Once we finally gout ourselves out of the busy, sprawling Lisbon area, which took us a couple of days, the cycling in Portugal has been fantastic. Experience has actually taught us a lesson or two about the importance of starting slowly after a long break so this first week we've been sleeping in late and doing short rides and aside from an occasional achy muscle, sore rear end, pounding heart, burning lungs and general feeling of being terribly out of shape, our bodies are adjusting nicely to being back on our bikes.

For the most part, bike touring here has been comfortable and convenient in a sense that towns and resupply opportunities are frequent meaning we only have to carry one meals supply of food and water rather than 4 days worth as was often the case in South America. I am happy because there is an abundance of fresh veggies rather than only onions, carrots and potatoes and Mike's Portuguese roots are really shining through in his near daily intake of linguica. His 100% Portagee grandparents and father should be proud! But of course there are a few things that we've had to adjust to like the unavailability of wifi or even internet cafes for that matter. Never would I have imagined that it would be more difficult to find wireless in Europe than it was in South America but it's turning out to be that way. Whenever we need to go online, we spend hours wandering around towns with our computer open searching for a signal on an unsecured network that we can leach onto for a few minutes before the signal dies and we get booted off. Figuring out how to maneuver though round-abouts on bicycles without getting creamed by vehicles speeding around these little circles at intersections has been fun. I've actually come to like them and we now jump on in without hesitation like it's nothing at all. They're perfect for bikes as we can't get in trouble for rolling through stop signs and I've decided we desperately need these back home! The Portuguese language which sounds like some combination of Spanish and French has also been a bit confusing. There are tildes over letters other than “Ns,” little squiggly tails on some of the “Cs” but fortunately the written language is similar to Spanish with only a letter or two different in each word so we've been able to more-or-less figure out what most things say. However, when we are spoken to, you might as well just speak gibberish because it doesn't sound a bit like Spanish and we've once again been reduced to understanding little more than yes, no, water, please and thank you. Needless to say, there has been a lot of charade playing going on this week.
Mike with his linguica.

Although riding on roads, regardless of whether there's a wide shoulder or not, the worry and thought of vehicles never leaves our minds. One pleasant surprise here, however, is that there are very few large vehicles. An occasional pick-up truck or motor home can be found but for the most part they are little sedans or smart cars sharing the roads with us whose drivers slow down, generally give us plenty of space and, unlike every driver in South America, doesn't drive like a maniacal 16-year old boy high on testosterone.

This last week was spent riding around the southwestern portion of Portugal through small, uniform villages of white stucco houses with orange tile roofs, along narrow cobblestone streets that have somewhat of a “back alley” feel as they weave between buildings and all the while trying to grasp the oldness of this place where grand castles still stand on hilltops overlooking the towns. Between the villages is beautiful countryside of endless farmland, cork tree orchards and narrow, winding country roads meandering over rolling hills with the sweet, dusty smell of conifer forests on a warm day.
One of many villages of white stucco houses with orange roofs.

Mike on a cobblestone street.

An orchard of Cork Trees.

We have just reached the Algarve, the southern coastal region of Portugal and are looking forward to this next week of riding here with its abundant touristy surf towns, clear blue water and spectacular jagged cliff coastlines.  After only a week we are already feeling stronger and for the first time in a very long time (since we left the U.S.), it feels like we're actually cycling again rather than just coasting along terribly bumpy roads and holding onto our bikes for dear life as it was for the majority of our time in South America. We are excited to once again be on paved roads, able to cover huge distances and feel physically, rather than mentally, tired at the end of the day. Our spirits and enthusiasm for touring is once again soaring and I have a feeling that riding through Europe is going to be great.



With each passing day we spent in Japan awaiting our departure, our boredom and anxieties intensified.  We spent our days snoozing a few hours here and there, playing cards, reading the latest news updates but mostly just waiting and our nights wandering the quiet airport, unable to sleep partly because we had laid around all day and partly because our bodies' clocks were telling us we were still on South America time, a 12 hour difference.

Downstairs where we were camped, life appeared to be normal.  Regular flights were departing and arriving, people were calm and cheerful and had we not had access to the news, we never would have guessed we were in the country that was experiencing a major disaster that was only getting worse by the hour.  It wasn't until late on our third day in Tokyo that we really started to feel endangered and worried.  A nuclear disaster was sounding more and more imminent and according to the weather reports the winds were forecast to flip 180 degrees and blow from the NE instead of SW which would send the radioactive particles over the country rather than ocean and directly towards Tokyo.  In addition to the unfavorable wind prediction, the overall emotions of travelers at the airport were beginning to get frantic.  Upstairs in the ticketing area there were lines a mile long, wrapping around the enormous room, full of pacing people with terrified expressions on their faces and stories of people who had paid thousands upon thousands of dollars for a ticket out or even bought 2 tickets on different airlines as an insurance policy in case one flight got cancelled.  At night there were people camped with their feet touching the check-in counter just so they could be first in line for standby the following morning.  People were starting to get desperate which in turn made us nervous about waiting another 2 days for our scheduled flight as well as question the lack of worry we had witnessed in all of the Japanese folks we had seen downstairs where we were camped.  In a conversation with one man from Japan, he confessed to us that he could talk to us and other foreigners about the situation and about how worried he was, but never could he say anything to his family and friends, as it was unacceptable in their culture.  I don't know how they manage to so stoically keep their emotions to themselves in a time like this, but we wanted to get out NOW!

The next morning we packed up camp and made our way up to the standby line, hopeful yet doubtful that we'd get on the plane.  As we waited the earth began to rumble and shake again, another big one, 6.2 that lasted almost 30 seconds.  All we could think was, please not again, please no more cancelled flights and please get us out of here.  Twenty minutes before the flight, they began calling names; a family of 3, two older women, a completely panicked Italian girl, 3 Germans working in Japan and just when we began to think we were out of luck, we heard our names.  We rushed through security, purchased a last minute "getting out of here" beer from a cafe to spend our last yen and boarded the plane.  Though sad to leave Japan, which we were so excited to ride, we were also feeling lucky and extremely relieved to be getting out safely.  Our 4 days in Tokyo felt like an eternal, wild, unimaginable dream (or nightmare) and to this day after we read the latest news, we still turn to each other and comment on how unbelievable it is that we were actually there.  

Seventeen hours later we landed in Lisbon, Portugal at 11pm local time.  Of course we had no place to go being that we weren't expecting to be there yet so rather than trying to find a hotel room in the middle of the night, we got confirmation that the airport stayed open all night, staked out a secluded corner, pulled out our sleeping bags and put our newly acquired airport camping skills to use.  The next morning we awoke, as expected, to many strange looks, packed all of our panniers, Mike built our bikes and we rode away from the airport in search of some food, a map and a place to get some sleep.

We pulled into a campground in the center of the city, set up camp and by 7:30pm we were both sound asleep.  We didn't so much as stir until noon the following day and I'm positive that goes down in the books as the longest uninterrupted sleep I have ever had.  Finally our bodies and minds could breath a sigh of relief and rest peacefully.  I guess that might say a little something about our last 9 days in which we flew 18,000 miles, touched 4 continents and felt the shake that caused an unfathomable and tragic string of events that has rocked the entire world.  

So here we are in Portugal at the start of a completely new and unexpected bike tour.  We're slowly wrapping our heads around the fact that we're going to be spending the coming months cruising around Europe instead of Japan, but as the days pass our excitement is growing.  These first few days have been physically touch since we've been off of our bikes and primarily sitting around for the past month, but thankfully these days have been uneventful - we need a little break from the chaos!



Well, the adventure never ends. We were somewhat dreading our trip from South America to Japan knowing it was going to be an excruciatingly long and tiring journey, but never in our wildest imaginations could we have dreamed up this scenario.

Our travel itinerary getting from one end of the earth to the other was as follows: 13 hour bus ride from Puerto Montt, Chile to Santiago. 18 hours in Santiago hanging out with friends we made when we passed through on our bike ride south. The party lasted until 3:30 AM and our taxi picked us up at 4:30 to take us to the airport. 3 hours in the Santiago airport. 5 ½ hour flight to Bogota, Columbia. 3 hour layover in Bogota. 2 hour flight to San Jose, Costa Rica. 1 hour layover in Costa Rica. 6 ½ hour flight to Los Angeles, California. 12 hour layover in LA where we were met by wonderful friends from home, Gina, Rich and Wendy and spent the evening drinking Pisco Sours and indulging in monstrous burritos and double stuffed vanilla Oreos. 2 hours of sleep. 3 hours in LA airport. 11 hour flight to Tokyo.
Gina, Rich, Wendy, Mike and Cari in LA.

On our final flight we talked about how surprisingly smooth our travels had been. All of our luggage had managed to arrive in LA despite the many flights and tight connections and all that remained was the simple task of getting ourselves to our friends' house in Tokyo. As we approached Japan our excitement ran wild despite the fact that we were delirious with sleep deprivation given that any little bit of shut-eye we got over the past 4 days was restless and intermittent while seated upright in bus and plane seats. We were walking zombies getting off the plane with bloodshot eyes, barely able to speak 2 consecutive coherent sentences, dying for the moment we arrived at John and Susie's house so we could collapse on a bed and sleep for days.

As we approached the immigrations desks at the airport, my ears perked up when I heard someone speaking in English. They've come to do that after being in non-English speaking areas for so long, causing a bit of excitement when I can actually understand what is being said without having to think. “What's an earthquake, Mommy?” was what I heard a small boy ask. I turned around to see an airport official pulling a family aside, telling them that there had just been an earthquake, to prepare for aftershocks and demonstrate the proper position to get into if it should happen again. Though I wanted to stop and eavesdrop a bit on their conversation, Mike and I were quickly shooed through immigrations and downstairs to the baggage claim area. As soon as we reached the ground level and extended our arms out to grab a luggage cart, the ground began to shake, only slightly for the first few moments but as we looked at each other with wide, excited eyes it rapidly magnified in force to the point where it was no longer a little thrill. The ground was shaking violently, there was a deep rumbling sound, huge marque boards were swinging side to side, everything was rattling and I was anything but at ease about being on the basement floor of a 5-story building. A couple of people let out frightened screams, parents chased after their young children, scooped them up in their arms and held tight, but most people simply dropped to the ground wherever they stood and huddled together with terrified expressions on their faces. We quickly ran a few steps, stood with our backs pressed against a vertical support column and for a long 2 minutes stood frozen in shock and disbelief as the earth let out its fury. I haven't lived in California long enough to have experienced any big quakes, so even the little ones are exciting for me. Mike, on the other hand, has lived there all his life and when he began comparing what was happening to the '89 earthquake in the Bay Area I knew we were in the midst of something big.

The strong shaking lasted for about 45-60 seconds and in the minutes that followed there were alternating bouts of short, intense aftershocks and slow, smooth sways that made it feel like we were on a ship out at sea. After roughly 5 minutes of shaking and swaying, airport officials and police came running into the baggage claim area flailing their arms and yelling. We didn't have a clue as to what they said but everyone quickly stood up and began filing past the customs booths to get outside. A young man walked beside us and clearly could tell that we didn't know what was announced, so translated that they were evacuating the building and we were all to go to the parking lot. As we made our way out into the chilly temperatures we looked back at the airport and saw thousands of people pouring out of every door, those on the upper floors parading down the elevated driving ramp to get to ground level. We waited outside for 2 hours while the ground continued to rumble, watching the window panes of the airport vibrate as the sun dropped behind buildings, rain clouds gathered overhead and people started to get really antsy and cold.
Evacuating the airport.

They eventually let everyone back into the airport, but only into the lobby areas just inside the doors of the ground level. It was crowded with thousands of people and their luggage carts covering virtually every inch of the floor. The flight information boards all read “indefinite” for departing flights and all incoming flights were re-routed. The road traffic information board showed that all roads leading into Tokyo were closed. The subway and trains were stopped. The big screen TVs in the lobby displayed frightening footage of the damage and tsunami. It was clear that things were very bad and we were going to be stuck there for a long time but what we witnessed in that room in the hours that followed the biggest earthquake recorded in Japan's history was something that blew me away and I will never forget. In the midst of screwed up travel plans, disaster, tragedy, destruction and death everyone was calm. I did not hear a single shriek or cry of worry or fear, not a single person furious or stressed out because their vacation plans were botched or they weren't going to make their all-important business meeting. Everyone was on their phones and laptops attempting to get in contact with their loved ones, but as I found out when I turned on our computer and borrowed someone's cell to call to my friends in Tokyo and let them know our status, the internet was down and all of the lines were tied. Despite the fact that very few people were able to get through and therefore had no idea whether or not their family and friends were okay, the room was filled with constant laughter, smiles and calmness. I couldn't help but think about what this situation would be like had it happened in the United States but I'm certain the room would have been filled with crying, stressed and worried people in various stages of hysteria rather than thousands of zen-like people.
We were the last flight to arrive.  All other incoming flights read "indefinite."

Several hours passed, filled with frequent short, strong aftershocks, many with magnitudes of 6.0 or more which in and of itself is typically considered a significant quake. I eventually found someone from the US with an international cell phone and was able to call home and have my Mom log onto my email and send messages to our friends in Tokyo as well as both of our families to let everyone know we were okay. As much as I fought signing up for facebook a couple of years ago, being in this situation made me realize the value of this tool. My aunt Sheri posted a message on my wall when she received word from my Mom and it proved itself to be a wonderfully useful means by which we could let the majority of people in our lives know we were safe. As midnight approached, truckloads of supplies arrived at the airport, sending people running towards and bombarding the workers passing out sleeping bags, water, Ritz crackers, chocolate bars and canned bread. The cardboard boxes that contained the supplies were broken down and used as sleeping mats to make sleeping on hard, cold tile floors a little more comfortable.
Workers distributing Ritz crackers.

Mike with our dinner.

Dry, chaulky chocolate bars with a very long shelf life.

Canned bread.

We established a little camp tucked against a railing and suddenly remembered exactly how exhausted we were. We snuggled into bed that night in complete disbelief of where we were and what was happening around us, yet unbelievably thankful of our location and the preparedness of this airport to handle such a situation. If we had to be in Japan at this time, there was no better place to be. We were safe, dry, warm, had food, water, facilities and contact with our families. Our situation was undoubtedly exponentially better than millions of people throughout Japan and I drifted off to sleep thinking about what our fates would have been had we arrived here a week earlier, the frailty of life and how the world can be turned upside down so easily within the blink of an eye.

Day 2, the severity of the disaster really began to set in. We were able to get on the internet first thing in the morning, read news reports and watch video footage in English of what was happening and respond to the hundreds of emails of concern and relief we had received throughout the night. It was clear at this point that there was no way we'd be able to bike tour in Japan anytime soon. The clean-up process was going to take months, there were new dangers posed from the nuclear power plant explosion and it seemed utterly wrong to go vacationing around a country immediately following a devastating natural disaster. I got in contact with my friend at the US Embassy hoping we could somehow help with the relief efforts but his advice to us was to keep ourselves safe, not jeopardize our own lives and get out of here as soon as possible. There were thousands of military and rescue workers on their way and there really wasn't a lot we could do to help. So, sad and disappointed, we got online and bought the first available outbound tickets to Portugal on the 15th and will re-route our bike trip to Europe instead.

By mid morning the aftershocks had mostly subsided and they opened the entire airport so we could disperse ourselves and buy food at the restaurants. The airport came to life again with several canceled flights from the day before arriving and departing, nearby hotel shuttles picking up guests and buses taking local residents back towards the city so they could make their way home. There were still no buses going into the center of Tokyo so we relocated our camp to a place where we had a little more space, made Skype phone calls home and spent the majority of the day sleeping. By the time we awoke in the late evening, we were groggy and hungry and as I pulled the sleeping bag off from over my head and removed my earplugs, we discovered we were camping in the arrival area of a now fully functioning International airport. Regular flights were arriving, passengers were filing past, staring and photographing us and the few camps besides ours that remained. We enjoyed a dinner of Ritz crackers which we accompanied with the 4 pounds of cheddar cheese our friends sent with us when we left Los Angeles (thanks Ruth and Gina!) and a can of citrus flavored bread.
Camp #2.

We have a LOT of cheese!

Braving the canned bread.

Midnight rolled around and we were wide awake after sleeping all day so we decided to take a walk around the quiet airport. Much to our surprise we discovered that, despite our sense of solitude at camp, we were definitely not some of the last remaining refugees stranded here. Narita is a massive airport and thousands remained. Virtually every nook and cranny on all 4 floors of the building were occupied. Most people were sound asleep on their sleeping bag and cardboard box beds, clumped together in groups surrounded by luggage carts and suitcases. By the permanent looks of some of those camps it was clear we were not the only ones who would be staying at the airport for nearly a week before we could get out.
One of many camps throughout the airport.

Today is Day 3 in Japan. Buses are still not traveling to where we need to go so we've settled with the fact that we will not be seeing our friends at all and will be camping at the airport for 2 more days. We could desperately use showers as we've been wearing the same clothes since we departed Chile over a week ago, but a little splash bath in the restroom sinks tonight might be our only option.

Although we are having a much more first-hand experience with this ordeal than our friends and families back home, it still feels like we are worlds away from the actual disaster. Rescue teams have begun to arrive in full force from all over the world in their bright colored, reflective suits, carrying hard hats and leading search dogs which makes the devastation suddenly feel a million times closer. Tears well up in my eyes every time I look over at the increasingly large groups of rescue workers that are gathering here as I think about the magnitude of what has actually happened and how they have dropped their lives wherever their homes may be and fled to Japan to offer their help. I can't imagine the horrific sights they are going to see in the coming weeks and I'm positive I wouldn't be emotionally strong enough to deal with what they are about to do. Hats off to the overwhelming hearts of these rescuers who are risking their own lives to help others. Please keep your thoughts and prayers streaming to Japan, to the thousands who have lost their lives and the millions who have been personally touched by this tragedy.
Rescue Teams have begun to arrive.

Below are a few photos of what we've seen and experienced at the airport since the quake. An entire album can be viewed under the “more pictures” tab above.



We've spent the last week driving around Patagonia with Mike's parents, Joe and Ruth. It has been fabulous seeing familiar faces, talking about things from back home and getting resupplied with various bike and clothing items that we've worn out and needed before the next leg of our trip. It has been interesting traveling by vehicle instead of bicycle. When on a bike, you expect the world to go by slowly while in a car you expect the miles to fly by quickly. But we've found it to be the exact opposite, seemingly taking forever to drive the “short” distances we rode each day. We've watched hundreds of miles that we pedaled go by in reverse order as we drove back to some of Patagonia's National Parks, vividly recalling what each day of riding was like, from the weather to our moods to the people we met and places we camped. It has been fun sharing those details with Joe and Ruth, allowing them to put a visual along with our stories and really get a feel for how we have been living for the past 4 months.

Our first destination was Torres del Paine National Park. Day one was a flop in terms of scenery as it was rainy and the clouds blocked all of our views of the mountains. We awoke on day two to more clouds surrounding the peaks, but bright blue skies off in the distance giving us hope that they'd burn off and allow us to see the views we were all anxiously anticipating. It turned out to be our lucky day, the weather warm and unusually calm, in fact not hardly a breeze could be felt which is unheard of in Patagonia, and around lunch time the clouds suddenly began to lift and bit by bit the towering, jagged, snow-covered granite peaks emerged. Before long we were slack-jawed, in awe of the magnificent 360-degree view of mountains, glacial lakes, rolling desert pampa and the distant glaring white spread of the massive Campo de Hielo Sur (the Southern Patagonian Ice Field). We spent the entire day driving virtually every road in the park, stopped at all of the landmarks, took hundreds of pictures, capturing the park from every possible angle and never once grew tired of the unfathomable natural beauty that surrounded us.
Paine Grande in Torres del Paine National Park. 

The three towers in Torres del Paine National Park. 

Iceberg on Lago Grey.  Torres del Paine.

After Torres del Paine we hadn't planned on driving all the way to El Chalten in one day, but off in the distance we could see the monstrous granite spire of the famous Mt. Fitz Roy peaking over the horizon and we knew it could potentially be our only chance of seeing it, so we drove on. On our bikes, Mike and I spent 3 days in Chalten hoping to see the mountains of Fitz Roy and Torre but all we got were low-hanging clouds, rain and news that most people who visit there never actually see them because the weather is almost always bad. We pulled into town late in the day without a cloud in the sky, but the sun was on the wrong side of the mountains, giving them a faded and washed out look. Our second day in Chalten was just as we had expected, dreary and drizzly and even though our view of the mountains the day before wasn't perfect, we were thrilled that we were able to get a glimpse of it at all. Much to our amazement, we awoke on day 3 to an unbelievably calm and clear day with superb lighting on the peaks with the giant Cerro Fitz Roy in the foreground towering over the town of Chalten and the steep, jagged spires of Cerro Torre in the background offering us yet another awesome and breathtaking view of Patagonia's landscapes.
Glaciers National Park.

 Mt Fitz Roy.  Glaciers National Park.

Mt Torre.  Glaciers National Park.

Our final major place we wanted to visit on our week-long drive was the Perito Moreno Glacier outside of El Calafate. It is of 48 glaciers on the Campo de Hielo Sur, covers 97 square miles, is 19 miles long and is growing rather than receding. One thing that makes this glacier so incredible is that the distance between its icy face and the point to which people can drive is nothing but a narrow waterway connecting the two lakes it feeds into, which allows you to see the glacier up close and spend as much time watching it as you please without having to take a time-limited boat tour.

We were the first to arrive at the glacier, just as the sun was rising and though none of us expected to be completely “wowed” by a massive chunk of ice, we were all immediately mesmerized. We walked along the maze of steel paths offering views of the glacier from all angles, chose a platform and succumbed to the incredible, living natural phenomenon that lay before our eyes. In front of us was a beautiful mountain setting, an ice field spreading over the terrain with it's glacial arm extending for miles, snaking down through the valley, reaching out to grab us with its cold and spiny hand where we stood watching on the other side of the waterway. The face of the glacier was a sheer cliff of ice extending 3 miles across, white in some places, subtle shades of turquoise in others and midnight blue where chunks of ice had recently fallen. The surface was jagged with tremendous spikes of ice reaching nearly 200 feet above the water with deep blue crevasses reaching down between them.
First glimpse of the Perito Moreno Glacier. 

Perrito Moreno Glacier.

We were fortunate to be there on a calm day and arrived before the crowds which allowed us to hear the voice of the glacier without being drowned out by the wind or people's shouts of excitement. Though its movements are minute, the sounds a glacier produces are incredible and surprisingly variable. There were the short, crisp “pops” that sounded like a gun firing when small pieces of the glacier broke off and crashed into the water below. There was the rumble from deep within that reverberated throughout the glacier which sounded like a good Midwestern thunderstorm and sent chills down to your core. There were the “pings” that sounded like a tapping on a metal pipe and a tearing sound as giant chunks of ice slowly broke away from the mass, similar to the sound you'd hear when ripping a piece of bark off of the trunk of a huge tree.

I don't know how much action people get to see on a typical visit to Perito Moreno, but over the course of the day we witnessed incredible amounts of ice give way to the force pushing it from behind and the gravity pulling it from below. You anticipate where the next fall will occur based on the amount of small pieces dislodging themselves from the mass and the increase in noises coming from that area. You can see the spire of ice gradually being pushed outward and though you have no idea whether it will be enough to make it fall in the next hour or whether it will take a day more, there is something so captivating about seeing this action that you simply cannot pull your eyes away. Once it does break away, everything turns to slow motion. The creaking and cracking echoes in your ears, it seems to take forever for the ice to tumble into the water and create a thunderous crashing wave outward and every time your soul is filled with genuine excitement and awe as you watch and realize there couldn't be a much more spectacular event to witness. I never would have imagined that we could sit and contently stare at a mass of ice for as long as we did. But 5 and-a-half hours flew by and we would have easily stayed for the rest of the day had it not been for the rumble in our tummies reminding us that we hadn't eaten anything for nearly 18 hours.
 Perito Moreno Glacier.

Our week of driving around Patagonia has been unbelievably perfect and I don't think we could have gotten any luckier than we did. This region is notorious for its bad weather (in terms of sight-seeing) with its frequent cold, cloudy, rainy and unbearably windy days. Somehow we ended up with only a couple of rainy days and the wind decided not to show its ferociousness for the entire week. After all of my and Mike's talk of horrible Patagonian wind I'm afraid Joe and Ruth are going to return home thinking it's never windy here and that we're full of bologna.