ExperiencePlus! Blog

ExpeditionPlus! in South America with Monica and Michele

Monica Malpezzi Price and Michele Boglioni recount their travels in South America.

Michele and Monica were slated to help lead our inaugural ExpeditionPlus! Coast to Coast trip Across Chile and Argentina. They landed in Santiago de Chile on Christmas day 2006. Monica had just finished her Master’s degree at American University in Washington D.C. a few days prior and looked forward to spending the next several months leading and designing new tours in the region.  For Monica packing for the South America trip came later than normal, she had to finish/defend her thesis, sublet her apartment, and then store some and ship the rest of her belongings. She was also waiting patiently for a package of supplies coming from the ExperiencePlus! US office, including spare parts, and 100 inner tubes. After all, why try and arrange your suitcase when you are going to have to fit a lot more stuff in it? United Parcel Service showed that the package should arrive on the 23rd of December, a whole one-day prior to their flight – perfect, except that it was already the 24th and they had to catch a plane at 2:45PM.

All they wanted for Christmas were bike tubes . . .
Have you ever tried to buy 100 bicycle inner tubes on Christmas Eve in DC? Have you ever wondered why they don’t sell 700 X 32 tubes in either Chile or Argentina? Have you ever wondered what happens to the packages that disappear during the Christmas season? Well, wonder they might, but ultimately they had 2 hours and 45 minutes to find 100 tubes. Michele and Monica visited 4 different bike shops trying to piece together the number of tubes needed, and with 2 hours 30 minutes and counting, they hit the mother load at the last shop and came away with 36 tubes, bringing their total to 87. Close enough they figured, especially since the airport was 25 minutes away and they were supposed to be there in 15. Luckily the gods smiled down on them and though they arrived at the airport a little late the lines to check in were miraculously, shockingly short on one of the biggest travel days of the year. The plane takes off and Monica and Michele both fall wonderfully and deeply asleep, though other passengers reported that they did keep mumbling, “are you sure you don’t have any more…”

The next words Monica and Michele hear are, “please store all tray tables, and move your seats into the upright position to prepare for landing.” They awake to find a sunny and warm Christmas day in Santiago, Chile, and laugh at the effort it took to get there. After a few moments panic when the bag containing the precious tubes hadn’t materialized and almost all of the passengers had left baggage claim. Finally, the conveyer belt hiccupped and gasped once more and out came their suitcase.

With all necessary materials in hand they head off to meet the group of cyclists for the  inaugural ExperiencePlus! Coast to Coast tour from the Chilean Atlantic Coast to the Argentinean Pacific Coast. The next 18 days proved to be a brilliant introduction for Monica to South America. She had never been to these countries and still raves about the fantastic experiences: seeing the wildlife in places like Chiloé; drinking Chilean wine; biking through the scenic Andean mountains and lakes; flying (by bike) across the Argentinean Patagonia; dancing in the New Year with a local salsa band; speaking to Welsh ranchers who have lived in Argentina their entire lives but still speak fluent Welsh; inaugurating a small town’s new asphalt with our group leading a bike parade around town; camping under the stars in places where the next closest village was at least 60 miles away…. The cycling route was through some of the most stunning scenery Monica had ever seen: through mountains and lakes on wonderful winding roads; sections of road where they NEVER passed a vehicle for miles and miles; and enjoyed herds of guanaco (llama-type animals) along the road. While the 2009 itinerary has been modified due to the volcanic activity in Chaiten, the experiences along the way will be similar; the lakes district of Chile will offer great scenery and cycling, we’ll have great Chilean wine, and you’ll still have the opportunity to fly across the Patagonian plains with a 40 mph tail wind like they did in 2007.

Enter the High Andes . . .

Of course, if the Coast to Coast is too tame for you, Michele and Monica next destination may spark your interest.  After their trip across the “low” Andes, they headed off to Northern Argentina to develop a few new tours. The most adventurous is our 38-day ExpeditionPlus! trip that crosses the High Andes at 4600 meters above sea level (yes, by bike!), and for those of us who still have to work, and have some sense of self-preservation, an 8 or 12 day trip to the heart of Northern Argentina.

They scouted the area by car and then by bus for a few weeks, and found natural wonders around every corner: vast salt flats; volcanoes; deserts; rocky colorful mountains; bubbling colorful geysers; flamingo-filled colored lagoons; herds of vicuñas, guanacos, llamas (which refers to all Andean camelids whose fur is quite prized for its warmth). While scouting tours is hard work with long days of driving and reading scouring maps, they also had some fun as they happened on a real gaucho town festival resulting in young and old lining up to dance with the only gringa present.

Monica says she never fully appreciated the natural world until she traveled to Northern Argentina. This is saying a lot because she has been to the Grand Canyon, most of the National Parks of the desert southwest, the Italian Dolomites and to the Mekong Bay in Vietnam, but it was Northern Argentina, with its immense spaces, colorful mountains/rocky terrain, wild animals, and varied territory that really made an impression. Michele believes it’s his training as an environmental scientist that has given Monica her new vision and appreciation for natural wonders. You’ll have to join him on the High Andes trip in March and decide if he has the power he thinks he does!

On their journey they discovered wonderful Andean cuisine, welcoming people and would like to invite you to join them on the ExpeditionPlus! High Andes trip, March 1 – April 7, 2009, or in Northern Argentina, April 14 – 21, or April 14 – 25, 2009. PS. To be safe you might think about bringing your own tubes!