We were drawn to South America for the possibility to explore a new continent, cultures and learn a new language. The Andes form the spine of the South American continent, running the entire length of the west coast from the rugged peaks of Patagonia to the Caribbean shores of Colombia. The prospect of being surrounded by mountains for a year was encaptivating. This continent had so much to offer including some of the world’s most spectacular landscapes such as Patagonia, the Atacama Desert, the Bolivian Altiplano and Salar de Uyuni.
Our project 57°S – 10°N is to cycle the length of the Andes, unsupported, from the 57th parallel south to the 10th parallel north. Both being doctors, we wanted to give extra meaning to this project and so we decided it would be in aid of the Non Governmental Organisation, Lifebox. They are a really wonderful UK based charity that is working extremely hard to make surgery and anaesthesia safer in low-income countries. Thousands of operating rooms worldwide still do not have basic monitoring equipment and as a result millions of lives are put at unnecessary risk when undergoing surgery. Lifebox provides equipment, education and support to hospitals in need globally. Their work truly saves lives and it’s an organisation we are proud to support.
The journey so far has been pretty incredible. The reality of cycling in these vast magnificent landscapes is very humbling, you truly realise just how small you are as you look up at the Andes towering over you. We encourage everyone to throw themselves onto a bike and go explore Patagonia on two wheels. It is incredible – the gaucho culture, the scenery and vast wilderness. It’s one of the last few places on earth that remains truly wild and time seems to stand still as people still burn wood to heat their cabins. On the flip side, it’s not for the faint hearted. The elements out here are REAL, particularly the wind. You really have to experience it to understand what we mean. Heading South to North, we battled a relentless headwind that has thrown us from our bikes and forced us to push for kilometre after kilometre, even pushing downhill. Serious willpower was required to get us through some sections, but we’ve often found that it’s the challenging aspects we remember most, feeling a great sense of accomplishment for ‘digging in’ and getting through it.
Travelling by bike is unique. It allows you to be more connected with nature and the people, and leaves you with a satisfying feeling that you have truly experienced a place, not just passed though as a tourist. We created our Instagram account @fifty7degreessouth so that we could share the amazing views this continent has to offer. We hope to inspire others to get out there and have an adventure of their own.
Words and photos by Dr Laura Irwin and Dr Reza Noori