After 2 nights in the little but charming town of Chos Malal, I went back on the road towards Mendoza on April 7th.
It has been 3 days ago, that I said “buen viaje” to Juan in Zapala, but after 5km I saw a cyclist on the horizont. I hurried up to catch with him and he was happy and surprised to see me again – the spanish-german cyclotourism team was back!!
This day can be best described as uphill (~30km), downhill and flat (both 30km as well). One of the highlights was the lunch break, after the uphill we came to a beautiful salt lake (“salar”). Searching for shadow, we knocked on the door on the only hut by far. The boy living there, Emmanuel, joined us for lunch in the shadow of the hut, he asked a lot about our trip and we from our side wanted to know a lot about the life in this lonely and deserted area.
The entire day we were astonished by the landscape its color from white (salt lake) over green (volcanic stones) to desert.
Due to a flat tire, we camped just before the little village “Buta Ranquil”.
Every day a highlight, the next day even two. The road let us through a hilly and deserted landscape to “Las Barancas”, where we wanted to stop only for lunch. On that day, Friday started the yearly “Gaucho” party, where the most authentic guacho will be awarded. Awesome – I felt like in a wild west movie. It was again not only entertaining for us, but also the others were very interested in us 2 cyclists, so that we had to shake a lot of hands, got free drinks and had a group of little girls filling up our water bottles. It was tempting to stay for the fiesta that night in the village, but we decide to continue.
In the evening we got after a long climb into the village of Ranquil Norte. It consisted mainly of a boarding school, which allowed kids from farmer families living far away from civilisation to go to school. We could stay that night in the school, had dinner with the kids and the teachers. Instead of relaxing after a day of cycling, I was surrounded by 30 kids asking questions – but I loved it!The school was the town’s meeting point, afte diner the docter, nurse and police man of town sat with the teachers having “Mate” and it had an all over great atmosphere.
The next day we joined the daily morning ceremony with argentine national anthem and the hoist of the argentine flag.
The following day was one the hardest of this part, we had about 50km gravel roads (sand, stones…) and strong head wind. The road went a long a wide valley with beautiful black volcanic rocks and let us in the end of the gravel road to a river.
That day, after around 3.700km, I had my first flat tire – front and back wheel. The deserted landscape consists mainly of sand and very sharp thorn bushes – even the best tires give in (thorn bushes and flat tires should accompany us for rest of the trip to Mendoza).
After camping next to the river, we set the goal to get to Malerque that day, about 115km away. After 50 easy km we had to climb for 30km on a gravel road, right at the summit we got into a thunderstorm (we chased us for a while), the temperature dropped from 30°C to 10°C and we headed into the long downhill to Malerque.
Another highlight waited the next day for us: the Canon de Atuil
Instead of going straight to San Rafael we went via the Grand Canyon of Argentina.
A little gravel road leads into a deep canyon with several barrages. Although this canyon is really spectacular, we didn’t see a single car that day on the road. This was real adventure camping we did that night!
Strong winds pushed us the next day out of the canyon and after a long climb out of the canyon we had a beautiful view on the barrage lake.
Just before San Rafael we stopped at some hut, which had a “vende queso” sign. The 2 brothers living in the hut arrived in the same time with their horses. We tried the home-made goat cheese and they told us a lot about their life with their animal and fields (we got even a “Lasso-lesson”).
From San Rafael we went on the Routa 40 further towards Mendoza.
The first night we camped in flat plains a few meters of the road, having a huge cold weather front coming from the Andes. The temperature dropped immediately after sunset and must have been under 0°C that night.
Slowly warmed by the sun we cycled along the Andes towards Mendoza, the traffic picking up as well. Fortunately we could cycle most of the time on the paved sideway of the road. At some point we overpassed another cyclist, nothing special so far, but 2 minutes later he easily joined us. It was Augustino Catania, must have been around 65yrs old. He is cycling always to his clients, we were very impressed about his good shape and continued with him for about 20km. In the end he even invited us to stay in his house. We from our side would have loved to accept the offer, but we needed to get closer to Mendoza, so that we can get early enough into Mendoza.
75km away from Mendoza we asked in petrol station for a accommodation (the Motel was over our budget) and the guy from the petrol station/ owner Motel let us stay in his house (a closed restaurant) for a good price.
The last kms into Mendoza we made on a 2-lane highway, we went like mopeds. Despite all the warnings about entering Mendoza by bike, we didn’t have any problems and felt safe (thanks to my new rear-mirror the traffic neither wasn’t a big problem).
Mendoza…relaxing, repairing, washing….
It was great cycling the last 1.400km with Juan, a experienced cyclist, great philosopher and good friend! Thank you!