18th till 24th of August 2019.
Long and lonely road.
Gazing in a campfire or biking along endless roads brings your mind in the nothing box. Following Route National 40, one of the longest roads in the world, competing with the Trans Canada Highway, Route 66 in the USA and Stuart Highway in Australia. It is 5194 km long and runs from the Bolivian border to the most southern tip of mainland Argentina. The same road, straight, sometimes winding through a village, but amazingly quiet and not boring as subtle landscape changes make every day different.
Sunday starts with getting hold of my mother who was hospitalized yesterday with a Cerebral Vascular Accident. Talking and seeing each other through WhatsApp video calling. Emotional without showing emotions. Short talk with my sister confirms there is no immediate threat. Discussing if we should return or see how things develop and if our help is needed. You feel so helpless so far away. My brother travelling all over the world as a renowned artist @johan_creten and us being at the other side of the planet; my sister and her family become the 100% caregivers. Dear Sis, thank you for arranging everything for our parents, thank you for your good care in combination with a 200% career and a family!
We decide to carry on and a quick 80 kilometers bring us to Santa Maria. Long empty road with almost no traffic. This is the only possible road but we don’t complain about riding on perfect asphalt. It even gives us the possibility to bike next to each other and talk.
After a restless night I face a gloomy morning and I don’t feel like getting out of bed. One of the very first times that I don’t want to keep on moving. We decide to take a rest day in Santa Maria. Which was great as we could then call home again and it seemed to be a bit better with my mother. Was it because there was the possibility that over the next days we might not be able to reach each other? Or did I subconsciously want to get in contact with my mother to be sure that we could continue travelling?
I itch to create something, happy to find real cotton! And we find a decent bike shop for some new inner-tubes and patches. Frank has so many problems with his tires lately.
There are a few small settlements around Santa Maria, tucked away in a nice valley where spring has announced it’s arrival. To prevent dogs tearing up garbage bags they are often put on an elevated tray or in a basket. Around here there is a creative person.
Here it feels a bit like biking through the Netherlands with it’s straight and flat roads. Only here sometimes 150 kilometers between villages, at home everything is much closer, except maybe in the north.
Climbing out of the valley brings us to the last stop before the desert. A tiny bakery with great empanadas and a small cactus garden. So many different species. Inspirational!
Desert starts with only shrubs and cactuses. A few small trees under which wild donkeys shelter from the blistering sun.
Not many wild camping possibilities as the shrubs are too low to hide the tent. When we see a small gravel road at 16:00 we decide to try our luck. It looks like a gravel pit from the time they were constructing the road. Heaps of stones shelter us from the wind and the spars traffic.
For the first time in ages we are able to build a campfire as after dinner wind has died down. For the first time in a long time we can sit outside until 22:00 under a stary sky.
During the night wind has picked-up. In the morning Frank needs to find a sheltered space to cook breakfast as the wind became even stronger and from the opposite direction.
I think it’s going to rain today.
Clouds start to roll over the Andes mountains. Wind becomes colder and stronger. The blue sky turning completely dark. We pack as quickly as possible as we fear a downpour of rain or maybe even snow.
Cloudchange within 30 minutes!
Struggling against the wind we cover the last vertical inclination and start rolling downhill. Wind is so strong we still have to bike a lot going down, but against the wind. One of the most unpredictable things is the weather.
At around noon the sky turns blue and the 2% downhill with no more wind ensures we still can still reach Belén. Only delay was my flat tire.
Dry shelter with warm shower and a pizza is the only thing we are longing for.
Departure is delayed by -again- a rear flat tire for Frank. This is getting really annoying. Before it were patches of previous leaks coming off (do not use the self-adhesive ones, those are no good), but now there are very tiny holes without finding the cause.
Visiting the tiny museum in Londres gives us some insight in pre-colonial and colonial culture. We try the confit walnuts, but these are way too sweet for us.
Everybody loves a nut.
Plantations of grey trees are walnut trees for which this valley is famous. We are so happy that we can add these to our diet! Did you know that a walnut tree needs at least 1200-1600 “chill hours”, temperatures of 0-7 degrees C to be productive? Did you know you could use the skin (green cover) of the walnut to dye sheep’s wool in a beautiful caramel color?
Biking route 40 makes me look at all the different mile markers.
Frank laughs when I say we need to look out for kilometre marker 4040 of route 40. But it seems I am not the only one who finds this special.
The person who is responsible for fencing here has a great, never ending job. Luckily for us they can’t build the fence next to the road but need to leave at least a few meters at each side. The only opportunity to camp is close to an arroya, a dried up water runoff, where there are higher bushes. On this stretch of the road there is a bit more traffic. A few cars per hour but we dim our lights when we see one coming. To be camping in the wild even if it is close to the road is still charming. Especially when it is now no longer freezing at night.
The new unofficial Saint we now discover is Difunta Correa. The protector of travelers. She went looking for her husband who was drafted by the partisans, with her baby. But before she found his body she ran out of water and food and died of starvation and thirst. A few gauchos found her with her baby on her dead body. Still feeding on her breasts. To honour her and ask for protection, people leave bottles with water at her shrine. Don’t know if it would be drinkable if we would run out of water?
The only birds we see are tiny sparrows and flocks of screaming dark green parrots, one of the species of burrowing parrots. Did you know they often nest in holes they dig in clay walls with their beaks?
When we are eating lunch at the square of Salices we have a chat with Joe from the USA. Already travelling 4 years with his 4×4 camper van, a Dodge Ram with camper top, through the Americas. We can’t resist to visit him at his campsite and admire his vehicle. Great stories about him being a dog trainer and travelling around the world. Pity that his wife is not feeling well, we decide to continue our travels under a clear blue sky.
Ride cowboy, ride.
We reach our aim for today, Pituil. Along the road no wild camp possibilities as everything, except a few trees, has been cleared at either side of the road, as wide as 30 meters. We meet the owners of this vast area but forget to ask if we can camp, anyhow we run out of water. Do you see the chaps they are wearing on their horse to protect them from the prickly bushes!
Make yourself at home.
The only hostal in town does no longer offer rooms. We could camp at the football field and there are toilets, but this Saturday evening a party will be held on the main square and the toilets will be open for them. I don’t see myself sleeping in a tent with people passing to go to the toilets. We start asking around and finally find a lady who is offering rooms, a bit outside town. When we ask how much we can contribute, she does not decline our offer but says we can give what we think is appropriate.
Warm shower after the wild camping and cooking inside is a luxury. She is so sweet to come and talk with us while we cook. Explaining they have a farm with animals and wine production at the other side of the village. They both still work in the fields every day at 74 & 84! Her son is now living in Germany and she loved the country but is very happy they will visit her in our autumn.
How friendly are the people in Argentina and always willing to help out. What will next week bring?
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