San Juan and La Rioja Provinces

April 17th, 2010

Entering the Canyon of La Cienaga after San Jose de Jachal

Entering the Canyon of La Cienaga after San Jose de Jachal

After my Easter week in Florida I returned to Mendoza, staying there for a fifth time (a record for any place along my project). The city was by now quite familiar and I enjoyed one more afternoon and evening there. It felt a bit like a time warp, shopping in the same supermarket and dining at the same buffet we had done before and after Aconcagua. My only negative experience was an attempted theft: Three young girls walking behind me suddenly opened the zipper of my outside backpack pocket and tried to grab something. I turned around immediately and they ran off; luckily they didn’t get a hold of anything valuable, but it was a stern warning to be extra careful in touristy places.

Then back on the bike. My first day turned out to be a great day, thanks to persistent South winds I went far further and faster than I had planned. Plus, the Ruta 40 is completely flat between Mendoza and San Juan, so I just kept humming along with tailwind, already logging 100km at noon. I stopped in San Juan (170km) – the capital of the Province of the same name – for an afternoon coffee, already further than I thought I would go; but the tailwind was too good to pass up, so I kept going, literally until sunset, which also brought fantastic light for photos. In the end, I stopped at Talacasto after some 227km – just a little kiosk in the middle of nowhere, but I could buy some sandwiches for dinner and water and juice for the next day. Life was good.

Final hour of long tailwind ride from Mendoza past San Juan

Final hour of long tailwind ride from Mendoza past San Juan

The Ruta 40 follows an old, long defunct railroad track, which can be seen alongside the road. Every 20 km or so there are some old stone buildings, probably former stations for the railroad. They are sometimes even listed in the road map, but they are just ruins and many times there is nothing there at all.

The next stations of the journey were San Jose de Jachal and Villa Union. Great scenery, with North-South valleys and the Andes to the West. After Jachal the road crosses a small ridge in a canyon called La Cienaga, one of the most scenic places I have seen since leaving Bariloche. A perfect road for cyclists, narrow, steep, windy, paved, no truck traffic (re-routed around), and very scenic – a must for every cyclist.

Top section of the Cuesta de Miranda pass between Villa Union and Chilecito

Top section of the Cuesta de Miranda pass between Villa Union and Chilecito

Yesterday from Villa Union to Chilecito I had to cross the Cuesta de Miranda, at 2020m a pass of about 1000m vertical. The scenery is quite lovely here as well, just North of the Parque Nacional Talampaya, the crown jewel of the La Rioja Province. Also some 40km of gravel, the first I had since Bariloche. So that was quite hard, but nothing compared to the crazy passes over the Andes which connect Argentina and Chile. For example, I have read an account of a loop from La Serena to Copiapo, then over the Paso de San Francisco, back South on the Argentina side to Jachal, then back over the Paso de Agua Negra to La Serena. Both passes around 4750m high, with lots of desert and gravel tracks, 4000m of climbing each, talk about extreme cycling…

I plan to follow Ruta 40 North through the Catamarca and into the Salta Provinces. I am adding detailed daily logs to the Argentina ride page and some select photos to the Argentina Picasa album. As usual, you can also follow my progress on my Argentina SPOT tracking page.


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