Another week on the bike and the Andes continue to impress.
24.10.2012 - 31.10.2012
24th October Chilecito to bush camp Villa Union 121km / 1670m
I loved today. Back in the mountains, rather than riding beside them and this is reflected in the climbing today. It was 20km up then 20km down, 30km up then 30km down and then flat with a strong crosswind for the last 20km.
As I said, I really loved today. Mountains, music, me and the bike. I had a good day by myself just riding and thinking. About? My future café/restaurant and what I want it to be, invented some new recipes (Just ideas in my head – I can’t guarantee they work until I try them) and of course Erin and our fun plans for the next 12 months and more.
The morning began with us heading west from Chilecito up into the mountains we’d been looking at. If you think of the first part as two sides of a square, there was the highway option of south, then west. We took a traffic-less unsealed road up into the mountains, heading west, then turned south and joined back up with Ruta 40, the national highway that we will use a fair bit on our journey south. I loved the way we took the road less travelled. The ‘Andes Trail’ again.
Is this a basura tree? Look at all the rubbish.
A roadside shrine. One of many I pass daily.
I stopped in the town of Sanogasta (Love that town name.) for a Coke with Rigo before continuing. When I stopped a bit later to enjoy my banana, it was not to be. The bumpy gravel road had not only destroyed the banana in my handlebar bag, it had oozed banana into my phone and it too was a mess. I cleaned it up, and continued. At the end of the day I realised it was not on and wouldn’t turn on. I found banana all inside it too and even over the battery, which had fried. Why don’t Nokia make their phones banana-proof. Surely banana in bar bag is a common threat? So, short story, my phone got banana-ed and no longer works. No more SMS for Erin.
On rejoining the highway, I said to Wilbert that I’d loved the route so far. He replied that I’d love what’s coming up. Did I or what? Such beautiful red rocks, cacti galore and canyons and cliffs. I’m back in the mountains! (Not just near them on a flat road.) I wasn’t going to take more photos of cacti (Did I tell you I love cacti?) but I couldn’t help myself! Here are some photos from my ride until lunch. A special moment – no photo – was a condor flying overhead. The shadow across the road caught my attention and when I looked up, there it was in all it’s wide-winged splendour soaring on the mountain currents. I stopped and watched until it drifted away. They have a range of several hundred kilometres that they soar over. I told the guys at lunch, but it showed up at the lunch stop and passed just overhead JUST AFTER I’D LEFT!
Look at the smiling faces in the car.
Here is Tamsin being bailed up by the local policeman. A couple of guys in the group had set him up to stop her and ask for her passport.
We had truck mechanical problems today, so we only had one truck tonight. As a result, we stayed in Villa Union at 119km, rather than continue along the highway for another 20 or so km. We are camped next to a service station and are using their toilets and wifi. Good news before bedtime was that the second truck showed up and has been fixed. We like our big red fire engine support vehicles. They are a fitted out perfectly for the jobs they do. It might be next to a service station, but we had a nice gumtree sunset.
25th October Villa Union to San Jose de Jachal – 145km / 886m climbing
Another long day - 7 hours in the saddle - but it was a good day. I had company for the second hour of the day and as there was almost no traffic, we rode side by side and chatted. It was a nice change from being on my own, but I was riding slower than I’d like and she was riding faster, so it didn’t last forever. The rest of the day was the usual – me, music, mountains and my bike. You’re always copping the full wind on your own, but that’s the lot of the last third of the riders and one of the main reasons we take longer. Most of the earlier ones ride in groups, but in those groups there are people who are always happy to hide in the group and hitch a free ride out of the wind without doing their turn at the front. Then they get to camp early enough for an afternoon sleep and then walk around telling everyone how easy it was! Try riding on your own every day!
What did the lone bird do that the others won't let it share the line with them?
The road today was not so much undulating, as roller coastering.
Here’s a photo of it disappearing towards the horizon with it’s ups and downs.
They are to allow water crossings/floodways as this seems to be a drainage area for the mountains to the west.
Be careful what you wish for. As I was plodding along a straight road with it stretching all the way in front of me, I was lamenting that the scenery doesn’t change much, unlike twisting mountain roads. Before I knew it, the road was heading straight for the mountains, then into and up and then over them. Tough climbing, but the views and rock colours and formations were spectacular. I stopped here, ate my banana and enjoyed the view.
Over the crest was a surprise I wasn’t expecting. I’d just begun the downhill and was admiring the view off the cliff just a metre to my right (I know, I should watch the road more!) when I saw it…a condor flying along the cliff face just below me. We were so close and they’re such a big bird. I can see why primitive people who needed to make up gods, chose the condor as the link between them and the ‘heavens’. As it drifted away I saw a second one higher up and silhouetted against the blue sky. They both then briefly settled on a cliff opposite me before resuming their flying, but it was too far to see if it was a nest or not. Amazing. I’m so happy to see 3 condors in two days and so close too. Here are two pictures - shame about the power lines.
The beautiful mountains continued as I lost height before they ended with this view of a lake behind a dam.
The rest of the ride to San Jose de Jachel was fairly flat and the countryside was picturesque rural.
Geez the Argentinians eat late. We went out at 8pm and most places were still closed. We found somewhere open and they seated and served us drinks and then told us the chef doesn’t serve before 9pm! They had a big BBQ outside and my chorizo (not sausage, but a cut of meat like rib-eye) was delicious. I got mine with morcilla/black pudding, but no one else wanted it. As we left close to 11pm the restaurant and others around town were just filling up!
I will enjoy this hotel, as it’s our last until the end of the trip. Seven weeks of almost all camping!
Erin and mum took the chance of the last hotel to send me a letter each. Thanks.
26th October - San Jose de Jachal to Tocata 116km / 1805m climbing
OMG! Today was tough! Here’s the profile.
I call it a ‘Yazz Day’ as ‘The Only Way is Up’! Some people saw the profile and jumped into the truck instead. I was in two minds. With such big days back to back, and late nights with less sleep, I’ve been getting more tired each day. I found it hard to get going today. I thought I’d ride until lunch and see from there.
What a spectacular morning it was. Surrounded by such beautiful mountains I was in awe, again. I feel so privileged to be able to do this. Mountainsides painted with a giant brush in colours of red, green, cream and more. Crazy sculpted mounds that look like the handiwork of an eccentric artist.
Christine riding through the gap with snow-capped mountains in front.
A reflectively flat lake preceded a view that brought me nearly to tears. No, I’m not sad or unhappy, rather the opposite. Being immersed in mountains whilst physically exerting yourself is an incredible experience. Every day is a new experience. Mother Nature is god and mountains are her temple. They’re such a special place. The Andes are the longest mountain range on Earth and I’m getting to ride through them to the southern tip of South America? And you wonder why it’s emotional?
Come lunch time, I was feeling good, so the truck was not an option. With hindsight, I should have, but I wasn’t to know how bad the road ahead was going to be. 50km? No worries. 800m climbing left to do? Again no worries. Unsealed for the last 40km? Therein was the problem. The first 10km of the gravel was fine and I was planning how soon I’d be into camp. There were mountains to my right with lenticular clouds over them and also in the sky in front of me. I enjoyed their ever-changing shapes, including the classic UFO cloud.
The road turned to crap after 10km and after an hour of watching clouds change, the novelty wears off. I had 30 more kilometres to go on a ‘road’ that was more like a riverbed with loose deep gravel and sand, corrugations and big rocks. The whole way it went up, and up. There was no part that was even flat, let alone down. I could only manage 10kph as the road grabbed my tyres and made it SO HARD. It took me 3 hours to ride the last 30 km and it was so tiring I was knackered when I got into camp at 5pm, having left at 8am. What a tough end to a good day.
We’re camping at a police post in a remote spot. Unexpectedly, we even got to use their shower, but it was ffffffreezing. It was so cold that you soaped and rinsed one appendage at a time before getting fully under, washing the rest and getting back out as quickly as possible.
So it was a tough day. I chose to take up this challenge, but what about the poor children who are diagnosed with cancer? Them and their families didn’t choose the challenge that is their daily life, until they die. The Kids Cancer Project are directing funds into research targeting the most deadly childhood cancers. I am riding to raise money for them. I’m riding 11000 kilometres, so if you make a $110 donation, that equates to 1 cent a kilometre. Please donate if you can. http://www.everydayhero.com.au/malcolm_roberts If you include your name, I’ll thank you on my return.
I was thinking about a boy who joined our scout group back in the day. He had many things wrong with him physically, but he made up for it with his positive attitude. He was the television charity event ‘kid-of-the-year’, and he was only with us for a year before he died, but he made a lasting impression on me. Life is not about what you get dealt, but what you make of it. Even at such a young age I learnt from him that life can be short but you rarely know when. I didn’t realise it until later, when I’d formed it into a phrase, that he’d had such an impact on my life. I’ve had this quote of mine on my office wall for the last few years. ‘Fear not death, fear rather a life unlived.’ We’re all going to die, so make the most of the time you have, as you never know when it will end.
It’s Adrian’s birthday today and he likes beer, so his sister Tamsin made him a beer cake made with cans stuck together with gaffer tape, just he didn’t know it was. All he saw was a cream ‘car cake’ with smarties on it. When he stuck the knife into it he pierced a can of beer and it sprayed him with cream and beer. We had a real cake ready to share for dessert…after we’d all stopped laughing.
My tent and the view.
27th October - Tocata to Barreal 129km / 695m climbing
My morning view. That's a Jesus statue one the hill.
When you climb up, you get to go down again. Today was one of those days. We’d climbed up to and slept at 2650m and now got to go back down to 1400m. The gravel road was as loose and difficult to ride as yesterday, the only difference was that it was downhill, so I could keep my speed up to try and get through the soggy gravel bits with my equally soft tyres. Sometimes even that was not enough and I had to get off and push the bike through. It was one of these soft bits that was my undoing. I was riding along happily at about 20kph and then I wasn’t..…my front wheel had dug in, and I was flying over the handlebars with the bike coming after me as my feet were still clipped in. After dusting myself off and realising I had nothing more than a bloody elbow and knee, I just had to laugh. The good thing is that despite the treacherous terrain I’ve been riding on, this is the first stack I’ve had, and better to have had this one where I did than next to one of the many 500m cliffs with no railing that I’ve cycled next to back in Peru.
Why did the chicken cross the road?
She was following the rooster.
It was rough unpaved until 55km, and then it was beautiful. All day to my right was a range of mountains dusted with snow. It’s Didier’s birthday today, so we did a surprise for him at lunch. He sets up our lunch stop, which he did as normal, except no riders showed up. We were waiting at the edge of town until we had everyone together. The other truck had snuck back and picked up the stragglers and we all rode into the lunch stop together with party hats on and blowing horns, whistles and shaking maracas. The truck was behind us with the fire siren going. Not only did Didier wonder ‘What the?’ I think the town of Calingasta did too as he’d set up lunch in the plaza.
This morning’s ride was downhill and this afternoon was climbing, apparently. Gotta love a strong tail wind. We stopped on the way and took a well worth it detour to the rock features of Cerro El Alcazar.
Tonight we’re camped in Barreal. It must be a small town as they don’t have phone or internet!
Dinner was nice though – veal curry with gnocchi. MMmm!
28th October – Barreal to Uspallata 112km / 808m climbing
Today was a lovely day on the bike, with a couple of nice things going my way just when I needed them to. No sooner had we started than there was a lovely view of snow-capped mountains filling the horizon. Here’s part of the view, and the second photo is everyone stopping to take a photo. Our truck coming behind thought there must have been a big stack!
Here was the first treat – it was supposed to be paved for the first 15km then unpaved until 85km. The paved lasted until 50km, which meant we only had 35km unpaved, not 70km. The sealed road up until then was new, flat and traffic-less. I rode side by side with another cyclist and it was nice to chat. We picked up another and the 3 of us rode triple-file, chatting, until the gravel started. Then you’re on your own. Too much road noise and you’re focussing on finding the right line our dealing with the corrugations vibrating you beyond any ability to talk!
The second treat today was the tail wind that blew us into lunch. It made the unsealed so much easier, even though it was uphill. It did destroy lunch though as it made it impossible to have food laid out and my cordial cup kept filling with dust!
Road side shrines don't come more robust than this. The other type are full of plastic bottles of water.
After lunch was uphill for a bit, then downhill at about the time the sealed road returned. What a lovely day in the mountains. We started at 1700m, climbed up to 2450 and now we’re at 2000m. All day we had snow-capped mountains to our right and by late morning, the peak of Aconcagua came into view and stayed with us the rest of the day. It’s so awesome to be cycling with the highest peak in the southern hemisphere in full view.
Here are Tamsin and Scott riding towards it.
Very special. Perhaps you think I’m a little too sentimental about mountains, but can I suggest you book yourself a hiking trip to the Himalayas or anything in mountains where you have to contribute physical exertion and a some discomfort on your part and allow the mountains to throw a few surprises your way too. The end result as you immerse yourself in the mountains? Go and find out for yourself!
Right place at the right time. This afternoon in Uspallata was a goucho contest. They’re Argentina’s version of a cowboy and they were running different games to show off their horsemanship. In this one, they’re using barrels as a slalom course.
After dinner I headed back into town to return to the café we’d been to in the arvo and used the internet. I got there at 9pm to try and update my blog, and they turned the lights out on me 45 minutes later. Why did I find the only place that shuts so early?
29th October - Uspallata to Mendoza 117km / 1270m climbing
I am looking forward to the double rest days waiting for us in Mendoza, but before then I have a mountain to climb. It was 1200m climbing over 30kms first thing this morning. Spectacular scenery - yet again.
Cross on the top.
Lunch was at the top at 2748m, then it was an exhilarating downhill, the likes of which I’ve not had since Peru. Narrow gravel track, precipitous drop just a metre away and steep downhill to keep the speed on the edge of control. Add dodging fallen rocks, the odd oncoming car and unmarked 90 degree turns with no railing and a 500m cliff and you can start to get the picture of why it’s such a buzz. The views too were spectacular, but that’s mountains for you. Clouds swirled around me, above me and below me, changing the temperature in a matter of metres from pleasantly warm to freezing cold.
How many hairpin bends are there?
Watch out for savage wildlife.
From the bottom to Mendoza was a straight slog into a headwind. Old concrete roads are a real crack up, but I wasn’t laughing. The mountain I was heading to disappeared behind a wall of water from the gathering storm clouds, so I dressed ready to get drenched, but it didn’t happen. The sun came out and made me too hot and the rain passed to my right. Close call.
So here I am in Mendoza, 7000km done and 4000 more to go. It’s been an amazing journey so far and based on your positive feedback, it’s nice to know that the effort I put into this blog is appreciated. There’s been some tough times and some nice downhills too, but I’m really glad to have stayed well and not been in the truck and not riding since far north Peru when I had that stomach bug. Incapable of riding as I was, I still hated being in the truck. The scenery was spectacular and I had to look at it from inside a vehicle. It’s amazing to be riding and everything envelops you. You feel everything in a way you don’t in a vehicle. We feel the wind, temperature and sun on our skin. If there’s a photo to take, it’s not a problem to do so. Workmen cheering me on? No probs to stop and chat and tell them what we’re up to. All this and more for those who cycle. It’s been a really tough 6 days with every day being over 100km and sometimes I thought I wasn’t going to make it, but I did. I rode 730 km in 6 days.
We’re in a campsite on the edge of Mendoza. It’s very green and peaceful, but a bit out of town.
Tonight we had a hat party. Anna and her 67 year old cyclist dad Paul, as well as Kirstin’s parents, are leaving us and others are joining. We had a couple of speeches from those leaving. Arunas in the pink shower cap is joining us until Ushuaia.
It was a fun night and went late, much to the consternation of those in the group who don’t drink and went to their tent early. (Maybe they should have wandered around in boxer shorts and told us to turn it down? It worked for me in Peru!)
After being the water fairy for those still up, I went to bed at 2am.
30th October - Rest day #1 in Mendoza
There were a few hangovers today, but I wasn’t one of them. Salta was still fresh in my mind and I had a lunch I wanted to go to today. The lunch was at Zacardi vineyards and winery, about 40km and an expensive taxi ride out of town. The vineyards here have hail nets over them because they get a hailstorm a few times a year and it’s very destructive. They also have barrels every 10 metres or so, that they light if a frost is predicted at a bad time for the crop. We’re still at 1000m ASL. We began with a history spiel about Zacardi, then an interesting and informative tour of the barrel rooms and fermenting tanks, before sitting down to lunch together. It was an asado/barbecue and they kept bringing us different meats, all delicious.
We ate too much and were all done at 4:30. After a string of broken promises, the 3 taxis for the 12 of us arrived 2 hours later. Here we are all sitting waiting.
We all went into the centre of Mendoza and I met up with some others there for dinner before heading back to the campsite.
31st October - Rest day #2 in Mendoza
The ‘usual suspects’ grabbed a taxi into town and we sat at a café and had brunch and wifi’d and chatted for a couple of hours before heading across town to a bike shop that wasn’t there. I used a café there and caught up on my blog before going for a wander.
Any idea what this sign means?
Mendoza has a lovely big plaza and the streets around it have many trees. Walking down the mall, the usual suspects spotted me from their alfresco table and I joined them for a juice and salad. ‘Tuna salad’ was ¼ plate of corn kernels, ¼ tinned tuna, ¼ tomato wedges and ¼ hard-boiled eggs. I guess you had to mix it yourself. Dressing? Please?
I got a new phone to replace the Nokia that got banana-ed, but despite telling her I had a SIM and paying more for not getting a plan with Claro (which ironically means ‘clearly’ in Spanish), it didn’t work and turns out it was locked to Claro. When I took it back, she said, ‘Of course it is.’ Yeah! Of course. Stupid me? I told you I had a chip. Her only solution was to give me a Claro chip, which after putting money on it, turns out not to work for international SMS, which is what I wanted it for to contact Erin! My only solution will be to crack the lock code and put my other SIM into it. Claro? Yeah! I’m ‘clearly’ not happy with them.
Dinner tonight was a Chorizo Completo, which is a steak not a sausage. I think the ‘completo’ bit refers to the fried egg. How big is this? I’ve already eaten the chips, while they were hot.
I liked Mendoza with it’s green tree-lined avenues. It had everything you wanted and was clean and tidy but it was an expensive city. Mendoza is the same latitude as Perth, so it won’t be long until we’re further south than Albany, then Melbourne and then we’ll keep heading south. The days will get longer, but it will get colder. I’m enjoying the warmth while I have it.