Red flags, in all sizes, blowing in the wind. Drawing attention from afar to little, neglected or big, beautiful decorated shrines. Often with an area to sit, relax or even BBQ. We have seen many of these since passing the border of Argentina and were wondering to whom they were dedicated.
Gauchito Gil, the Argentinian Robin Hood lived in the mid 1800. He supported the weak and the poor by robbing from the wealthy. When he got caught and sentenced to dead he asked to be properly buried as they normally leave you hanging from a tree, showing you off as an example to the community. If he would not be buried he would send death to the home of the hangman. The hangman was devastated when he arrived home and found his only son deadly ill. He discovered that the threat of Gauchito Gil was serious and returned to bury him. When the hangman returned home his son had recovered as by a miracle. This region adores him as a Saint while the church has not recognized him. I love the idea that people get together, spend time under the trees and ask him for protection from harm, for good luck, good health & safe passage.
We still wonder why red flags are drawing the attention of people passing by. Is it his neck scarf soaked in blood after his execution? I find this the most appealing explanation we found.
Our Sunday does not start with a miracle but with a scenic gravel road out of tourist place Tilcara. We want to follow the river at the left side while Route National (RN) 9 follows the river at the right side. There should be a bridge a few kilometers down the river so we can have our share of gravel followed by some smooth asphalt.
Water and bridges.
Passing an open gate with a private property sign we do continue and want to ask the first person we meet if we can continue. After a few kilometers we meet Leonardo, who kindly send us back saying this road does not further continue to the bridge indicated on the map and that it is private property. Bummer, first time in 24,000 km we don’t oblige to a sign and we are sent back. Leonardo explains the two possibilities of returning to the main road, i.e. return to the city and cross over the big bridge or take a footbridge which only means returning to the private property sign and turn left. Of course we opt for the adventure. Facing the fast flowing river Frank chooses to carry his bags and bike separately over the small footbridge. I almost want to walk my bike through the water but wonder if I will be able to hold my bike. Can I control my fear and walk over the tiny tree? Only thing I can get is wet feet. I have climbed and biked very steep mountains so this is nothing, right?
The moment I set foot on the “bridge” my chest tightens, I start to breath faster and I no longer can move. Frank needs to come, grab my hand and guide me over. Strange to have this fear of falling in, no longer being able to move, even starting to cry when you can only get wet feet and certainly would not drown. And it feels as if this feeling is getting worse every time I have to cross something where I can’t hold on to anything and water is flowing underneath. While climbing or walking over narrow ridges stuck to a mountainside I don’t get this feeling and I can stand even very close to a drop-off, but walking over a log, no. Do you have fear of heights? How do you handle it?
Following RN 9 for the remainder of the day and what do I see? Flowers!!!
Without further events we reach San Salvador de Jujuy. On Google Maps we found a place just outside of town. We find the B&B and it seems to be a small cabin where nobody lives. We WhatsApp the number attached to the door and Nico instructs us where to find the key.
How do you sleep.
Cute little house with a small kitchen and two small bedrooms. Oh if we could have this for ourselves with this lovely garden, cool! But he stays and two girlfriends from school arrive a bit later to build a compost container. They are working on a project to promote recycling. Chatting away while working, while we cook diner. Bit later Juan from Texas arrives and our quiet evening changes in a social chat. He has been teaching English on-line in Chile and is now travelling around Argentina. Seems that the other room has been reserved through Bookings.com and those people will arrive around 23:00. Nico is so sweet to let Juan sleep for free in the kitchen/living room. Strange to prepare breakfast and eat it next to somebody sleeping on a pull-out bed. Luckily it was quiet during the night, only heard them arriving but no talking so that was great.
Biking out of the city is no fun. Where there was plenty of room (shoulder) yesterday next to the highway, today that has totally gone. We try to follow side roads as long as possible, but at one moment are forced to bike on the highway, with speeding traffic.
What a change when we pass a police control indicating that no trucks are allowed and max speed is 40 km. We follow the old route 9 through an amazing forest, following switchback after switchback. Only people passing by are locals or tourists enjoying the scenery.
This morning’s ride was flat and dry, with kapoc trees lining the road. Now almost biking in a rain forest, trees covered with old man’s beard moss, bromelias and orchids (without flowers) everywhere.
For the first time in months we enjoy the sun on our legs.
It’s a mystery.
Entering Salta we don’t discover why Thomas Schröder recommended Salta as the most picturesque city in Argentina, in his Latein Amerika Bike Buch. An excellent book by the way. We check the first apartment but choose a second, being newer/cleaner and quieter. We reserve for two night to see if we can discover the other side of Salta (and fix Franks tooth and do some highly needed laundry). What a joy to eat a healthy breakfast with tons of fruit and yogurt. To sleep in and have a space for yourself. To take a bath and to cook!
Frank tries to find a dentist, but the first one would only be able to help him in a week time ☹. But luck is with us, as the next one confirms he can just come and they will see what they can do. Seems that we could pay with credit card so I wait patiently for more than half an hour for Frank. Good new filling for 35 Euro!
But we can’t pay by credit card. So our search for a working ATM starts and again we are confronted with the rip-off of Argentinian banks. They charge 7 Euro to retrieve a maximum of 70 Euro. Unbelievable. When we return to the clinic they are closed and will open only in an other 4 hours. So back to our apartment after 16:00 Frank returns to the clinic to pay his debt. They could improve their administration as the girl did not even know he still had to pay nor how much he needed to pay. As we have not seen any picturesque side of the city we decide to stay an other day.
Something to talk about.
Walking, discovering, visiting museums and enjoying the teleferique makes us appreciate the city a bit better, but most fun we have is when we pickup our laundry and the owner chats with us for more than 30 minutes. He explains the corrupt political situation, that we have visited Salta during the only 2 days it was cloudy and very cold. Explaining the soil is so fertile he has his own avocados (we get one!), strawberries and apples in his tiny garden behind the laundry. That the inflation, which is more than 50% at the moment, is ruining life for poor people as everything is getting more expensive, but he can’t increase his pricing and some other interesting facts about his country.
When we leave Salta the Argentine Peso has again dropped in value. Strangely enough prices are preceded by a “$” sign.
Busy straight road with trees showing the first soft shade of green on their dry branches. Green parrots dotting the sky, waking us up from our biking trance. Following the wine route, whole areas covered with new and old vines. Just before La Vina we pass a place which is offering two rooms. Small cabanas in the middle of the field. So basic that another couple with a car moves on after they have checked the place.
We love the silence, that we can sit outside, watch the nest made of clay by Argentina’s national bird, the red ovenbird (Rufus Hornero), on a branch of a tree. The owner of the place is so sweet to grill meat for us (asado), together with a salad of tomatoes and onions a perfect meal. A few years older than Frank you wonder, but don’t ask, if he is living here alone. Admiring the empty restaurant which displays several artworks of his friends. Poems, faces made on palm leaves.
We were longing for a “normal” breakfast in Peru when we were eating chicken soup with chicken feet or sheep stew with sheep tongue for breakfast Now we long for such strong healthy breakfast when we only get a piece of old bread and coffee. Luckily Frank has repaired our water heater and we have had oatmeal in our room before finishing it off with breakfast in the restaurant. Almost better to have a place without breakfast included, as by now we know what we will (not) get.
Cafayate is 100 km away, time to finalize strategy. Getting used to the longer distances with no supplies, we ensure to stock-up with water and food for 2 days. We don’t expect to find a natural water source and we are right. Riding the NR 68 we enter the mountains which were looming from far away.
Colorful rock formations, maybe 3 houses made of blocks of dried mud dotted along 100 km of road. Area where it almost never rains with only a few cacti and shrubs. Only goats can survive here.
We meet Brazilians Anne @sorathy travelling with her 4 year old son and her friend. I take my hat off if you can bike up the mountain with a fully loaded bike and a trailer with a child! We chat some time as we will anyhow wild camp.
Monuments created by nature, floated by tourists. This time we are at the right time at the Devils Throat and the Cathedral. Light is perfect.
As it is getting later we decide to find a camping spot in this barren landscape. Completely invisible is not possible, but after dark is is good enough. After a very nice meal of instant mashed potatoes, bell pepper and chorizo we call it a day, as temperature drops very rapidly is this desert landscape once the sun has set.
I dream of our bikes being stolen and the ghost of the mountain running around our tent. Maybe the news of a robbery of two bikes in Ecuador is playing in my head. Their bikes were stolen when they were wild camping, bikes stored a few meters from their tent and they did not hear anything. With us it was probably a fox which I heard sniffing around the tent as we find fox poo the next day and we see a fox a few kilometers down the road. We leave this camp site covered in a thin layer of red sand by pushing the bikes back to the asphalt.
Understanding why a lot of rental cars are taking this route, we awe at the rich sights of amazing rock formations, ever changing colours and enjoy a perfect road.
The benefit of biking on asphalt: you can look around and enjoy the landscape!
We find a small place to taste some different empanadas and stock up on water. We need to get used again to carrying more supplies!
And then suddenly we leave the mountains, everything levels out (not that it was ever real steep), and we see the first vineyards. Frank buys a bottle from the bodega.
Just before entering the town we finally have again phone coverage. A concerning message from my sister makes me want to reach her. One of the things I have dreaded from the beginning of our trip. Something has happened with one of our loved ones.
Coverage is weak but finally she gets hold of me. My mother has been hospitalized with a Cerebral Vascular Accident. It seems to be stabilized, she is already sitting in bed and has eaten. Still it is a major shock. Thinking about what our next step should be.
First the practical part. We find a small hostal close to the main Square in Cafayate. Feels like a cowboy town. Do we need to go home is the big question during the worst dinner we have had in ages. Stay tuned for next week’s developments.