(87) Dry heat and wet feet
Thursday 6th February
We finally left the camp site by 10.30 and headed out onto smooth Tarmac and no wind. We couldn’t believe it and made the most of it by riding for a few hours before stopping for a snack.The scenery around us was so different to Chile just the other side of a the Andes.
We met a French couple coming south and they told us they’d had a lot of headwinds – sounded good to us. We headed on and had a late lunch in a drainage ditch reminiscent of southern Patagonia admiring the rock formations around us.
The wind had picked up, the sun was shining strongly on us and realising our water supply was getting low we spotted a small settlement off in the distance and gratefully headed towards it knowing we could replenish our much needed supply.
We gently climbed and the wind blew around us usually from the side but it seemed to change its mind a bit. As we drew near the settlement appeared quite away off the main road but with perfect timing a truck pulled out so we flagged it down and 2 helpful smiling faces told us we could get water a mile up the road. They drove slowly in front of us as if escorting us to this precious commodity and we soon arrived at a house. A kind lady soon filled our bottles up with cold water from the fridge, clearly thinking we were slightly mad to be riding bicycles in the heat – she had no tap and she indicated it came straight from the ground. She handed us a freshly baked torrtea and we hugged our thanks and said goodbye to the kind men after they had insisted on taking our photos from various angles!
We rode over a small pass and found a quiet place to cook tea. We planned to ride on again and make the most of the light wind and true to our word, 40 minutes later we were back on the road for another hour but the wind soon started to pick up.
We called it a day and were pleased with the 65 miles we had ridden. We found a dusty spot off the road and with very limited water couldn’t wash so went to bed sticky.
Friday 7th February
We find sleeping after not having a wash really uncomfortable and for that reason we very rarely go without one but with hardly any water as almost all the rivers were dry we just couldn’t spare any of our supply. It was strange after the countless clear and fast running steams on the Chilean side. We also had the wind. Oh the wind – it had been a fast forgotten foe but it was back. Not as strong as the south but strong enough especially when combined with the heat.
We set the alarm for 6.30 and got up at 7.15 with the sun still out of sight and hardly any wind. We packed up and decided to ride an hour or so before the wind picked up but by the time we had joined the highway we were getting our first blasts. Being still early helped us not get to hot but it wasn’t long before the sun was on gas mark 10 slowly turning us into lobsters. We both felt tired and irritable which didn’t help our progress.
After we had slowly reached the top of our last very slow and gradual climb we descended down towards the town. We crossed a river and not wanting to miss the opportunity we both got in the water fully dressed to cool down.
Although the river had probably come from a snow field the colour of it wasn’t looking too good so we didn’t hang around and rode into the dry and dusty town quickly finding the centre which hosted a lovely green square and a supermarket. As Tim went in to pick out all the nice things he wanted he felt a bit uncomfortable as his cycling shorts were still wet making it look like he had a slight bladder problem. As he came out we spotted a cyclist with panniers. We were thrilled to see it was Johan the French guy we had met when we were waiting for the ‘Robinson Crusoe’ ferry many moons ago. It was great to see him again and as we chatted it turned out he must have been a day ahead if us for quite a while. We bade our farewells knowing we would see him again on the road and went to sit in the shade of the park armed with all the goodies which tasted so good. We rested until the intensity of the sun waned and listened with smiles on our faces to the green parrots chatting away to each other and before we knew it had turned 4.30pm.
We loaded our bikes, filled our water bottles and headed out of town. The next section would take us east giving us a tail wind but what we didn’t know was we had a climb for the privilege. We left the town at around 800 metres and whilst passing a large volcano which looked as though it had a ski resort on the top we soon reached 1,400 metres. The wind did help but before we continued we needed to eat. We pulled over near the top and cooked up a feast hopefully reducing the weight of the food bag before heading on in the fading light and finally found a road-side camp after a much-earned downhill.
Saturday 8th February
After a bit of a restless night we got up, loaded the bikes and rode for an hour before breakfast. We had been told the scenery was boring on this stretch but it was anything but boring – we decided the person must have had their eyes closed…
We descended down to flat valley floor which sat at 1,000 metres passing a huge ancient lava flow and amazing rock formations. With the sun up and with it the temperature rising, it was going to be hard to find a shaded spot to have breakfast. As we traversed past the plateau we approached a climb with a large rock outcrop that was still giving shade to the side of the road. Feeling hungry we stopped and put the kettle on for a cupper accompanied by some toast and delicious tasty honey. We wondered where Johan had slept that night – the big question discussed over breakfast was ‘was he in front or behind’? As we packed up a lone figure appeared in the distance and soon reached us.
He had only just started cycling after finding a good spot behind a hill – it was refreshing to meet someone who as slow as us in the mornings. We rode on together and having already covered 15 miles it would be another 13 to the next small town. We brought ice-creams, coke and yogurt (all cold items, an indication of the heat we were riding in!) and sat in the park on the swings cooling down but with it still only 11am we decided to ride on to towards the next town for lunch which was only 20 miles away.
The going was amazing – descending a great descent with amazing view of volcan Trolman. We passed a small concrete hut and decided to have lunch as the temperature was 42 degrees and Shaz was melting fast. We enjoyed a salami sandwich – our new favourite food – before heading on to the next town.
We headed straight to a cafe for more icecream and a cold drink and as we were feeling tired we decided to spend another few hours resting in the shade. Once again Johan stuck to his routine and rode on in the heat (which he later regretted).
We rode steadily climbing in the cool evening and decided to find a campspot before we cooked but the climb was quite steep and the roadside was fenced so we rode slowly up and up.
Eventually we found a spot and sleepily cooked dinner and crawled into the tent.
Sunday 9th February
We woke up with the alarm at 7am not knowing if we had a big climb or not. We were on the road by 7.30 and gradually climbed as the sun popped up from the horizon.
The climb didn’t last too long and we were soon enjoying an undulating road and passed by a lake which looked out of place in the dry vast landscape.
We weren’t sure exactly when the ripio started and we were dreading the 60 mile bad road we’d been told about…around a corner and there it was a sign announcing ‘attention end of Tarmac’.
We stopped for breakfast and within 15 minutes Johan joined us having slept in the town in a free campsite! For the next hour and a half we rode, the ripio was not too bad but pretty corrugated then it started to get worse.
It was bad – probably the worst we’ve ever been on – sandy and small stones making the going hard especially uphill as our back wheels would skid. We finally found a spot where we could access the river and put up the tarpaulins to create some much needed shade. We made empanadas and slept for a while. We headed on about 4.30 and we were grateful for the cooler temperature as some cloud had started to roll in.
We got to a bridge and noticed Tarmac – at first we thought our eyes were tricking us, we couldn’t believe it. We asked a tour bus which had stopped and yes there was 25 miles of Tarmac then another 11 miles of ripio before the town. We were so happy. What made us happier was a sign for cervesas (beer!) we couldn’t resist it as it had been such a hard day. A cold beer later we re-joined the road and found a great spot to camp. Tim spotted this armadillo on the way who stayed still for us to take his photo! Did you know that armadillo means ‘little armored one’ in Spanish?
The scenery and sky were stunning as we could see the volcanoes in the distance. A tough but great day.
Monday 10th February
After a clear still and quiet night we got up with the sun and joined Johan for breakfast. Sharon hadn’t slept well but with only 24 miles to the town it should be an easyish morning. We had been told about 11 miles of bad ripio (gravel) road which had huge rocks. We finished breakfast and got going before Johan and rode to where it was meant to be the start of the ripio. 3 miles went past when we finally reached it but found it a compact earth road that was being worked on. We got within 5 miles of the town and decided to put the kettle on. We spotted a nice willow tree to sit under and by the time the water had boiled Johan rolled up. We sat enjoying the stunning valley before riding on to the town to pick up a few things for lunch.
The shop was expensive but with no other choice and being in the middle of no where we brought the things we needed and headed up to the village square to rest and eat out of the intence heat of the mid day sun. As we rested we said hello to a family that lived nearby.
Johan rode on but as usual we wanted to sit out the heat a little longer and were invited in for tea and bread with the family. We communicated with our slowly improving Spanish about our trip and their life. They asked us what food we ate and when we went to leave they gave us pasta, tomato puree, bread and biscuits. It was so kind and so unexpected. We said our thanks and waved goodbye heading out onto the highway.
It wasn’t long before the road started up a long gradual valley. With the wind on our backs we climbed with ease when a car stopped and gave us some juice to drink asking if we needed food. We declined but accepted the juice gratefully. We continued to climb when another vehicle stopped and a few people got out and asked what we were doing. They were pro-mountain bike riders which had been in a race that morning with one of them coming 2nd and the other 4th. It was really great to meet them and they said if we needed anything we could contact them. They gave us some fruit and we watched as they rode our bikes up the road.
We waved goodbye as we set off up the road again towards the summit not believing we had been given so much. As we neared the summit at over 1,900 metres we watched as storm clouds rolled over the mountains into the next valley. It was amazing in such a dramatic landscape.
After passing a few small volcanos we spotted a good spot to camp and headed off the road leaving the final 18 miles to the town of Malargue to the morning. It had been a hot but good day and with Sharon feeling shattered we hoped for a good night’s sleep.
Tuesday 11th February
With only 18 miles to go to Malargue we didn’t rush to get up. We loaded the bikes and had breakfast. Tim couldn’t find his iPod and knowing he had written the dairy the night before it had to be close by. We searched the usual spots including where it belonged then raked the sand the tent was on and went to all the places we had been. After an hour it was finally located where it was meant to be but we were just relieved to find it.
It was a hot ride into town and as we rode we passed our 30,000 kilometre so we thought we’d better stop and have a little celebration!
We soon found the municipal campsite and put our tent next to Johan’s who had arrived earlier that morning. We met a lovely family from Chile who we had seen a few days before – they recognised us so came over to say hello, armed with lots of food to help us on our way.
We spent the rest of the day contacting home on frustratingly slow internet and did our washing. We headed into town for ice-cream and supplies for a day off the next day. It felt great wandering in to town feeling relaxed and enjoy watching the the world go by.
Wednesday 12th February
We lay in bed listening to the sound of heavy raindrops on the tent. It was a familiar yet alien sound as we had become so used to the dry heat. We eventually ventured outside to make breakfast but soon headed back into the tent to watch a film. We hoped the rain was only temporary although we were sure the people here needed it badly.
The afternoon brought no respite from the wet and we started to spot pools of water forming near the tent so Tim dug gullies for it to escape. The evening brought no rain but a fruit and vegetable van to the campsite so we excitedly brought fresh fruit to enjoy. We headed to bed with the plan of leaving the next day.
Thursday 13th February
As the rain beat down on the tent the thought of getting up and riding into the large expanse of pampa wasn’t appealing. Adding to this the ground sheet of the tent was wet and the odd drip was coming in from different points not giving us a dry place to relax. Tim got up and put up a tarp which would give us a place to cook and escape the confines of the tent.
Alex who we had met previously was up early and as his tent was much more of a sieve due to its age he wasn’t going to hang around. We decided to sit out the day hoping for brighter weather the following day. Johan did the same and so we went off to buy some bread. We ordered 2 lots and whilst Johan got change for the payment of his, she refused payment for Tim’s and then gave them both sweets! Seems a great system to us! A little confused as to how much the bread was but happy with the sweets they returned to have breakfast.
After the third cup of coffee and ever increasing rain showers we retreated to the tent to watch a film. Johan started moving his things out with the water level getting higher and both tents were surrounded by mud – it was time to move. We cleared the tent putting everything under the tarp and carried the tent up to dry land and between 4 trees. With the tent in place and dried as much as possible, it was refilled with a mass of damp things and the tarp strung up between the trees which allowed the tent to dry a little. After lighting the stove in the doorway we managed to drive the damp air out of the tent and replace it with warm air. With it still raining we finished tea and settled down to watch another film when Johan arrived from the supermarket with our chocolate cake and wine order. This was perfect.
Soon after, a large grey cat arrived making himself at home in our porch purring loudly. He was a lovely cat but we didn’t want holes in the groundsheet or our thermarests so we kept it in the porch and it lay down happily for the night. We finished our film to find the cat had gone. We packed away our things and drifted off to sleep with more heavy rain. Tim woke an hour later to the sound of snoring to find it wasn’t Sharon but the grey cat who had gone to the other porch and made himself comfy against the top of Tim’s Toy Story pillow. A cat with taste 🙂
With the rain still heavy we hoped the next day would be clear so we could leave for the next major landmark Mendoza and the imfamous pass to Santiago where we would be staying with our great friend Rafael and his family!
Thanks for reading!