Monthly Archives: January 2012

Boca-River

After seeing the streets filled with rabid fans all afternoon, we scalped some tickets to the Boca-River match (the two most famous clubs in Argentina) in Mendoza tonight. Although River has apparently struggled in recent years–even dropping to a lower division–we couldn’t pass up the chance to see the great rivalry. They’re playing as part of the Torneo de Verano. I’ll try to send along a longer update after the match. Trekking Aconcagua tomorrow. Now I need to go find some clothes with very neutral colors…

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The other gringos

Note: due to popular demand, I am handing over all blogging responsibilities to Alejandro after this post

The Ruta Quarenta is a long road – we passed a sign outside Chilecito that said 4000 km to Ushuaia – but apparently we’re not the only ones who think riding a bicycle through the Argentinian desert is a completely insane reasonable thing to do. In the last week we´ve met a surprising number of people biking south. Being able to have a normal conversation in English, or even French, is a relief (sometimes I think my Spanish is actually getting worse – just ask Alex). So here´s a recap of the characters we´ve come across.

After our somewhat humiliating attempt to keep up with the Swiss, we were a little wary of the euros, but Pierre and Suzanne were no Hans and Franz. They’re from Avignon and started their trip in Jujuy, a city north of Salta, and, like us, they’re biking to Ushuaia. But the similarities end there.

They found us sitting outside the only store in Pituil in a hyperglycemic stupor eating a foul looking (and tasting) pink and yellow frozen substance that was supposed to be ice cream and drinking Salta Negra, our beer of choice after a tough day on the bikes. This was the day we
had subsisted entirely on a can of dulce de leche and cookies. We watched them emerge from what we thought was a bare bones convenience store with fresh bread, cheese, olives, and tomatoes. Apparently, we had a lot to learn. Since then, we’ve been eating a lot of sardine sandwiches, another gourmet lunch specialty we learned from the French. It tastes better than it sounds. Actually, everything tastes better when you bike 60 miles a day.

On the way to Chilecito the following day, we came across another contingent of French cyclists. These two families from Toulouse were biking around the world with their four kids in tow. They had tandem bikes and were carrying books and school supplies for a year long bike tour. So I guess we can never complain about biking uphill with loaded bikes ever again.

A few days later at a plaza in Villa Union, we met Tom and Sarah, two doctors from Australia, who started biking in Banff, Canada, and have made their way south through the U.S., Mexico´s Copper Canyon, the jungles of Central America, and on through Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and now Argentina. They’ve been on the road for over a year and bike mostly on dirt roads and mountain biking trails. Once again, we feel a bit outdone. Even crazier, we discovered they had spent three weeks earlier in their trip cycling with this guy.

Now we’re in San Juan, 100 miles north of Mendoza, but we’re taking a bus for this last leg because we heard some reports about people getting mugged biking into the city. Apparently civilization is more dangerous than camping off the road in the middle of the Argentinian desert.

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Les Francais

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looking out from the road over the Cuesta de Miranda, an unpaved section of ruta 40 outside Chilecito

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Tom and his Surly Big Dummy - the SUV of bikes

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Beastmode

Sometimes Alejandro wishes he was on a motorcycle…

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La Ruta Quarenta

South of Salta I remember some graffiti on the side of the road that read “salva su ama” or “save your soul” and after 400 km on the Ruta 40, I can’t think of a more appropriate slogan for this 4,000 kilometer highway. We’d read about brutal headwinds and long unpaved sections, but for the first 2 days, the wind was at our back and the pavement perfectly smooth. We even tasted house made wine at Ricardo’s roadside hostel in the middle of the desert somewhere south of Cafayate.

Then the headwind hit. After pedaling hard for two hours only to cover less than ten miles, we decided that even steep uphill climbs are preferable. Because at least you know there’s an end. The day only got better when the pavement ended and we faced a bumpy dirt road for twenty-five miles. But in Hualfin we ate pizza and watched Spanish soap operas at an empty hostel before continuing on and wildcamping in the desert. We picked a spot with lots of thorns, of course.

After Belen, the road became more and more remote. We rode on long stretches of arrow straight roads, the mountains on our right and nothing on the left but hazy desert and some giant cacti. The road will continue like this for miles and miles so it’s always a surprise when suddenly we get to a town with a plaza, music blaring in the streets, and people sitting outside in cafes. We learned the hard way that in this part of the country, siestas last from one until seven. Streets empty, every store closes, and if you don’t plan ahead, your only meal of the day might be an entire jar of dulce de leche – the special Argentinian caramel sauce – thick, goopy, and incredibly sweet. In retrospect, we should have just napped in the shade like the Argentinians do.

But instead, we bike through the hottest part of the day, when the desert feels like an oven and no matter how much sun screen I put on, I can’t escape my Canadian skin (see picture below).

We arrived in Chilecito yesterday, promptly ate an entire watermelon, and took our first shower in three four days. It’s 11 am and we’re sipping mate with Gabrie, one of the Argentinians staying with us at hostel El Paiman, and delaying getting on the bikes as long as possible. After eating a large quantity of BBQed meat and staying out until 4 am (the night starts at one am here), we’re really looking forward to the long climb up to the Miranda Pass. On a potentially unpaved road.

We’re less than a week from Mendoza, so we’ll upload more pictures there, but for now, here’s the Ruta quarenta in pictures.

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wild camping in the desert

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the unpaved ruta quaranta past Los Nacimentos

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afternoon storm clouds outside of Pituil

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typical desert - sunburn and thorns

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And it begins: Salta to Cafayate

We’re 200 km and 2 days into the trip (3 counting our rest day here in Cafayate). We left Salta, traveling south on route 68, past dusty little towns selling coca leaves and empanadas. Pedaling through the Quedabra de Conchas, a canyon of wind sculpted rock formations and red earth, we saw nothing but a few adobe shacks selling artisania (the local artisan crafts) and more empanadas. They seem to be the only type of food in this part of Argentina and after eating them nonstop for 3 days, we need a break. Actually I think the breaking point was last night’s dinner when I accidentally ordered twelve. Not ideal. But the canyon provided a constantly changing landscape, from steep shrub covered hillsides to towering desert walls – and a few llamas (or they might have been alpacas).

At La Vina we met a Swiss couple from Berne who were biking from Bolivia down to Santiago, Chile. Alex named them Franz and Hans (I’m not sure which was referring to the husband and which to the wife). After trying to match their blistering pace for an hour, we gave up and stopped to take pictures. Oh and they were about 65. Maybe older. And they told us our route over Andes is the “easy” way, despite being over 4,000 m at the top of the pass.

We’ve spent the day resting at a hostel in Cafayate, the center of Argentina’s second largest wine producing region. We visited two different Bodegas (vinyards) for some wine tours and tastings. The region is known for its Torrontes, a white wine, but we can’t say much more than that because all the tours were in Spanish.

Tomorrow we start on the infamous Ruta 40, a highway running the entire length of Argentina.

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empanadas

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The road through the Quebrada de Conchas north of Cafayate

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Empanada stand in Los Cerrillos

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new friends

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Gringos in Salta

Salta has a gritty, slightly European feel, with lots of old Spanish colonial architecture. We’re only 300 km from the Bolivian border so Andino culture is everywhere.

We’ve spent the last few days wandering around town, buying some last minute items, and putting our gringo Spanish to use. And I’m discovering that my language skills are much more limited than I thought. So much for an entire year of Spanish class. Luckily Alex is picking up the basics quickly and to be honest, he’ll probably surpass me in a few days.

On another note, our bikes survived the trip unscathed. We managed to put them back together and take them for a quick test ride around San Lorenzo, which ended soon after we started riding up a very steep rough road that seemed to head straight into the mountains (San Lorenzo sits right at the base of the Andean foothills).

The plan is to start biking south on Saturday. Marco’s hosting a huge party for his birthday on Friday night with an in house DJ, so it’s unlikely we’ll make it very far.

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Salta at night

 

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the Surlys all assembled and ready for 3,000 miles

 

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riding outside San Lorenzo

 

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Marco´s house

 

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Salta

We made it to Salta after over twenty four hours of travel, two sleepless nights, and a couple airport naps that
almost cost us our flight. We’re staying with Marco, Alex’s family friend, in San Lorenzo, a small town outside of Salta. More to come later, but here’s some pictures of the colonial Spanish architecture in Salta.

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