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.