One of the major problems with trying to tour in far off places is the transport of your bike to the start point. This can be very simple if you choose to ride, unfortunately for us to get to Chile this was not an option. Try as I might I could not find a cost effective, environmentally friendly solution for us. Yes, there are cargo ships but the cost is prohibitive (around £2000) per person and if you have ever met my kids you will realise why spending a month on a ship with them might not be much fun.
Flying was the only option open to us. We booked to fly to Santiago via Rome and the credit card cringed slightly as I read its number out to the booking assistant at Trailfinders (I highly recommend them for booking flights to more unusual destinations). I felt pleased with myself to have had the bikes packed up and boxed before the flight and with my father in law pressed into service to drive my hired van back from the airport I set off to drop the bikes at the hotel. A quick transfer to the tube and I met Charly and the kids in central London. We met a friend for coffee and final errands before making our way back to the airport hotel.
Manouvering a bike box is not always easy…
Both Charly and I felt apprehensive at first and then slightly relieved as we checked our boxed bikes.
The relief did not last and my spirit’s previous high altitude mind set plummeted more quickly than a plane with the wrong autopilot settings. On arrival in Rome two of the bike boxes were broken, wet and had fallen apart. They had obviously been left in a puddle and the baggage handlers or the Alitalia staff not seem to care. Our initial plan of leaving the bikes in Rome airport left luggae and returning on Monday had been dashed. The tools needed to reassemble them were in the left luggage store where I had put the other bikes to reduce carrying too much additional paraphenalia around while we made a plan.
Warmshowers helped as we established contact with two local cycle tourists who gave us much needed advice about taking the train with bikes. We finally made the decision to ditch the boxes, carry the panniers and take the train into central Rome with our partially reassembled bikes. This was not appealling; I don’t speak Italian, Italian trains have a poor reputation, we would have to change twice and take the metro, it was All Saints day meaning more people using the system and it was late afternoon.
However once we were on the train things started to go a bit better. The kids rallied and helped as much as they could by listening to what we asked of them and walking as quickly as they could. The changes were smooth (despite walking through some areas I would normally avoid) and after I had carried the bikes up to our seventh floor Airbnb we were able to get to sleep. Things continued to get better as the next day we found a bike shop who could pack the bikes for us – this gave us more time for important stuff like sight seeing, eating ice cream and ignoring people trying to fleece tourists.
Rome was amazing. Busy, architecturally interesting, varied and a history spanning 2700 years. It was hard to appreciate everything and, in the time we had we could never hope to. Aside from some issues with our Airbnb we have an amazing stay and picking our bikes up and taking a taxi to the airport should have been easy…..
Our newly boxed bikes.
Then it rained. Water flowed through the street making any movement difficult. A train and a walk / paddle to the bike shop reunited us with our now boxed bikes but we were still 40 km from the airport and try as we might (or the bike mechanic, Jeff, might) we could not get a taxi.
Rain in Rome washing uncollected rubbish down the gutters. The smell was interesting….
After about and hour, with the rain still falling in biblical quantities we managed to squeeze ourselves and the bikes into a taxi. The journey to the airport was blurred with traffic, terror at our drivers sharp turn, flashing lights of yet another closed road and condensation but we made it only to have to queue to check in……
So the result of all this? We are in Chile and so are our bikes but flying with them is not something I wish to repeat for a long time – all the more reason to spend as long as we can afford to here before going home.