1st till 7th of September 2019.
Argentina is the country of non-accredited saints. You already know San Gil and Difunda Correa. Today we want to introduce you to San Expedito, you need him when you want to have things done quickly. He was a Roman centurion (then Expeditus), who wanted to convert to Christianity in AD 303. His mates said why not wait a bit longer, but he insisted to do it that evening ….. and became a saint, dedicated to help you to meet a deadline or help you to find your way when travelling. This is why you see small chapels dedicated to him along the way.
We did not use him to book our tickets home. My mom is better and at home my sister has arranged support. We decided to continue to Ushuaia. Yesterday we compared all the different possibilities and prices. This Sunday morning we made the decision to fly with KLM. Most expensive but shortest travel, only one transit and no change of airport. Hopefully this will benefit the bikes.
15th of December we will be flying to Amsterdam. Unreal to have booked the flights. Final countdown has started.
Leaving Jáchal not following Route 40 but Route Provincial 412, which should be even more remote and with promise of some gravel parts.
At our first cookie break a biker suddenly appears from around the corner. It is Gaetan, Swiss from the French part but speaking English fluently. He is 44 and his workhorse is a Surly Long Haul Trucker.
He joins us and even when he could easily go much faster and do longer days, he adjusts to our pace.
So happy we have chosen this road. Following Rio Jáchal that has shaped a wide valley, but now is a small meandering emerald river lined with pampas grass. It is small due to being controlled by a dam to generate electricity. High walls without any vegetation in different shades of green, red and grey. Have we landed on mars? Gaetan sees different shades but not if they are green or red, only when they are bright and very different in color. Not completely color blind, but only for pastel colors.
Wind is fierce and blowing from different directions and there is almost no traffic.
We decide not to camp tonight as it is too cold. In Las Flores the search for a room starts. Reading about a place and wanting to stay there gives us a significant delay as there is nobody at first and when they show-up, we find it too expensive. Only cabana style accommodations. Next one (2 km further on) is full and finally we do a loop and pass the place we have seen more than an hour ago but decided not to check at that moment.
We all sleep alone.
Having toured 3 extra kilometers, with the sun setting and temperature dropping, we accept one big room with a double bed for us and a bed for Gaetan. Ha, it’s funny to sleep in a kind of dorm with somebody we just met! But it feels good so why not? And he does not snore, so I only have some trucks passing by waking me up! We are even more lucky as they serve a BIG steak with fries for dinner, accompanied by a rich Malbec.
Frank spoils us in the morning with oatmeal and a lot of fruit. Because we don’t have bread and the supermarket opens a bit later, we first have a real coffee at the petrol station. It seems that the trucks that pass by supply the biggest gold mine of this region, which employs more than 3,000 people! All this talk and coffee makes it all in all a late start on a very chilly day.
Car wheels on a gravel road.
A few miles working on our calves and the road turns into gravel. The only pick-up passing us stops and warns us of speeding trucks that would not respect any other traffic.
The gravel, headwind and continuous 3-4% vertical incline makes it a much slower day than expected. During the last 45 km we have only seen one refuge which could provide a windshield.
Aim was to reach the top and maybe sleep at the statue of Christ but at 17:00 we decide we need to look for a sheltered place, as it is cold and wind is still blowing hard.
Now we see a row of trees in the distance and decide to try to find a camping spot there. The first abandoned house does not feel right. Across the road, 500 meters further on, we see an other one but we check first with the police station, located a bit further down the road. They say the only sheltered place we can camp is at that house, no camping allowed at their office.
5 rooms and a fireplace, what else could you long for! Enough wood outside and the gendarmeria said we could build a fire in the house. Setting up camp inside a house again. Us in one room, Gaetan in the one with the fireplace as the other two don’t have glass in the windows or no roof. Our room has windows, but they have been shut with wood. Cleaned the place before setting up camp.
Next thing Frank does is building a fire using the Swiss method:
- First the larger logs to form a square
- Followed with smaller, thinner pieces again in a square
- In between the layers of smaller pieces put in some kindling, easily inflammable stuff
- Et voila you have a great fire within minutes
We combine our food and cook a lovely dinner of pasta with chorizo and vegetables.
At one moment we hear a clapping noise, where does that come from? Looking outside it are two police officers who have passed us this morning and now say we can come to their place for drinking water. We accept but will do this in the morning. Sleeping in an abandoned house was still on my wish list. Freaking out at night when a rattling sound wakes me up and I think people are crawling through the window next door to steal our bikes. But it just the wind which has suddenly picked up after being quiet for the last few hours. Frank checks the place, sees nobody of course and puts an extra lock around the bikes.
Cook with fire.
Morning is very cold at 2,600 meters, even “inside”, Frank is so sweet to light the fire again. Oatmeal is perfect, Franks flat tire places a dumper on the mood. Gaetan and I already leave to get some water at the gendarmeria. Sweet guys these policemen!
Luckily we did not push on to the Christ statue yesterday, even for today it is too much of a detour. Just for a photo, Gaetan and Frasnk ride up the road a bit.
Riding downhill on gravel shows how well our tires and bikes behave. Much faster than Gaetan who has 2.0 tires. Only time I can be ahead 😊
Lunchtime! Franks tire is again flat ☹ previously he could not find the reason of the tiny holes appearing in his inner tube. Tip: put a mark on your outer tire where your valve is, find the hole in the inner tube and you know where you have to look for the cause of punctures. He finds a very tiny piece of metal wire, so small he missed it previous 3 times.
What a difference a day makes.
Colorful valley and finally some asphalt till Calingasta at 1,381 m where we find a hotel (big word for a room, nothing more). Having descended to 1,300 meters makes the evening warmer. We cook outside after having shopped to prepare a kind of Nasi Goreng.
What goes down needs to go up. Route 149 will bring us 1,200 vertical meters higher again. Valley is dotted with walnut trees and poplars used for woodwork. I am calculating the 130 km and incline/decline and where we would be able to camp or find a hostal. I noticed that I am pushing my limits and that is nice but I also feel that I don’t want to bike so hard every day.
Suggesting to Frank and Gaetan that I would not mind to stop in the cute town of Barreal, resupply, find a nice place to rest the afternoon and split up the remaining distance with one night of camping.
The big ranch.
To my surprise my two men accept my proposal and we even end up in a posh Posada with an amazing garden and a restaurant with linen and real glasses. So nice to enjoy a good wine together! So nice Gaetan thinks the same of enjoying both sides of this adventure, go rough when needed, go reasonably posh when possible.
It is a Rancho with 12 horses trained for endurance. Martina from Italy just arrived a few days ago to work at this amazing place for a few months. She found this awesome spot through workaway a site for cultural exchange. You work for a living. Would not mind to do the same at a certain time in my life!
Lucky the horses will get new horseshoes today or else I would have stayed for a day of horse riding.
We climb on our own horse and continue the slow climb uphill following endless RN 149. Steady tailwind makes us wonder how we can better use this. Gaetan and I try out different set-up of sails, of which one really helps me fly-up the hill on asphalt. FUN as I am uphill ahead of the guys!
Police control let us know there is a refugio but it too early to stop so we continue. We pass through Parque National El Leoncito. This park was not established to protect flora or fauna only, but mainly because there is no aerial pollution by light or dust. With unsurpassed clarity at least 300 days per year, this park has 2 astronomical observatories. We are biking at one of the days that the sky is completely obscured by with dark clouds.
Climbing higher, mountains are covered in snow, but fortunately snow is not yet as low as where we bike. The grey clouds don’t shed their load but do hold back the sun rays. It is getting colder and windier by the minute and no shelter in sight. Getting darker, we decide to camp behind the only small man made hill as there is no other wind breaker. Visible from the road but we are with two tents and have maybe seen 20 cars today and expect even less traffic during the night. Camping together does feel safer.
Puma, specific for this area of the Andes, grass and small bushes, foxes and mice. No more rain than 200 mm per year (NL has 800 mm per year).
We saw Guanaco’s and Peregrine falcons.
Franks awakes with pain in his shoulders, this cold is not good for him, combined with gravel and more bumping it results Frank being grumpy and longing for some warmth. The spectacular sunrise does not gives any warmth. Visiting an Inca site where nothing is to be seen does not lighten the mood.
Racing down the mountain to Uspallata where we would have to pay to use the tables on the municipal camping, just to have lunch. No way.
So we eat lunch at a monument with dogs longing for some leftovers. Always fun!
We find a good room at Hostal Viena with the most friendly hostess ever, Beatrice! No kitchen and typical meager Argentinian breakfast of coffee with a kind of bread. But Wifi, good shower and heating in the room. Top this off with a big steak and Frank is happy again. We decide to stay here as tomorrow we want to tackle the pass to Chile. Gaetan decided to stay with us, even if we are convinced he could have easily biked further!
Next day we receive the news that the pass is closed for the whole day due to heavy snow fall. Bummer. Big discussion if we should go to Mendoza and take the bus to Bariloche or wait a day and bike with Gaetan to Santiago as he wants to visit some friends of friends. We know for sure there will be buses taking bikes to cover 1,000 km. Should we go for a pass where there will be snow? First we decide to go to Mendoza but then we change our mind and will join Gaetan to Santiago. We decide to stay an extra day in Uspallata as now biking part of the road to the pass without knowing if we can find a place to sleep doesn’t feel right. We are lazy and do none of the tourist visits suggested by Beatrice. Read, eat, sleep, repeat. And have a lovely dinner of tapas prepared by Gaetan! And again a week has passed. A week we have traveled with the 3 of us, fun! Want to find out how the weather is affecting the journey over our last +3000 m pass. Stay tuned for next week.
Dear Gaetan, thank you already for this week!