25th till 31st of August 2019.
Pictures of home.
Undertaking a long distance bike trip is easy. You save, you leave. Then you bike, eat, sleep and repeat; creating a positive flow, kind of working.
Until negative things happen at home or with yourself. The accumulation of my mom not being well and having no health/travel insurance is a double downer. Making me wonder why we are still here. It would be much easier to return home. Being able to visit my mom, maybe help her and my sister. Sort out our permanent residency and insurance stuff. But we know that my mom is doing OK and if we would return now we would not just return for a week but probably for a longer period of time and maybe never complete this journey. If needed we would do this but we take the decision to continue to Patagonia. The main goal of this journey.
Leaving the sleepy town of Pituil after a self-made oatmeal breakfast and with homemade dried olives and dulce as a sweet goodbye present from our hostess.
Her husband already left to work on their farm but she is so sweet to wait for us. Do you remember how old he was?
Meeting other bikers is one of the fun things while travelling by bike. Even if you are totally different with totally different backgrounds, if you meet other cyclists, 99% of the time you have a click and understand the other. We meet Felipe from Germany who is biking North. Dreadlocks and a great smile. Being a nurse, he wanted to live in Chile for a long time, but had to leave because he could not get a work permit for a longer period of time. Then he worked for a kind of Montessori school as a teacher. Now he needs to take a break as his visa in Chile expired. Taking the opportunity to discover the rest of Latin America by bike until he can return to the country that stole his heart. Biking these parts of the world alone, but a bit afraid of what his parents might think of that. No worries Felipe, I do not think they will read our blog.
He shared a lot of good ideas for when we go more South. Did not follow his advice for a campground in Chilecito though, as it is located out of town and we have to arrange some stuff and need to stay 2 nights.
By the mill.
We find a nice hotel with our own table and 4 chairs, Yes you may laugh, but it is nice to sit on a chair to work on the computer instead of sitting on your bed for hours. El Viejo Molino can be recommended as it is a small hotel, rooms at the second floor with a great view and enough air/space. Most importantly, it is centrally located within easy walking distance to everything you need. Laundry, grocery shopping, hairdresser but most important strong WIFI to finally arrange other travel insurance and of course the blog.
Anna and Fernando from Mendoza offer to take us on a sidetrip which they are driving today, but we kindly decline as we need to arrange all of the above.
While I do the grocery shopping I get interviewed by mr. Giménez. He owns a great deli shop with awesome wines and nuts. Characteristic face and intriguing voice, presenting a good radio program every morning, interviewed me for 15 minutes and indeed it is broadcasted the next morning at 7:30. Funny.
Today, 27th of August 2019, is the day that we pass the 25,000 km. I discover this while I am writing the blog a few weeks later, checking Frank’s diary to add some details to my memory. 25,000 km within 97 weeks of biking. Whether it is much or not just depends on how you look at it.
Biking out of Chilecito we meet Argentinean Leo. Mid 30 and has stopped working, as he says he became a vagabond and is now travelling his own country, trying to see as much as possible while spending as little as possible. After only 20 kilometers he calls it a day in Nanogastro (even if he easily could bike a lot faster than us) to meet a friend and hitchhike tomorrow to cross the pass.
Cross the pass hitchhiking? While it is beautiful weather and the gradient is not more than 4-8%. No way. We continue and will see how far we get, which is less far than expected because our climbing legs have disappeared biking the endless antiplano. We enjoy the beautiful valley created by Rio Miranda. Layered mountains covered in a haze created by microscopic particles which are too light to fall to earth. Particles from exhausts, wood fires and other human activities. Climatologically it is a disaster as the haze absorbs heat and is one of the reasons our earth is getting warmer and warmer. Rio Mirande has created a valley but also a steep canyon and the only road is glued against one of the steep mountain slopes.
This old road.
Hence no way to camp until we come to a piece of the old road, now bypassed by the new road and is recommended as a nice walk. Barriers to prevent cars to enter and a landslide even prevents motorcycles to enter from one side. They could enter from the other side and return the same way but we feel safe enough to camp next to this old road. Not visible from the asphalt road and hidden in an even steeper side canyon.
A donkey is the only one watching us when we set-up camp. A scorpion shows us in the morning that under our tent it was not as cold as outside during a starry night.
After packing and leaving no trace, we re-join the highway and we both agree we chose the best spot to camp.
How to choose a good wild camp spot (not on private property that is). We won’t pass fences if we can’t ask permission to camp:
- try to be invisible
- if you camp close to a road: enter your campsite when nobody sees you going in
- don’t put you tent or guide lines in a cow path
- ensure you can’t get flooded by a flash flood, so never camp in a river bed, or a spot that is lower than the surroundings
- be far enough from the face of a mountain, not to be hit by falling rocks!
- leave without leaving a trace! Also no Kleenex flowers!
We enjoy the descent of the 1,200 m vertical incline of yesterday. This side of the mountain being totally different from yesterday. Do you think you would see this and be able to stop when you were travelling in a car?
Is this the life.
Again we see a biker in the distance and since we have not seen too many we cross the road to say hello. Yvonne from Czech is pleasantly surprised that we spend time talking with her. Seems she only has started in Mendoza a few days earlier. On her own! Did some biking trips before and now quit her job to see if there is something else in life besides work. Way to go girl! 44 and daring to take such decision! Good for you!
We covered an amazing 104 km, not so difficult if it is almost all downhill. Trying to get some groceries in Guandacol but everything only re-opens at 19:00. Only the basics are available and when we bike a kilometer out of town to a “great hostal” it is closed for holidays. Would be nice if they could mention this on their sign in the center of the town. Even worse, it is not even indicated at their gate, we just find it locked. Now we have wasted too much time. We don’t want to camp as we long for a shower and want to wash some clothes. The restaurant serves the first decent steak we have had in Argentina, but still way thinner than we expected.
For next morning I planned a way out of the village and we end up on a road with deep dust. We got our portion of gravel today. Raw nature is been stripped to be replaced by grapes.
After too much dust you just rinse the belt to return to noiseless biking.
Wild is the wind.
Joining Route 40, passing a police control where hardly anybody is passing. Whole day steadily climbing with calve biting, nasty short down and uphill stretches, to pass the countless number of little rivers that cross the road. Since there is no water most of the year, they do not bother to build bridges, the road descends, you cross the stream and the road goes up. We are biking through the Bermejo Valley and it is bare, except for thorny bushes and few cacti. There is a very strong headwind, called Zona wind and it carries a lot of dust, as it often seems to do. We wear our Buffs over our faces against the dust and take the lead in turns, every 2 and 3 km to create wind shadow for the other. Wondering who does the 3 km? Frank of course, he is feeling much better than when we were biking at +3,000 m.
We underestimated the headwind in combination with the climbing and we are slower than expected, so we will have to camp. Not having enough water forces us to ask at a campamento. First we thought campamentos were campgrounds, but here they are guarded storage places for road construction companies. We are lucky the caretaker Walter is willing to share some of the water they store here. Its only 25 km from the next village we could push on but we take the opportunity to camp.
As Frank has been dreaming that the tent was surrounded by water we don’t camp in the shallow riverbed, although it is dry season and very unlikely to rain, but between thorny bushes and cacti on higher ground. Super quiet, so many stars, such a lovely night in the middle of nowhere. We feel super safe. Priceless.
What grows around our campsite?
Rested we cover the last 5 kilometers to the top where at the chapel of Santa Barbara there is also a shelter. It would have been perfect if the weather would have been bad, but since it was not, I have to say I preferred the camping.
At Alto Huaco we follow the old road RP491, passing “El Sillon del Gigante”. I don’t think it looks like a chair but more like a ghost head. A beautiful steep climb gives us a breath-taking view of colored mountains. We enter a valley that looks like a caldera. An outer world feeling which disappears when we leave the caldera. Were the giants watching us from around the corners?
Ice cream man.
In San José de Jáchal we are not sure what to choose. A hostal or an slightly more expensive apartment. After a delicious ice cream at Grido (a chain with millions of different ice creams) we decide to take the apartment. Grido’s is a chain from Argentinean origin, started in early 2000 and now selling in almost 1,400 own locations in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and of course Chile. You will soon be able to enjoy it also in Brazil and Bolivia. Closure of the week is ravioli with homemade blue cheese sauce and bacon. Heavenly!
Already gained several kilo’s since arriving in Argentina/Chile. Interested in more local food? Stay tuned!