenly all of the lights on the porch and the bright floodlights in the parking lot came on, customers started arriving and sat on the porch eating, drinking and smoking with their children running around the parking lot peeking into our tent. We were ready to sleep, but it was evident we wouldn't be getting any rest for several hours.
Camping on the front porch of a mini-mart

Although we could stay on the Panamerican for quite a while longer, we are ready to get away from the bustling traffic and explore some of the remote, less maintained, quieter roads that climb and wind around the hundreds of lakes, volcanoes and National Parks in eastern Chile and western Argentina. Tomorrow we will turn east, start climbing and soon be riding through the part of South America we've been anxiously awaiting.



Shades of brown, rocks and sand for as far as the eye can see, no people, no vegetation, no animals; nothing to look at and nothing but the hot sun beating down on us all day long. The monotony of the desert gets old very quickly and after only a few days of enduring the heart of the Atacama we were ready for a change. We took a little detour away from the Panamerican Highway and rode the winding and hilly tightrope of the coastal highway where the endless desert meets the infinite sea.
Cari escaping from the sun.

 Where the desert meets the sea.

The slight change in scenery was pleasant and the towns were more frequent which made it easier to refill water, but we were still in the desert, growing bored with our surroundings, and though not wanting to admit it, somewhat dreading the next 1,000 miles of riding through the same old scenery. I'm not sure why I can be perfectly content riding through the monotony of a forest and not that of the desert, but riding was beginning to feel more like a daily chore than a daily pleasure. In addition, my knee had decided to rebel after our first few days of riding and big mountain climbs and though I pushed through the pain for several days, we concluded it would be wise to rest for a while and let it heal rather than pressing on and potentially killing our chance to ride the southern, more beautiful half of Chile.
Mike walking down the street in Iquique. 

A fishing village as seen from the highway. 

A very old cemetery.

In the town of Michilla, after a week of riding the Atacama Desert with a bum knee, we both agreed that we'd had enough. We stopped for lunch and instead of getting back on our bikes to ride the second half of the day, we walked them to the side of the highway, stuck out our thumbs and in less than 30 seconds got picked up by Juan who towed us to the city of Antofagasta in his empty semi-truck. It was nice to watch a small section of the desert pass by quickly from the cab of a truck instead of slowly and painfully pedaling through.
Mike and Juan loading the bikes on the truck.

In Antofagasta we met up with Mario, a guy we found through Warmshowers.org, a website set up for hosting touring cyclists. Earlier that day we had commented on how we were missing meeting and having conversations with many random people everyday, as we did while riding through the US.  Here, it's difficult for us to talk with anyone because our Spanish is so elementary and though we have each other to talk to and our Spanish is improving little by little, meeting people and outside conversations were huge aspects of touring that were now missing. To our surprise (and relief), Mario spoke English very well and we enjoyed his company and hospitality for a couple of days. He showed us around his city and we cooked dinners for him; how nice it was to have an actual stove and oven instead of our little, one burner camping stove.
Mike, Mario and Cari in Antofagasta.

Not wanting to overstay our welcome and with my knee not quite feeling ready to ride again, we decided we'd head down to Santiago, by-pass the remainder of the desert and allow me a few more pedal-free days. We had such luck with hitchhiking to Antofagasta that we opted to give it another try instead of dealing with the frustrations of getting our bikes on buses. Mario gave us a ride back out to the Panamerican Highway, dropped us off on the side of the road and gave us the phone numbers of a friend in Santiago we could stay with when we arrived. Once again luck was on our side and within minutes an empty 30-foot flatbed trailer on it's way to a city just outside of Santiago pulled up, we loaded our bikes on top and climbed in. Mike took the passenger seat and I got the bed that lay behind the two front seats. We spent the next 30 hours with Patricio, living the life of a trucker; driving long hours, eating at roadside diners and sleeping at truck stops. Patricio was a very kind guy, but unfortunately didn't speak any English. We would have loved to learn about his life, his family and his country, but our questions were simple and we rarely understood more than a few sentences of his responses. It was very clear that we didn't really know what he was saying, but he just continued on talking; I think he was lonely and was happy to have some company along for the long haul.
 Mike, a little dog and our bikes on the back of Patricio's truck.

 In the truck somewhere along our 800-mile trip.

We set up camp for the night on the back of Patricio's truck.

Cari, Mike and Patricio.

We watched the desert pass by from the excellent vantage point of the truck; the complete barren nothingness slowly transitioned into a land with sparse cacti, then shrubs and ultimately trees and abundant vegetation. Part of me was happy to watch the Atacama whiz by so easily yet part of me was disappointed that we didn't press on and ride through it. I know we'll enjoy the southern part of the country much more than the north, but it feels a little bit like we cheated on our ride across Chile.

We are now in Santiago, staying with Mario's friend, Lorena and her family. Though they speak only a few words in English making it very difficult to communicate, we were welcomed into their home and are experiencing firsthand how I expect the majority of South American families live. The house is modest at best in a not-so-nice-looking part of town, shared between 2 families, with a sheet metal roof that rattles in the wind and paper thin walls. Furniture, decorations and possessions are sparse, but there are an abundance of televisions and they were excited to show us that they had cable TV. It is run down and grungy, but the people inside are a tight-knit family, cheerful, friendly and very welcoming to a couple of complete strangers. There has been a party to attend every night, entertaining ourselves until the wee hours of the morning by teaching them English phrases, learning Spanish phrases, singing together to the American Rock and Pop music that they love to listen to, dancing in the kitchen and building friendships in spite of the language barriers that exist between us.
Group photo at Benjamin's birthday party.

Benjamin and Mike at the grill. 


My knee is improving, but I'll continue with the rest, stretch, anti-inflammatory regimen for another day or two before betting back on the bike, just to make sure it's actually better. You'd think we would have learned our lesson about starting out gung-ho way back in California with Mike's knee injury, but apparently we didn't. For now we'll continue to wander around Santiago, which we've discovered is just another monstrous city like anywhere else in the world with the exception that public displays of affection are apparently normal here. Everywhere, people are doing way more than smooching in the streets...it's very strange!



Our final bus ride was right on par with the rest of our experiences in Peru. We boarded the run-down bus for our 18-hour ride after paying our extra luggage fees and being reassured that nothing would be piled on top of our bikes. We watched as the bus stopped and picked up more and more passengers, each with a heap of crates, bags and boxes piles beside them. Within the first hour of the ride Mike was outside arguing with the bus loaders as he watched them stack more and more 50-pound totes of fruits, vegetables, cheese and various other wares on top of our bikes. Despite his efforts, along with the help of another Spanish-speaking passenger, he was told to shut up and get back on the bus.

We were beyond furious at this point and if someone would have stepped on board with 2 tickets out of South America to just about anywhere in the world, we would have taken them in an instant. We arrived here with open minds, willing and eager to experience and accept a different culture, but were so tired of being treated worse than the mangy, homeless, trash-eating dogs that roam the countryside, constantly being lied to, ripped off, given cold shoulders and fiery glares, that we were positive anywhere would be better than Peru. I don't know how long a person can endure that kind of life and unhappiness before forming an unchangeable opinion about a place or its people, but if we didn't get out fast, I was going to have one of those outlooks where I couldn't remember any of the great things about Peru, but only the bad that never seemed to end.

Miraculously, when we reached the border of Chile it was like we had entered a whole new world. It's amazing to me that we could cross over an invisible line and life would immediately change, but the differences were unbelievably apparent. The Border Patrols were friendly folks who wanted to chat with us, willingly offered us information about traveling in their country and reassured us that, unlike the corrupt law enforcement officials in Peru who could never be trusted, those in Chile took their jobs seriously and could always be turned to for help. There was not nearly as much garbage piled alongside the highways and the towns are much cleaner, nicer, and considerably more western-looking than those in Peru. There were much fewer people just sitting around. It baffled me in Peru how we could walk through a city and it seemed like half of its population was simply sitting idle, doing nothing, staring blankly into the void of space waiting for life to pass them by. Sure, we've seen a few of these people, but overall, people are moving, going places, living productive lives. Chileans seem more physically healthy, more social and much more receptive to outsiders. We see them out riding their bikes for fun, eating at restaurants with family and friends, talking, laughing and smiling amongst themselves and extending their words and smiles to include us as well. We no longer have to pay twice as much for a hotel or bus ticket, get stared at, whistled at, run off the sidewalks or feel like we're going to get robbed at every corner as we walk through towns. We feel like we're once again living amongst human beings and we're so relieved to be here.
Welcome to Chile!

So far the riding in Chile has been tough, but good. We are now in the Atacama Desert, the driest desert in the world. It is going to be a major test of our willpower to get through the next 1,500 miles as we make our way south towards Santiago. Our days are filled with hot, dry air, major mountain climbs and descents, horrific headwinds and not much to look at other than sand, rocks and more sand. We have to carry considerably more water and food with us here than we did in the US, as the towns are very infrequent, often times close to 100 miles apart. We have yet to see any animals, other than a few dogs that live in the villages we pass through and we occasionally see a shrub or two growing where there would be a river if it ever rained. We feel small here, like 2 specks of energy slowly passing through a landscape of death, so harsh, desolate and nonsupporting of life.
 Mike climbing one of many desert mountains.

 Cari, tuckered out, but still not to the top of the mountain.

Although it may sound horrible, being out here does not worry us. There are so many cars, semi-trucks and buses driving along this route that if we ever needed help, it wouldn't take long to find it. We have received more honks, thumbs-up, peace signs and energetic waves as if people have spotted a long lost friend in a crowd after not seeing them for decades, than you can imagine. Nearly every vehicle that passes gives us an affirmative sign and even though we're painfully and slowly grinding our way through this desert, we almost always have a happiness in our hearts and genuine smile on our faces, both of which have been absent for the past month. Cycling is good once again.
Strange, yet wonderful things can be found in the desert.