Summary: Argentina is a very large country, with one of its roads, the Ruta 40, stretching 5000km from the Southern tip in Tierra Del Fuego to the Northern end at the Bolivia border. I started on Jan-13, 2010 in Ushuaia, the world’s Southern-most city, riding North through rugged terrain in Tierra del Fuego. After crossing the Straight of Magellan the route continued North-West across wind-swept plains of Patagonia. Here I struggled mightily with the winds, making progress frustratingly slow and riding at times impossibly hard. Near El Chalten I crossed over to Chile, continuing North on the Carreterra Austral for about 2 weeks. After a long break forced by a mechanical problem with my bike and then the two mountain expeditions on Aconcagua and Ojos del Salado I resumed the ride North from Bariloche on Mar-23. I rode to Mendoza in the following 9 days, almost 140km per day without rest, in order to catch a plane home to Florida for Easter vacation with my family. Eventually I returned in mid April and resumed the ride North from Mendoza, via Salta and San Salvador de Jujuy up to the altiplano and the Bolivia border at La Quiaca by May-1.
Patagonia (Ushuaia – El Chalten ; Chile’s Carreterra Austral)
Pampa (Bariloche – Mendoza – Salta)
Patagonia – Ushuaia to El Chalten
Flying down here took quite a while. First I flew via Buenos Aires (Argentina) to Santiago de Chile. One highlight there was a close fly-by near Aconcagua, which at 22.000 ft was not much lower than our flight level (we had just started to descend towards Santiago). Visibility was excellent, so this mountain left a big impression on me; I look forward to climbing it (with due respect and caution) by late February!
In Santiago I stayed at a middle class hotel near downtown and had time to explore the city a little bit. From a 1000 ft hill in the Parque Metropolitano one has a great view over the entire city. I also enjoyed a sunset from the rooftop pool area on the 23rd floor of the hotel building. Finally, I left my backpack at that hotel before heading back to the airport again for the next trip down to Ushuaia.
South America will be different from Central America and more challenging: Rain, cold, stormy winds, dust and gravel roads, to name just a few weather- and road-related challenges. Not to mention the tall mountains ahead, all above 6000 m! But those challenges are what drew me into this adventure in the first place, so I’m actually looking forward to them.
Wednesday, January 13
Ushuaia, Bahia Lapataia
49km / 13815km; 3h / 748h; 300m
Flight from Santiago via Punta Arenas (Chile) to Ushuaia (Atgentina). Landing in Ushuaia with some sunshine and good visibility around 4pm.
Clearing customs and re-assembling bike. This all goes fairly smooth, except I can’t get the trailer wheel to fit into the trailer frame, how annoying! I fiddle with it and think about what I could be doing wrong; but the only solution to this mystery is that the frame must have been bent out of shape during transport. Eventually I need to apply brute force to get it to fit in. It takes longer than 1/2 hr to get this little step done – should have taken only 1/2 min!
I finally ride out of the airport building and towards Ushuaia. It’s cool outside, but pleasant and it feels nice to ride again! I want to buy some food and need to find an ATM for Argentinien Pesos. Unfortunately the ATM I see doesn’t dispense any money, that’s strange and a first! So I buy a soda and some bread with my last single dollars. By the time I’m ready to ride it’s already 7:30pm.
Still, I decide to go down to Bahia Lapataia, the endpoint of the Panamerican Highway (another 25 km SW of Ushuaia). Since the sun won’t set until after 10pm I still have at least 3 hr of daylight. I reach the endpoint at 8:45pm and take photos of the famous road sign depicting this Southern-most end of the road. I also walk back to the beach and take in the scenery.
Thoughts about the significance of this point come up, but I don’t have the time to ponder this now… I need to ride back before dark.
More traffic here than I had expected this late in the evening. Also some drizzle, but not enough to make me get the rain gear out. At least there is less dust from passing cars due to the rain now.
I get back to Ushuaia at 10:45pm. I’m hungry, cold, have no cash, and don’t know where I’m going to stay the night. I’m thinking not everyone would find such a situation very comfortable; but with time and experience comes a calm confidence that everything will work out somehow.
First I look for an ATM and the third one finally gives me some cash. Then a nice-looking restaurant for dinner and to warm up. Finally I ask for nearby hostels and luckily there are quite a few. The first is fully booked – it’s high season down here – but the second one has one dorm bed left: Bingo! 10 min later after checking in and brushing my teeth I’m sound asleep. My first night in the Southern-most city of the world…
Thursday, January 14
Ushuaia to Tolhuin
105km / 13920km; 5h / 754h; 800m
I wake up at 7am and decide to have a good breakfast. I find a place nearby which has a buffet ($10) and WiFi, so I can email and Blog while enjoying a scrumptious breakfast. Then I walk back and prepare my bags and bike. I hit the road around 10am. It’s very cloudy and looks like it might rain soon. I take some more pictures as I’m leaving Ushuaia. Then I pass a roadsign which has my three next destinations and thier distances on it: Tolhuin, Rio Grande, San Sebastian.
On the first long slope uphill it starts to rain. I’m still in fairly good spirits and with fresh legs, so I just keep going without even putting on my raingear… Soon I reach the Valle Hermosa with beautiful meadows and surrounding mountains. The clouds break for a little bit and there are even a few sunny patches. There are a couple of places where tour buses stop such as a sheep farm and later the base of the “Castor” ski area (centro de ski mas austral del mundo).
I keep going and now have to cross the Paso Garibaldi. At it’s base I have a short rest and drink. I also meet the two Finnish riders Telmo and Sebastian, who arrived one day earlier and have the same travel plans. I soon continue uphill so as to not get cold. It reminds me a bit of the Atigun Pass up North in Alaska, but on a smaller scale. My book states something about 600m elevation, but that’s probably the cumulative, not absolute elevation; so I’m pleasantly surprised when I reach the pass at around 400m ASL! On the crest I stop for a photo and there is Yvette (?) from France riding up from the other side. She started in Ecuador and is now on her last day to Ushuaia! I congratulate her and take a picture with her camera, but then need to continue as the wind on the pass is too cold to linger. I put on my new Gore-Tex wind jacket and shoot down the other side of the pass on good and straight road.
Soon I’m reaching a small lake with some wood-fired smelter or something; this huge oven stinks up the entire surroundings. Luckily the rain now gives way to sunshine and a tailwind! What a lucky break for my first day. On the (rainy) way up I had this fantasy about a coffee and cake, but quickly suppressed such thoughts as I judged it very unlikely that there would be any such place for a while. But low and behold, I come upon a brand-new restaurant and confiteseria, just what I had been thinking about earlier! Of course I stop and have the coffee with a great apple pie. It’s also cozy warm inside next to a wood-fired stove, what a great place to rest (and type these notes, too).
The remaining 35km or so I feel like I’m in heaven: Sunshine, great views along the shores of Lake Fagnano and tailwind! I take several pictures and also see Telmo and Sebastian again who passed me while I was in the restaurant. Upon arriving at the Eastern end of the lake near Tolhuin I stop and check out the beautiful Hosteria Kaiken. From behind the windows of their restaurant – again more coffee and cake – the sun warms me quickly and reflects in the lake water. I have WiFi again, so I post another Blog and write some email. Unfortunately staying at this wonderful place overnight is far beyond my price range, so I continue to a nearby campground at the lake shore. Very beautiful evening light. I set up my tent sheltered behind some boards and then cook some pasta in the kitchen cabin while chatting with other riders.
Into the sleeping bag by 11pm.
Friday, January 15
Tolhuin to Rio Grande
118km / 14039km; 8h / 762h; 400m
I was told to get up and ride early to avoid the wind during the day, but I can’t get up at 5am yet… I pack my tent and ride up to the town of Tolhuin where I’m told there is a panaderia. Once I get there the owner comes out and inspects my bike enthusiastically. Turns out he is a passionate rider himself; he invites me to stay at his house in case I want to stay another day (I don’t, but I appreciate the invite). He shows me the bike of another rider who stayed here overnight; turns out it’s one of the RidingTheSpine cyclists who rode from Alaska to Patagonia exclusively on dirt roads using custom-made bikes with extra-wide tires and elongated frames. The biker’s name is Goat (no kidding) and he gets up and we have breakfast in the Panaderia together. I learn a bit about their 3.5 yr adventure. Then I do some email and finally get going; however it’s already around 11am by the time I’m on the Routa 3. Hence I get more and more wind. It’s still good to ride as it’s all paved and there is a decent shoulder with little traffic. But it’s slowing me down a bit. I also meet Telmo and Sebastian again at the gas-station in Tolhuin; they camped nearby, but didn’t want to ride down to the lake the evening before…
Somehow I expected there to be some restaurants or estancias along the way similar to the day before; I would have happily mingled with the tourbus-crowd for a good lunch or coffee. But no such luck! After 4.5 hrs of riding against wind from front-left with the Atlantic in sight the last 1/2 hr I was getting really hungry. I stop at the first Estancia along the way at 75km. The people there are very friendly and give me two bananas and two delicious peaches first, then motion me to the separate kitchen building. There Renato Soto, the estancia cook, keeps a gas-fired stove and hot water as well as a large pot with meat and veggies going all day. He offers a plate full of meat and fresh bread and water. When he sees how quickly and thoroughly I clean that plate he gives me a second, even larger helping – which I finish with equal vigor and delight! Due to the stove it is cozy warm in there, and they even have a little bunk to lay down for siesta! I allow myself a 1hr nap. However, the cook wakes me up after 45min or so when the two Finnish riders show up. They also eat some meat with a little bit of bread and soon thereafter all three of us leave again around 6:30pm. It’s another 40km to Rio Grande, with the last 10km of road with tailwind.
But the first 30km are very tough with strong headwind. We proceed quite slowly, but it’s sunny and we still have quite a bit of daylight left so no worries. We pass a stretch of road that’s widened to about three times the size; these stretches can be used as runways for military purposes if necessary. A little bit later the Finnish guys stop to prepare and eat some more food, but I keep going so as to not run out of daylight.
At long last I reach the Rio Grande river with a new and an old suspension bridge, of which I take a nice picture with the evening sun. Now the road turns East and as expected, the last 10km are easy to ride (even though the wind dies down around 8:30pm).
I get to Rio Grande – which has some very unattractive looking barrios on the outskirts – and head for the center and a supermarket. Once I have some food I continue looking for the ‘Club Nautico’, which has been recommended to me. Some riders from Brazil catch up to me and show me the rest of the way. The hostel there is really nice and full of other riders. Bicycles stored inside, several kayaks hanging from the ceiling, and many folks brewing up some soup or hot food for dinner. After a nice hot shower I eat some food and check email.
Eventually to sleep upstairs in what looks like a gym room. This was a long, hard day of 8hrs and almost 120km, mostly into the wind. My legs are very tired…
Saturday, January 16
Rio Grande to San Sebastian
99km / 14138km; 5.3h / 767h; 200m
After a small breakfast I get ready to leave around 8:30am. I stop by the Carrefour supermarket to buy some juice; had I known how little there is to be had ahead of me I would have bought much more food.
It’s overcast and looks like it might rain. After only 10km it starts to rain while I’m passing the Salian missionary museum. I put on my rain jacket at the base of an uphill. Then I crawl up the hill into the wind and rain and I’m thinking: I can’t ride like this for another 75km with my sore legs! For an instant I even consider turning around and “chickening out”, but of course I don’t. Now at least the wind stops and while wet I can now ride at normal speeds again. This continues for the next 3hrs or so, with little diversions and only a few estancias along the way. After 3hrs the clouds break and it actually gets sunny. I’m still very cold by the time I reach the border town San Sebastian. I only see a few houses here, one of them a Hosteria where I enter to warm up and have some food (10 empenadas) from their rather limited supply. I also try to dry out my jersey and even take a little nap while sitting at the table.
Eventually I proceed to the Argentinian border and get my passport stamped. Then I continue for another 13km – now on gravel road – where I meet 4 other riders from Brazil.
After passing the Chilean border as well without any problems I check in at the Hosteria and restaurant at the border. The place has a nice, cozy atmosphere and very clean rooms, so I book a single room for the night. They only have electricity when they run their generator, no Internet and no Credit-cards are accepted. However I do manage to check and send email at the police station across the street where they let me use their computer to go online. This would be my last online check for a while…
Sunday, January 17
San Sebastian to Cullen
55km / 14193; 5h / 772h; 250m
I have breakfast at 8am at the hosteria. Then I pack my bags and start riding just before 9am. It’s overcast and not windy yet; it doesn’t look like rain although I heard someone mention rain on the forecast.
The landscape is treeless tundra, with just a few rolling hills. Now it’s all gravel road for the next 120km or so. The first hour or two things are good; I get into a good rhythm, the road isn’t too bad and the wind is not blowing too hard yet. I manage maybe 27km in the first 2hrs. On a hilltop I sit down next to a rusty car wreck and take in the wide open scenery.
Then, however, it gets sunny and the wind is intensifying considerably. It becomes harder and harder to ride into this wind from the front left side. I often ride on the left side to avoid getting dusted by trucks and cars. Soon it’s getting so gusty that riding in a straight line becomes impossible. Now it’s borderline unrideable. My pace slows down even though I pedal as hard as before. The road at times is also pretty poor, so not even the downhills at slightly higher speeds (20km/h) are enjoyable as it gets too bumpy. I’m reduced to crawling. At 40km there are two estancias by the road and I consider stopping there. However I want to get at least to Cullen, which according to the map is at 55km. It still takes a long time to get there and I’m blown sideways across half the road at times. This isn’t bike riding anymore..
I finally reach an Eastancia at 55km and pull into their driveway to rest. It took me 5hrs ride time to cover 55km, more than 3hrs for the last 30km! I talk a bit to the owner and his 7 yr old son. They are loading their pickup truck and 1/2hr later they are leaving with the wife. I’m left alone here, but I can rest behind the buildings and out of the wind. I sleep for an hour or two.
Then barking dogs wake me up. They have 5 dogs at kennels behind the house and someone just let them run free and feeds them. It’s Adolfo and we chat a little bit. He invites me in for a coffee and bread; it’s just great to be inside and warm, out of the relentless wind! I decide to stay here for the night, go to sleep early and start riding tomorrow very early (5am). After filling my water bottles, two final cups of coffee and brushing my teeth I go to sleep at 10pm.
Monday, January 18
Cullen to Punta Delgado (with ferry crossing to mainland)
122km / 14315km; 8.5h / 781h; 250m
Rain wakes me up at 3am; I hate having to start in rain at 5am, packing a wet tent etc. I wait until 5am and at least the rain subsides a bit. It’s no fun getting out of the tent in the morning when everything is wet. But it’s more important to get a headstart on the relentless wind. I am packed and on the bike by 5:30am (maybe a record for this trip). The gravel road is less dusty when wet, there is hardly any traffic and there is no wind – all good things about riding this early. I make better time than yesterday with less effort. The ‘ripio’ is pretty bad at places, forcing me to slow down on the downhill sections. My plan is to ride the entire 90km to the ferry in one swoop without many breaks as I’m concerned about the wind at later hours.
I notice the Guanacos and sheep beside the road. The Guanacos have an alarm call which sounds similar to a horse, and I hear this frequently. Once a pair of Guanacos runs ahead of me, crossing the road and adjacent fences several times. A young one is on one side running parallel to the fence but unable to jump it. When it tries, its feet get caught and it lands after a half loop on its back, but jumps up and runs away again. Funny how these animals don’t care about heavy, loud trucks driving by, but when I come riding up quietly they get very scared…
I get to about 40km when I see a downhill and a plain below. This must be where Cerro Sombrero is located (55km); that’s also the end of the gravel section, which I look forward to. Unfortunately I get into soft sand on the right end of the road. The first time I manage to stay upright, the second time I can’t avoid falling to the left. A real disadvantage of the recumbent bike since you can’t get the feet down quickly enough. I hate how these little crashes always end up bending the handle bars… Shortly thereafter there some Chileans stop to take photos and chat with me. They also give me two Oranges which I’m quite happy about. Finally at 55km I reach the cement road and the end of gravel. That’s worth a rest with water, the oranges and an apple. It’s another 40km to the ferry terminal, but now the wind is blowing pretty hard again. At least the road is good and there is little traffic. I am very tired by the time I make it to the terminal; there is a little restaurant and I enter to warm up. While I wait for some lunch I spread out my wet tent and let the combined wind and sun dry it out and air out my sleeping bag. After two sandwiches and some meat as well as some rest I board the ferry across the Magellan strait to the mainland. On the other side I enter the ferry service building – thought this to be a restaurant – and plug in my iPhone to recharge and type these notes. I’m gradually getting back to civilization (or electrical power at least).
I need to ride another 16 km to the main road with front-side wind; more than 1hr of hard work, but beautiful mood with evening sun and white clouds. At the main road there is a private resort complex, no restaurant there, but they let me use their WiFi
After the restful break and some email I get back on the road. And what a relief it is to now ride with direct tailwind! Almost effortlessly I am gliding along at speeds of 30km/h. Less than half the effort, more than twice the speed – ah, in these conditions I feel I could go on forever. I take a short video-clip in the warm evening light. Soon I reach the little village of Punta Delgado and a nice restaurant at the main intersection. Several trucks in front indicate that good and plentiful food is to be had here, so I happily join in to get my large fill of pasta and a large bottle of coke to round out a long day.
Tuesday, January 19
Punta Delgado to Rio Gallegos
99km / 14415km; 5.5h / 787h; 240m
Started ride early after hearty breakfast. The weather is sunny and windy again. Unfortunately no directly tailwind like last evening, but certainly better than the infamous headwind. Making good progress as a result, with about 100km in just over 5 hrs. At the end sunny and good tailwind, in parts screaming along at high speeds. Taking photos at road signs indicating strong winds. I am glad when rolling into town in Rio Gallegos. This part of riding North along the Atlantic Ocean is now over. From here I will go diagonally inland to the NW and towards the Andes and the Chilean border.
I roll my bike through town in search of a nice place to relax, have some coffee and check email. These are special times when people stare at my bike and greet me friendly, often curiously asking questions about where I come from etc. I find a nice cafe and settle in to do some email. Two nice men strike up a conversation – turns out they are retired and from Switzerland. It feels a bit strange to speak in German again, and I’m certainly happy to have some good company. One of them also owns a recumbent, the other is an avid sailor; they had just sailed down to Ushuaia from Europe and were now touring the area by rental car on their way back North and ultimately flight back home. They are quite excited about my project and so we chat over a nice steak dinner well into the evening. They also invite me to share a large room at their hotel overnight. Not that I will get much sleep, as I worked on my Blog, YouTube videos and email last night until 3am.
Wednesday, January 20
Rio Gallegos to Las Horquetas
85km / 14500km; 6.5h / 794h; 270m
Today I worked my way into heavy headwind. I only had 4 hrs of sleep! I couldn’t start earlier, even if I had wanted to. In the beginning it was actually to my benefit, as miraculously for 30km from Rio Gallegos to Guer Aike there was a NE wind, with a tailwind component riding W. So that was an easier start than I expected. Then a last stop at the antiquated Guer Aike hotel for a real breakfast, but finally around 10am the work started in earnest: Riding some 50-100m hills, into intensifying headwind (now shifted to NW, just the direction I need to go ) and initially rain. Not fun, but at least not too cold. After about 1 hr the sky looked as if it was cut in half; the cloud layer had an abrupt end beyond which there was only deep blue sky (for a 1/2 hr at least, then about 3/8 Cu clouds). There were some endless straight roads to the horizon with a limitless sky above – could have been in Montana or elsewhere out West in the States. But for the wind it was great! But I was mentally prepared to suffer today, and as long as I could keep the speed above 10 km/h I was satisfied. With the sun and thermal activity the wind intensified even more and then coming from the side made riding very difficult, straight lines impossible and often I was pushed sideways off the pavement into the gravel. Luckily there was little traffic, so I could afford to use my entire lane while monitoring the road behind me in the helmet rearview mirror. After a total of 6.5 hrs I reached my goal for the day, a place called Las Horquetas – basically one hotel / restaurant next to a bridge over a little river (Rio Coyle). An idyllic oasis of green grass and some trees in the otherwise featureless plains, only occasionally with road-drops between table mountains. Tomorrow I plan to get away very early – 5:30am on the bike riding – so as to make some headway before being hit again with the awful headwind. I should get at least to La Estanza (60km) for a decent breakfast there at what may be the last restaurant all the way to El Calafate (240km).
Thursday, January 21
Las Horquetas to Ea. Librun
102km / 14602km; 5.5h / 800h; 300m
I get up at 5am and pack up my tent. It is still calm, so I look forward to some riding without the dreaded headwind. But it is very cold. Just 4C! I need ear-warmers and an extra sweater under my GoreTex jacket. My muscles are stiff and my fingers are numb when I start the ride before sunrise. In those moments you are looking forward to working your muscles and generating body heat. You also can hardly wait for the sun to come up and add some light and warmth. The sky is clear and so the sunrise creates spectacular colors and long shadows. I take a self-portrait while riding directly into the sun looking back at my 100 ft long shadow. What a beautiful scenery! And soon it is getting warmer, life is good again.
After a few hours I reach La Esperanza – about the halfway point between Rio Gallegos and El Calafate. I roll up to a ‘YPF’ gas station, shedding layers of clothing and changing from long cycling pants to shorts. I eat some sandwiches and drink coke to refuel. Many travelers appear to be stranded here; the reason: There is no more gas for the cars at the station. They say that tanker trucks are on their way and should be here within a few hours. Many vehicles can’t continue as they don’t have enough fuel for the upcoming 100+ km to either El Calafate or Rio Gallegos. Again another reason for me to be happy to be independent of fossil fuel.
Unfortunately there is no general Internet or WiFi; I jut asked at a police station whether I could check briefly and they are giving me 10 minutes or so…
At milestone 99km the calm and enjoyable riding weather very suddenly gives way to a very strong headwind from the front left. From one minute to the next the wind is blowing at about 40-50km/h. This is bad. I decide to go to 100km where I see a little dirt road intersection leading to some Estancia behind a little hill. I pause and lay low to escape the wind as best as I can and soak up the warm sun while munching on some energy bars.
Riding is hard due to weather (cold, rain, wind), but the scenery is great – and likely to get even better soon.
Friday, January 22
Ea. Librun to El Calafate (with pickup truck ride)
40km / 14642km; 3.3h / 803h; 150m
I am tired. Tired of wind so strong that you can’t ride safely, have to concentrate hard not to be blown off the road, and ride with maximum effort for minimum distance gained. Today I got up at 5am again and was on the bike at 5:30, half an hour prior to sunrise. But still, the wind was already blowing medium strength, so my speed was around 12 km/h on flat ground. Took me nearly 3 hrs to get to the first stop at 35km. Turns out it was an empty road construction warehouse, no people, just a few stray cats. At least I could sit in an open garage with sun and sheltered from the wind. There I cooked some pasta for breakfast. Hadn’t had a shower in 3 days. Everything started to feel dusty and stinky. The wind was getting even stronger. From there on no services or anything along the road for another 55 km. Doesn’t sound like much, but when you can’t even ride at 10 km/h then it’s a long way. I tried to continue but had to walk up the hills, as uphill and wind combined was too much. also, when you ride so slow, the side wind gusts make riding very tricky, almost impossible. I got blown off the road several times, twice almost crashed. It was safer to walk…
As I walked uphill a pickup truck stopped and asked whether I needed a ride to El Calafate. I couldn’t say No. So we loaded up my gear and 1 hr later or so we arrived in El Calafate. Beautiful little town, all amenities, I can do laundry, buy food, get online etc. I got to a nice campground and checked myself in for 2 nights. Tomorrow I want to take a break from riding and go see the Perrito Moreno glacier and do a little day-hike there. As I said, I’m tired from riding into crazy wind…
I feel much better now. After 1 hr of sleep, a hot shower, airing out all my stuff and now bringing my cloths to a laundry facility I feel a lot better and somewhat refreshed. My campground neighbors (from Argentina) had grilled lots of meat and invited me as they had lots left over, so I got a free meat and bread. After the laundry I will walk the town a little bit and organize my Perrito Moreno Glacier sight-seeing trip for tomorrow. I’m also planning to stop by an Internet Café and maybe post on my Blog or upload some pictures. (In any event, they have WiFi here at the campground as well.)
Saturday, January 23
El Calafate (rest day)
Visit to Perito Moreno Glacier by bus. Fascinating landscape there, a 60m high wall of ice at the end of a very long glacier, calving into the turquoise-blue waters of the large Lago Argentino. Met Ian from Scotland, who at age 69 is a self-declared ‘living dinosaur’ and has lots of interesting travel stories to tell, most recently from a last-minute trip by boat from Ushuaia to South Georgia and Antarctica.
Sunday, January 24
El Calafate to La Leona
109km / 14751km; 6.2h / 809h; 550m
I have reached a nice hotel / restaurant / camping ground half-way between El Calafate and El Chalten after 108 km of riding today; surprisingly they have WiFi Internet access So I got to read and respond to email.
Yeah, the wind had been extreme in the morning; we probably had wind gusts up to 50 – 60 mph as well. It did calm down a bit when I left at noon; my first 32km were downwind (going East), so I was flying there with speeds regularly between 40-50 km/h, on downhills above 60 km/h. At 45 km/h my flag was hanging down as if there was no wind, so it had calmed down to about 25 mph. Then the road turns left to the North which means wind from front left; the next 40 km or so were quite tough, but not as bad as on the last day to El Calafate. I managed to keep going at 10-12 km/h, and had two breaks after every 20 km or so. There actually had been an accident with a minibus rollover due to the wind which killed one person! I saw them removing the rolled over bus… I stopped at a road-construction department building and the resident family there gave me water which was nice (and told me about the accident and that the wind had been terribly strong in the morning). Then the wind calmed down completely and I enjoyed about 1-2 hours of normal riding with summer temperatures of 25C along the Rio Leona (the river between the two big lakes here, the Lago Viedma in the North and the Lago Argentina in the South). On this stretch I also saw about a dozen horses running next to me behind a fence for a while, very pretty. The last 12 km the wind kicked in again strongly, so it was hard again at the end. Total of 6 hrs riding, so I’m happy with the day; I had been off the bike for almost 48 hrs, so my legs felt pretty good (my knees are still feeling a bit sore).
The place here is amazing – Hotel La Leona – they have almost every animal under the sun: Horses, dogs, cats, chicken, ducks, sheep, Guanacos, … you name it. And with WiFi, as I mentioned…
Monday, January 25
La Leona to El Chalten
112km / 14863km; 8.8h / 818h; 450m
Just a quick update that I have reached El Chalten and found a hostel for the night – needed a warm and dry place, as it’s extremely windy and occasionally rainy outside. I also already ate a steak and a potato omelet, so I’m beginning to get back to normal.
Today was an extremely hard day. I rode 112 km and 9hrs (ridetime) within 10.5 hrs (elapsed time), 8hrs and 90 km of which into headwind, the last 2 were absolutely extreme with uphill and storm gusts; When I saw traffic approach either direction I had to stop for safety, as I couldn’t predict when and/or prevent the gusty wind blowing me into the opposite lane. Twice I almost crashed when very sudden and strong gusts essentially ripped my bike around and I just got my feet out to prevent a fall. I needed to push my bike on the uphills, reducing my avg speed for the last two hours to below 10 km/h. I reached my limit. I had a lot of adrenaline flowing, as the gusts were really dangerous and I got close to dusk (didn’t want to ride in the dark) – arrived in El Chalten at 9:30pm. That said, today I was committed to reach the destination under my own power, even though 90 km into headwind is really a huge task… Anyway, enough of that.
My place here does not have WiFi; so I wrote these notes offline and tried to go somewhere in the neighborhood with WiFi to send it out. I may not be able to Skype, though – all depends on where and how I get access.
Tuesday, January 26
El Chalten to Lago Del Desierto
38km / 14901km; 3.5h / 822h; 620m
Got up and took a hot shower. Then over to Panaderia and on to a hotel where I convinced them to let me have a cup of coffee and use their WiFi for 10 pesos (3 US$). unfortunately their uplink speeds are extremely slow, so emails with picture attachments take forever to send. Bought some groceries and decided to cook a big bowl of pasta, taking advantage of the kitchen in the hostel.
Leaving around noon riding North. At first it is still windy with occasional rain; later it is clearing up more and more, finally some sunshine. The fairly flay road follows the river valley, initially a bit rough, then into forest and smoother. First forest since Tolhuin / Ushuaia! Then river flooding over road requires wading through water and wet shoes. Boat leaves at 5:30pm, so I have a bit of time. For a brief period of time Fitz Roy comes out of the clouds. The 1/2h boat trip is sunny, but with extreme wind gusts whipping up water from the white crests. Arriving at North end of Lago Del Desierto at Argentine border patrol station. Some bikers going South are waiting for our boat.
I decide to do a carry of my two panniers to explore the path ahead and reduce weight for the first few steep km ahead. Pretty crazy to think about doing this trail with a bike and trailer – we’ll see how crazy tomorrow! Lots of mud and river crossings, as well as steep and narrow sections in the beginning. Turn around at 8:15pm and meet-up with French biker on the way down. I carry two panniers down the remaining 100m or so.
Then setup of tent and into sleeping bag by 10pm.
Next section see ride in Chile.
Bariloche to Mendoza
Tuesday, March 23
Bariloche to Confluencia
65km / 15636km; 3.3h / 878h; 560m
Easy day to get used to riding again. Also, Jose Bernabei (the bike mechanic) had pointed out the nice place at Confluencia to stay for the first night. Riding along the lake at first and then following the river to the confluence was very scenic. Makes me enjoy riding again. I reach the goal after 65km around 7pm with 1/2 hr to sunset. I have dinner at the local restaurant overlooking the two rivers. I pitch my tent and enjoy a quiet and restful sleep for my first night.
Wednesday, March 24
Confluencia to Piedra del Aguila
140km / 15777km; 8.5h / 886h; 1500m
Very, very hard day with lots of hills, incl. the 600m Paso Chacabuco,
and not enough daylight due to late start around 10:15am. Barely
made it to goal 15min after sunset, thanks largely due to long descent
over the last 15-20km.
Thursday, March 25
Piedra del Aguila to Picun Leufu
96km / 15872km; 5h / 891h; 500m
A lot less strenuous than the day before, with much less hills and just under 100km.
Friday, March 26
Picun Leufu to Neuquen
132km / 16005km; 5.2h / 897h; 500m
Picking up the daily distance a bit, but again few hills. The biggest challenge now are the long distances between towns. At least I have one town every 50-60km or so. The next couple of days this will be different… Getting good information at tourist info in Neuquen. Unfortunately, the hotels are more expensive and of lower quality (hot and sticky, with lots of mosquitoes in the room).
Saturday, March 27
Neuquen to 25 de Mayo (Puente)
153km / 16160km; 7.8h / 905h; 600m
A long day, wind mostly from the side, so little impact. Long stretches to the next town. The first 30km are nice, with many poplar alleys and two towns easy riding (except climbing out of Neuquen in the morning traffic). An elderly man stops and chats with me – he had met another German recumbent rider years ago and would have liked to invite me, but for the fact that he lives in Zapala (where I’m not headed). Then the next 100km pretty much nothing but desert. And to make things worse, a flat rear tire right at the start… I bring plenty of water and coke, and I find it mostly a mental challenge to go these distances without anything in between… At 130km I reach the first gas station near the town of Catriet. Rest with coffee and water. Then another 25km or so to the Puente at the intersection North from 25 de Mayo. I pitch my tent again next to the water – quiet but lots of mosquitoes…
Sunday, March 28
25 de Mayo to Algarroboda del Aguila
162km / 16323km; 9.1h / 914h; 850m
The longest day and hard due to headwind. More than 9 hrs requires an early start and not a lot of rest stops, since daylight is less than 12 hrs now… Also a couple of moderate hills (150-200m), which make for slow going uphill, but awesome cruising down. Very happy to finally make it to goal after more than 160km. This town doesn’t have much to offer. I stay at a little place which offers a great hot shower (for 3 pesos, less than 1$) and dinner plus breakfast coffee for 30 pesos.
Monday, March 29
Algarroboda del Aguila to Bar El Descanso (Cochico + 45km)
145km / 16468km; 5.9h / 920h; 70m
Very flat stage; hot; good tailwind in afternoon, hence 1.5h = 45km
past original goal of Cochico.
Tuesday, March 30
Bar to Monte Comán
96km / 16565km; 4.8h / 925h; 30m
Again very flat and hot stage; nice break in the middle in General
Alvear. Rarely had a flatter day than this: Only 27m total after nearly 100km and max speed for the day at only 26 km/h (never downhill)!
Forgot to get cash and had trouble paying in Monte Comán…
Asked at half a dozen restaurants, but no dice. Finally I find a supermarket which accepts my VISA! So I can buy and cook pasta with vino for dinner…
Wednesday, March 31
Monte Comán to Las Catitas
153km / 16718km; 8.5h / 933h; 250m
Very hot day; started riding at 7:30am at sunrise. Long stretches along former railroad tracks. Then flat rear tire which took long to find hole in tube and patch. Lost almost 1hr in heat. At Ñacuñan 62km rest next to police checkpoint. Due to headwind only 17.5km/h average speed, thus more than 8hrs on the bike and little rest time. Nice evening mood with less wind and less heat. Finally to goal by 7pm. Found ATM and then quick email check, followed by dinner. Camped at hospedaje and got a hot shower. Over night thunderstorms and a bit of rain.
Thursday, April 1
Las Catitas to Mendoza
93km / 16810km; 4h / 937h; 150m
Fast, flat ride with slight tailwind and cool, overcast weather; all distance along divided 4-lane highway, mostly with good shoulder, except last 20km before Mendoza, which was a bit scary. Stopped at 33km for coffee (and restroom), then just roadside stops to refuel with Coke. Riding into town at 2:30pm and then finally a “victory lap” on Plaza Independencia was an indescribable feeling which I will never forget! I had covered the distance from Bariloche to Mendoza, some 1239km, in 9 days of riding (counting first and last half days as one full day). That’s 138km and 7hrs / day without rest day for 9 days!
Easter family vacation back home in Florida with family.
Mendoza to Salta; San Juan and La Rioja Provinces
Monday, April 12
Miami to Mendoza
Flight Miami – Santiago – Mendoza;
Return to Hotel Horcones, where my bike, trailer and bags had been stored. Relaxed afternoon, good food and Skype with Jill. To bed by 11pm.
Tuesday, April 13
Mendoza to Talacasto
227km / 17041km; 8.8h / 947h; 700m
Early start at 8am just after sunrise. Chilly air, but slight wind out of the South. Through Mendoza city traffic with plenty of traffic lights, then past airport and onto open roads. Moderate tailwind makes for good average speed. I cover the first 100km in less than 4hrs. Average speed 28km/h; the road is totally flat – at 100km I have only 40m elevation! So I reach the one larger town, Villa Media Agua, 115km, at 12:30pm, way too early to stop for the day. I eat a large salad and buy more juice to stay hydrated, even though I drink comparatively little due to the cool temperatures (15C).
After lunch a bit slower at first, then with good tailwind to San Juan and rest at 169km for coffee and Internet. It’s only 3:30pm. So I decide to go even further with the tailwind and 3+ hrs of daylight remaining.
After San Juan 10 km more at high speed to Villa General San Martin. Thereafter the road bends to the West and starts climbing into the hills. It’s very dry up here, similar to the desert-like stretches South of Mendoza. I end up climbing more than 400m, which reduces my avg speed quite dramatically and I’m concerned for the first time whether I can make it to the next settlement called Talacasto. It’s little more than a kiosk at an intersection, but there is a good chance I can at least get water and probably shelter from the wind for my tent overnight.
Beautiful landscape in the warm light of the setting sun. It’s colder when I stop for photos due to the wind (by now 20km/h). Once I get over the crest the road descends into a bowl. With the tailwind and my trailer weight I accelerate until I top out at 76km/h! Then another flat section and sunset. Finally I arrive at the intersection as daylight is fading – definitely maxed out today’s distance at 227km! I get some coffee, sandwiches and more juice. I set up my tent behind the kiosk building out of the wind. Into the sleeping bag at 9pm – for 11hrs of rest and warmth.
Wednesday, April 14
Talacasta to San José de Jachal
106km / 17147km; 5.2h / 952h; 350m
I sleep until about 8am and get up for some photos at sunrise. Then a good breakfast with cereal and milk; I am not in a hurry, as today will be a shorter distance (105 km) and I want the sun to heat up the chilly air. And there is still S wind – tailwind for the second day in a row! Probably too good to be true… Well I start with tailwind during the first hour, then the wind subsides and swings over to the East (now from the side). I stop at a Refugio at an intersection at 53km to eat and drink, as well as to apply sunscreen. There are some workers arriving in a truck loaded with firewood who also make their lunch break here. As I’m about to leave I discover that my rear tire is half deflated! A slow leak again; as it turns out this is caused by the tube rubbing on the inside against the tire which is coming apart in one section (looks like a manufacturing defect). I tape up the tore and patch the tube, then pump up the tire and 1/2hr later I’m on the road again.
Now it’s much slower going due to the variable wind. I stop at one place called Niquivil and get a tomato salad as a late lunch. I get a huge portion with egg bread, all for just 5 pesos. I struggle to finish the salad, which is rare. It’s great food, except the remaining 25km on the bike are not ideal, as the full stomach doesn’t like to ride…
There is a bit of uphill, but soon I get to San Jose de Jachal. Now I have at least 1.5 hrs before sunset, so I can find a place to stay, Internet, buy food and have dinner. Here some restaurants don’t open for dinner until 9pm! Reminds me of Alaska, where I once arrived at a nice family restaurant at 9:05pm, hungry as always after a long day on the bike, and they were already closed! Not so in Argentina; I have a Milanesa, followed by some huge ice cream from the Heladeria across the Plaza. Then back to the hotel and skype with Jill. To bed at 11pm as tomorrow will be a long day.
Thursday, April 15
San José de Jachal to Villa Union
150km / 17297km; 7.3h / 959h; 900m
Very brisk morning air, only about 10C/50F. Fall is coming, some trees leaves are starting to turn yellow. I start in long pants and long sweater over my standard short bike outfit.
The first 10km to the East into the rising sun with nice light effects for photography. Then entering the Cauquenes La Cienaga, a beautiful Canyon area with a narrow, windy and steep road leading through it (all paved). I take plenty of pictures, even ride back up one stretch for a second descent filming video. These 35km are some of the finest I have seen in all of South America. After a short, steep descent during which a fox crosses the road right in front of me I pause at a police check-point to eat, drink and apply plenty of sunscreen. The next leg is some 70km across the Pampa without anything in between. There are lots of so called “Badenes”, long dips in the road where water crosses the road when it occasionally does rain.
Problem is that then a lot of mud and gravel remains in the dips, which means you have to be careful rolling through the dips. There are also some long slopes to climb, not very steep, but 100m up and down every now and then. After 40km of that I look for a place with shade for a lunch break. At 75km I notice a large tree close to the road in a dry riverbed. There are also tire tracks from the road to the tree, so I’m clearly not the first cyclist to have this idea. The shade is nice, almost a bit cool, but that’s a welcome change from the intense sun all day. I eat bread, cheese, a tomato and banana – light foods – and drink plenty of water and juice. Refreshed I resume the ride.
There is a nice downhill to the valley floor when I pass two hitchhikers at the turnoff to a mine. I have a feeling I might see them again later… There is also a little tailwind so I can quickly finish the 30km to the intersection near Guandacol. Here at 105km I rest again with more food and water. Since it’s only 3:30pm I decide to continue to Villa Union, another 45km with a little pass to cross.
I take my time riding uphill and stop several times for photos and to take on the view. Eventually I crest the pass and can roll down into the next valley – like the final glide after a long day of hang-gliding! A quick stop at a tourist info at the intersection of Ruta 40 and the road to Villa Union. I find a nice hostel (Laguna Brava) and there are the two hitchhikers again, who arrived just a bit earlier. I take a shower, then walk to the Plaza and find WiFi for some email. Later I eat a large Pizza, followed by a Skype session with Jill. Now I’m really tired and ready for some deep sleep…
Friday, April 16
Villa Union to Chilecito
114km / 17411km; 7h / 966h; 1400m
Slow start due to getting up at 8:15 and slow, but big breakfast, showing my bike to Livia and Oliver (the two hitchhikers) and then getting stopped at a police check point just outside Villa Union. It’s 10:30 by the time I’m turning West on Ruta 40 and start my day in earnest. And it’s a long and steady climb up into the foothills surrounding the valley.
I get up to 1400m (from 1150m) and ride along a plateau on a fine, flat road, listening to the rest of the audiobook on Magellan’s Great Voyage around the world some 500 years ago.
The km click by slowly and it’s getting very hot. I stop to apply sunscreen and drink, then continue. Then the road worsens and soon the pavement ends and it’s gravel for the next 40km or so! At 40km I reach a small group of houses and stop there in the shade. I can even buy some coke to hydrate and refresh. Still, 600+m are still waiting to be climbed, and it’s almost 2pm, later in the day than I wanted. Slowly I continue uphill, enjoying the scenery and the challenge posed by the pass. I take a few photos here and there; soon I can see the top of the pass called “Cuesta de Miranda” at 2020m. I reach the top around 4:45pm and spend only minutes before heading down the other side. It’s too bad I’m pressed for time ad I would have liked to take more photos and just enjoy the views and scenery.
The first 10km or so is still gravel and a narrow road with often steep drops, so I need to descend very carefully. Then the pavement begins again and I can let it roll. The next 20km just fly by at speeds between 45-55 km/h. Compared to the first 60km – which took me 5h to complete – this feels like a mad rush. I’m thinking how much less you see, say from a motorcycle at even higher speeds, when you have to pay so much more attention to the road. Anyway, I enjoy the long downhill – over 1000m descent, haven’t had this kind of descent since Mexico some 6 months ago! Soon I’m at the bottom and turn North again on Ruta 40. People here are really curious about my bike and greet me enthusiastically and take pictures. My leg muscles get really cold and stiff and the remaining 15km to Chilecito are not pleasant. There is also a bit more traffic and it’s again uphill, some 150m by the time I reach the center of Chilecito.
It takes me a while to find the much advertised Hostel Paíman; it’s annoying that I get so many different directions when I ask people here. Finally I find it and decide to stay; there is another cyclist, Diego from Buenos Aires, who is also riding North from Ushuaia and crossed the same pass as I did a bit ahead of me.
Later I have dinner and skype with Jill. Tonight I’m very tired; perhaps a rest day or half day would be in order…
Saturday, April 17
Chilecito to Pituil
82km / 17497km; 4.5h / 971h; 890m
Today I’m aiming for a semi rest day since my legs are still very sore from yesterday’s pass (and the last 4 days altogether). So I sleep late (8:30), then have a leisure breakfast, and plan to start riding in the afternoon.
After breakfast I explore Chilecito by walking up some 75m to a big cross on top of a hill, which offers excellent views of the entire little town. Then I walk back to the central plaza and the restaurant where I ate last night as they have WiFi… I check email and write a new Blog post over a second cup of coffee. Then I head back to the Hostal Paíman to get my bike.
It’s about 1:30pm by the time I start rolling through the center of town. I try to find the Ruta 40, but there are no signs. From memory of my map and an earlier look at Google maps I figure I need to get a bit to the West. So I ride along what appears to be the main road, but it goes far West and worse, it goes steadily uphill. I ask three people whether this is the Ruta 40 North – and they all answer affirmative! Eventually I ask again and I’m being sent nearly all the way back! I can’t believe it, but I rode nearly 10km and climbed 150m in the full midday heat for nothing! But mistakes like this happen sometimes, and ther is no use fretting over it now.
When I continue on the right road there is a series of long sloped descents and ascents due to the uneven valley floor, often some 150-200m over the course of a 10km straight stretch of the road.
I pass the Chilecito garbage dump and the smoke of smoldering fires. Beyond that the landscape is beautiful and fairly untouched. Big mountains on either side of the North-South valleys. With the initial detour and the multiple hill climbing it’s getting late in the afternoon and I decide to only ride to the next little village called Pituil. So I take my time, stopping a few times and enjoying the scenery and tranquility of this place.
Eventually I reach Pituil around 6:30pm and look for the usual: A place to stay, dinner and Internet access. At first it looks like there is hardly anything going on here – the central plaza seems very quiet and devoid of any activity. But then I learn about a ‘Hospedaje’, which also supposedly has Internet! As there is temporarily nobody home there I decide to look for dinner first and find a little place where they bake an oven-fresh Pizza for me as their only guest. Then back to the Hospedaje and there is a friendly, elderly woman named Rosa who manages everything there. So I stay there and read about the many cyclists who have stayed here over the years. I also get to use her Internet (via LAN cable), which she only got a few months ago So I get to skype again with Jill… To bed by 11pm for 8hrs of deep sleep.
Sunday, April 18
Pituil to Belén
152km / 17647km; 7.5h / 979h; 930m
The alarm sounds at 7:30am – why do the nights seem so short when you need more sleep? Anyway, I got a long way to go today so I need to get up and ready. Some improvised breakfast with one cup of coffee and some fruit and cookies. The maitre de maison, Rosa, gives me company, but she also talks a lot; when she starts talking about Argentinean politics I politely but firmly remind her that I need to leave. At 8:45am I ride into the morning sun in nice, cool morning air. I quickly shed the long pants as there is no wind and the sun warms me up quickly.
After 35km there is a 200m descent to a beautiful valley with several villages, so the next stretch of 15km is like one “Zona Urbana”. I stop at 50km for a second breakfast and then buy some more soda and at another mini-market a 5l bottle of water. I need to prepare for a 70-80km stretch with no villages in the full midday heat. A short stretch West on Ruta 60, then Ruta 40 again leads North. (Ruta 60 is the road which leads up to the Paso San Francisco, where we had been from the Chile side for Ojos del Salado.) I cross the Rio Salado, which is an almost completely dry river-bed. Then a 150m hill in the full heat (33C) – hopefully there will be some flat stretches ahead!
Another downhill and then a straight road to the horizon – I measure it to be 24km long! At its end I stop at 103km and rest in the shade of a tree next to a little bridge. I drink another liter of water mixed with Tang and eat some fruit and the remaining cookies.
I enjoy the freedom to be able to stop wherever I like and watch the landscape around me. When you travel by bus or car you don’t nearly see as much as from the bicycle.
I continue with some up & down while listening to the audiobook on Emotional Intelligence – an interesting contrast to the sheer endless roads.
At 135km I’m approaching the village Londres; a road-biker, Pedro, rides up to me and we chat a bit. He hands me a cereal bar, very nice. I stop at a plaza in Londres to drink the 1.5l soda bottle with the cereal bar and a banana. Londres is an old settlement, with several nice plazas and Ruta 40 – unlike wit more modern towns – winds right through town! Refreshed from the stop I tackle the last 15km to Belen in beautiful evening light. Rolling through Londres with the light at my back, good music in my ears and a slight downhill, all heads turning for my curious bike + trailer, at that instant I know again that I made the right choice, both with the recumbent bike and with the entire trip in the first place!
Then I reach Belen, find a hostel right on Ruta 40, get some dinner and icecream, and do some email and skype with Jill.
Monday, April 19
Belén to Hualfi
63km / 17709km ; 4.25h / 983h; 1030m
Today I decide to have another semi rest day, meaning I will have a leisure morning and only ride in the afternoon. First I have some breakfast and then I walk up to the Statue of the “Virgen de Belén”.
At 175m above the town this path provides a commanding view of the town and surrounding valley. After returning I visit the cathedral at the central plaza and have another triple icecream. Some more shopping for juice and fruit before I do a final email check and prepare to get ready.
I start riding at 1:30pm. One downside of this method is that it is now very hot with intense sun – so I missed the cool morning hours…
Even though it won’t be a long distance, there is some significant uphill in the cards today. The road climbs about 600m to Hualfin, and with frequent up’s & down’s I will have about 1000m at the end of the day. Luckily I have some tailwind developing now in the afternoon. A beautiful river canyon just North of Belén makes for a scenic start. Then it opens up wide but the road continues to ascend slightly. The tailwind is faster than I ride uphill, so it provides some cooling from behind, an unusual, but certainly welcome feeling.
Multiple cars pass me which appear to participate in some rally along the Ruta 40 based on their stickers and equipment they carry.
I enjoy the afternoon ride in the sun. In the distance up on the mountains I see white-gray fields. First it looks like snow and glaciers, but since it’s so dry and hot here I can’t quite believe there would be glaciers. What at first appear to be crevasses turn out to be sand dunes! I don’t know where this sand is coming from but there are definitely large fields of sand up there.
After a little village called El Eje the pavement ends and some gravel / sand stretch starts. Together with some steep up&down this slows me down dramatically. Hopefully this stretch (someone said 35km) won’t take too long to cross; it should be the last gravel section until Bolivia.
In beautiful evening light I reach the village of Hualfin, where friendly locals provide me with fresh picked grapes from the surrounding vineyards. I find a nice little hostel, take a hot shower and have dinner in the nearby comedor – to the sound of a loudly commented soccer match on TV. (You know you’re in Argentina when… Gooooooaaaaal!)
I walk a km or so to another Hosteria with WiFi so I can do email and Skype with Jill. To bed by 11pm after walking back in crisp night air under the stars.
Tuesday, April 20
Hualfi to Santa Maria
116km / 17827km; 7.5h / 990h; 800m
Breakfast around 8am and buying some juice next door prior to leaving around 9am. Again the sun warms quickly, so no long pants required.
The first 30km turn out to be quite hard: Bad ripio, often deep and soft sand, 500m climbing to gain 400m, surprisingly one river crossing with 15cm deep water, lots of construction traffic… I need to get off and push the bike three times for about 1km each time. It takes me until 12:40pm and exactly 3h of riding to reach the pavement again at 30km!
Then the road crosses a high plain around 2250m, past an airstrip, and it gets quite hot and windy. Dust devils swirl around the plain with variable winds. My main concern is my limited supply of water, as I bypassed Los Nascimentos on the construction zone road. Lots of heat and no shade anywhere other than what me bike and panniers provide. Then a nice downhill which lifts my spirit. Finally I get to “Punta de Balasto” at 82km and find running water to cool my head and a place which sells Coke to quench my thirst. I sit in the shade and relax for 1/2h.
Now it’s another 35km to Santa Maria. There is a bit of a headwind now (which prevents me from listening to my iPod music as the wind noise becomes too loud), but the road slowly descends which compensates a bit. I stop at San Jose some 14km before goal to drink the rest of my coke. Lots of curious kids here, so I am telling my story for the umpteenth time…
The rest should be an easy roll to the finish – but there is a veritable dust storm brewing and the town is under a haze of dust, very eerie looking. At times hard work against the stormy headwind blowing dust in my face, but finally I make it to the center of Santa Maria. at a tourist info I find all required info and soon have cash from an ATM and a hostel just one block from the central plaza.
After a hot shower I get some more juice, check email at a Cyber Internet provider, and order a steak for dinner. An icecream for desert, but no more email as I’m just too tired.
Wednesday, April 21
Santa Maria to Cafayate
80km / 17907km; 4.5h / 995h; 400m
After breakfast at the nearby restaurant I first have to repair a flat rear tire. It’s the same type of slow leak caused by the tire coming apart on its onside and rubbing against the tube, which eventually rubs open. I take care of this in the courtyard of the Hostal Doña Amalia, where it’s cool, clean and quiet. I also clean the rear wheel while I’m at it – it has seen quite a bit of road and dust since Mendoza.
I buy some juice and get on the road. I’m crossing a wide river bed via a narrow bridge to get back onto Ruta 40. At the intersection there is a chance encounter with a film crew of two on a little motorcycle; they are out filming for a local cable TV station. So there you go I’m giving my second TV interview (after the one in Guatemala City)! In Spanish, of course (or maybe Spanglish). The road is of poor quality here, and soon I can’t tell whether it’s a paved road with lots of potholes or a gravel road with some patches of asphalt. Soon thereafter it’s just gravel and sand, which goes on for about 15km! Had I known that it would get this tough – borderline unrideable – I would have taken the slight detour (paved). But I pass some farms drying fresh peppers and meet three motorcycle riders who enjoy this stretch a bit more on their Enduros.
Finally I’m back on asphalt and the bike rolls with so much less resistance I feel it’s going forward almost by itself.
I stop at Colalao, a small village at 45km for lunch.
After lunch strong headwind kicks in for tough last 25km or so. Nice vineyards and hotels next to the road. Stop at campground but decide to keep looking. Nice cafe and restaurants at central plaza. WiFi and email check over coffee. Stay at Hostal El Balcon 1 block from central plaza. Cooking dinner (pasta with ham and vino) in hostel, later skype with Jill.
Thursday, April 22
Cafayate to La Viña
106km / 18014km; 5.75h / 1001h; 600m
I get up at 7:15 to have breakfast and prepare for an early start. However, I end up sending some email and skyping with my cousin Rudi in Vienna. By the time I’m ready to leave it’s 9am. Matt from Los Angeles, who started riding in Buenos Aires, is going the same direction so we decide to ride together.
Beautiful morning light and ride towards the Quebrada. We meet Ricardo, a local rider who is touring Tucuman and Salta regions with minimal weight – and tells about difficulties in navigation and communication in Bolivia.
Soon we are in the midst of colorful rock formations and stop frequently for photos. The red sandstone paints a quite unique scenery. With the lush greens along the river. We pass the Obelisque and the Garganta de Diablo, a steep gorge. Even though we are following the river downstream and end up 500m lower for the day, there is still quite a bit of climbing involved with up&down along the river. At 40km we stop in the shade for a lunch snack.
Later at 73km we meet two Finnish riders going the opposite way and chat with them a little bit. Some strong headwind gusts as the last couple of days beginning around 3pm. When we get out of the mountain ridges we have another 20km to go. It almost starts to rain. I pass both the 1000 hr and the 18.000 km mark practically at the same time.
When we get to La Viña we first have a cup of coffee, then check in at a hostel, take a hot shower, study the map and my Bike-Book for the road going North and finally have dinner across the street.
Friday, April 23
La Viña to Salta
102km / 18116km; 6h / 1007h; 400m
Late start around 11am; distance “only” around 90km and no major hills. It is, however, quite cold today, at least 10-15C colder than yesterday. Autumn is coming!
Nice ride initially, with more green – so probably also more rain. We get a few raindrops, but it stays mostly dry all day.
Lunch at 50km at a little place where locals go to eat – we would call it a dive: cheap, but very tasty food. We get a dozen empañadas and hot veggie soup to warm up.
After lunch continuing in long pants and shirt due to cooling off while sitting for lunch. The rest (40km) turns out to be some of the least pleasant riding since Bariloche, due to more traffic and several close passings by buses and trucks. Then we follow the directions I got from the B&B and promptly these directions send us out West to the airport. It takes about 5km before we suspect that this is wrong; we ask and need to turn around and backtrack; so 10km extra before we finally get to the center of Salta. Lots of traffic and along this route I can’t see why some refer to Salta as the most beautiful city in Argentina. Maybe I’ll see that tomorrow. I finally reach the Bloomers B&B at 6:30pm and check in with my bike – I’m glad to have completed this big stretch from Mendoza to Salta.
Salta to Bolivia border
Tuesday, April 27
Salta to San Salvador de Jujuy
100km / 18216; 5.5h / 1012h; 800m
I go to the customs counter at the post office at 9am to send home a package of things I don’t absolutely need; this will drop my weight by about 4.5kg. After some opening and repacking I can finally send this on it’s way and then retrieve my bike from the Bloomers B&B to start my ride around 10am.
The road R9 goes North to La Caldera. There at 25km I stop at the Hosteria La Caldera, which Gary Clark had pointed out to me from his previous trips to the Salta region. I have brunch there and enjoy the relaxed pace. At noon I continue riding, now via a narrow and winding road climbing into the hills. Once over a little saddle at 1550m the road descends gradually into a dense cloud forest. This is a perfect road for cycling: Paved smooth road, little traffic, one turn after another, slight downhill rolling, cloud forest – what more could you ask for?
Later I pass the 5 ‘fingers’ of a hand-shaped reservoir and get to the little village with another dam, the Dique La Cienaga, stopping for photos and to drink some juice.
Another flat 25km or so and I reach San Salvador de Jujuy. A busy provincial capital, it reminds a bit of Salta, but can’t quite match it’s flair. I consult a tourist info booth at the central Plaza Belgrano and find a hostel a few blocks away. After a hot shower I go to have dinner and skype with Jill from the nice restaurant Miralejo right at the plaza.
Wednesday, April 28
Jujuy to Purmamarca
67km / 18283km; 4.6h / 1017h; 1400m
I have breakfast from 8-9am at the Hostel. Then I decide to spend a little more time in the city, a kind of minimal cultural program: I visit two churches, the Cultural Center, the public library and the history museum. I also buy some groceries before heading back to the Hostel and getting ready to leave at noon.
Initially there is lots of traffic in the city and lots of school kids on the streets. As expected, the road leads uphill, slowly but steadily. I will watch my altimeter more today than my odometer for progress towards today’s goal – to gain some 1,000 m of altitude (which typically requires climbing some 1,250 m or so).
As I continue I pass the little villages of Yala and Leon. Both subscribe to some model of ecotourism. Roadsigns declare this to be one of “the most beautiful landscapes of the country”. Good thing they point this out, as I would not have noticed otherwise 😉
Around 2000 m the scenery changes and the forest subsides, giving way to grassy meadows on both sides of the wide riverbed. I notice a Cabañas place called “El Caserio” which looks very nice and also flies the flags of Argentina and Austria. In hopes of talking to some countrymen and perhaps even some Austrian food I ride over there; turns out it’s only the flag of a local soccer team, though… But still nice talking to the landlord with his two Labrador dogs.
Back on the road I’m lucky to be at the right place at the right time and catch a slow moving truck for Trucksurfing, hanging on to the back and let the truck’s engine pull me uphill. I thus cover the next steep 150m (vertical gain) at 15-20km/h, rather than at 5-7km/h. Hard on the left arm and elbow, but lots of fun.
Then I stop at a little kiosk for some juice. Unfortunately they don’t offer light meals or salads, for a full blown meal this is not the right time at 4pm as I still have about 2hrs of riding ahead of me.
Listening to audiobook (Emotional Intelligence) I continue in the now changing landscape: Less trees, some cacti, grassy meadows…
Eventually reach the turn-off to Paso Jama (road to Chile), which I follow 3km uphill to Purmamarca. Here I pitch my tent at a campground and stroll the village and find a Cyber Internet provider for email and Skype. Into the sleeping bag by 11:30pm.
Thursday, April 29
Purmamarca to Humahuaca
72km / 18356km; 4.25h / 1021h; 1050m
I sleep until 9 and then have some coffee and type my daily notes for yesterday. I also stop by the Cyber to check email. Then pack away my tent – quite dusty this place here – and get ready to ride.
I’m pleased to see that the sun is burning off the thin layer of clouds and starts to warm up the morning air. I need a light sweater for the first 3km and 120m downhill; that was the extra effort required yesterday to get up here. Once in the valley below I shed the extra layer and can ride comfortably; it’s already 11am after all.
Beautiful scenery along the ‘Quebrada de Incahuasi’ with many different colors of sandstone. Then stop for lunch in Ticara at 25km. Great almuerzo completo for just 12 pesos ($3)!
Continuing in warm sunshine with tailwind into the valley. Riding is a lot of fun today, with relatively short distance, hence a lot of time for breaks and good conditions. One noteworthy geographic feature is that I’m crossing the Tropic of Capricorn, so I’m riding in the tropics again. That said, since I’m climbing up to the altiplano, it’s getting cooler every day, not tropically hot. Another stop at 45km for coffee at the very upscale Hotel Huacalera. Email check thanks to WiFi; among others trying to coordinate Sajama climb.
Continue around 4:30pm for last leg, some 25km to Humahuarca. Nice afternoon light for the various Quebradas along the way. I arrive at goal around 6pm and roll through the village in search of a campground. Once the tent is set up I take a shower and then walk to the village center for the usual: WiFi and restaurants for dinner.
Friday, April 30
Humahuaca to Abra Pampa
88km / 18445km; 6.2h / 1028h; 1100m
Long day of climbing over a pass near 3800m, the highest I’ve ever cycled so far. Slow but steady going uphill, good road, weather cooperating, no rain, overcast. I can feel the altitude a little bit, as it slows me down and increases my breathing and heart rate riding uphill. Lunch at a truck stop near the crest of the pass. Nice afternoon mood on approach to Abra Pampa.
Saturday, May 1
Abra Pampa to Villazon, Bolivia
81km / 18526; 4.3h / 1032h; 200m
Getting up early at 7am, packing my stuff, small breakfast and on the road by 7:45am just before sunrise. I want to make sure I cover some good distance prior to any wind or even (forecast) rain setting in. It’s brisk, probably no more than 10C/50F, but I’m making good progress at average speed of 20km/h since it’s pretty flat. Every 20km I stop for 5min to eat a few cookies and drink. Interestingly, there are lots of dogs chasing me this morning, often running as much as 200-300m from their yards to the road. I take several pictures of these various dogs.
The landscape turns more and more barren, with snow-covered mountains on the horizon. After 3.5h of riding and a bit more than 70km I roll into La Quiaca, the last town in Argentina. I stop for a small lunch, since I have just some Argentinean pesos left.
Then I cross the border and get my passport stamps; it’s the first time I’m entering Bolivia!
I ride past all the little shops and street dealers – everybody calls you amigo or friend, I wonder why 😉 – and I ride straight to the train station. Just finding it isn’t easy, as it is a non-descript building hiding the train tracks. Then I find out they don’t accept US dollars, so I need to find an ATM to obtain some Bolivianos. Just finding an ATM turns out to be tricky. People often don’t give exact descriptions and more than one bank is closed. Finally I find an ATM; then my Visa Checking card isn’t accepted there, so I need to use one of my credit cards instead. Then back to the train station and buying the ticket. The bike and trailer need to be checked in separately next door, there I get a ticket stub, then back to the original counter to pay, then back to the luggage counter for another receipt… With all the bags I need to carry back & forth this is quite an act. At long last I have all tickets and can relax in the waiting hall – it’s another 1.5h until the train departs. Time to eat, drink and type these notes.
The 9hr train ride turns out to be quite an adventure – I need a rest day after that odyssey. Perfect to go on a daytour out to the Salar de Uyuni…