(93) Spiders, Snakes and time to celebrate!
Its taken along time to write this post,finding it hard to get my head around losing Sharon and adding to this knocking water over a laptop with all our diary extracts in isn’t a good idea. thank you for bearing with me 🙂
Crossing back into to Argentina from Chile had been one of the most incredible rides we had ever done, knowing we could now cope with high altitude riding, confidence in our kit, the cold and carrying enough food for a week in those conditions had given us a new found confidence. Now that we were on the east side of the Andes and much further north we expected hotter temperatures and wind all of which we had to prepare for as we moved ever closer to the equator. We had become used to carrying kit for hot, cold, wind,rain and here was a perfect example with temperatures dropping to around -20’C on the high passes and +30’C down in the valleys but as we became fitter and more tuned into the environment there was one thing that came out of all this, what an incredible world we live in!
Friday 23rd March
We struggled to wake up after a disturbed nights sleep due to 2 vehicles pulling in to our camp spot in the early hours which transpired to be a meeting point for couples.
Not having a fly sheet on wasn’t the best thing to do in a couples meeting area
We have no doubt they saw us but being preocupied they thankfully left us alone. After a sleepy breakfast of toast and the remaining biscuits we looked forward to restocking our supplies after the pass we had ridden the last few days. we rode into town feeling shattered to buy bread for breakfast and food for the rest of the day. With Tim looking after the bikes and kit, Sharon went in to enjoy speaking Spanish which was slowly improving – in most Argentinean supermarkets we have to ask for things like fruit, veg, cheese, bread and meat which was often kept behind a counter so we cannot escape practising but what made it more interesting was the interaction with the locals who were always happy to help and intrigued by us travelling by bike and wondering where we were going to fit all the bags of food. in fact we would often ask ourselves the same question. Once the food was packed (On Tim’s bike) we made our way over to the village square which was not only a good place to relax and have a break but to sit and watch the community come alive.
Its amazing who we meet
Having breakfast in a pretty central green and a nice cup of coffee was starting to make us feel energised by the friendly town that was now slowly waking up around us. With everyone being friendly and not seeing many people for a few days we felt like we could have hung around a while longer but with the sun getting higher and the temperature rising we rode out and onto a stunning road where heading towards amazing rock formations.
Once out of the town the road entered and meandered along a narrow grey gorge with steep sides down to our left. With the road continuing along an ever steepening hill side the road got ever narrower, with tight bends and barriers missing it made us feel a little nervous and knew we had to be careful. As we turned a corner we came across a tiny tunnel which surprised us as it would have been the main road through to the town.
We passed though the short tunnel before a gentle climb past huge sandstone slabs pushed up by ancient earthquakes revealing the most stunning green and red sandstone landscape below.
our reward for our climb
After stopping to enjoy the view accompanied by a couple photos and chatting to a few locals we wound our way down the twisting road through the stunning green scenery coming across a police check point with a large tree and a tap – all a good recipe for a pleasant lunch break. After an hour or so laying in the shade of a large tree drinking tea and eating biscuits we set off again and finally joined routé 40 once again. It felt good to be back on this road with the last time being south of Mendoza and before that the seven lakes and being this far north we were really feeling like we were making progress.
The going was amazing with a very gently undulating road and a tail wind which was a rarity we were able to enjoy the mountains off to our left and the sandstone ridges way off to our right. The road was straight passing through mile after mile of pamper which in this case was great and we were flying along!
In the distant we spotted a guy walking we soon reached him and stopped to chat to the walker called Mike who was Dutch. We gave him some pâté and a little of the water we had wanting to give him more but seemed to be more then happy.
Sharon and mike
He was walking for a month or so in Argentina then hitching to Bolivia to walk across the country, it was great to see other people taking a different way to travel although not the way we would want to travel through this endless pampa- amazing!
With such vast areas with very little in the way of settlement Mike had been using the Corea fountains for water which made us think if we had spare water we to would fill some of the bottles on the side of the road.
One of the many Correa’s that line the road
We wished him all the best and continued on and soon found ourselves in the town of Guandacol having covered 72 miles – hurray for tailwinds!
Shaz enjoying the tailwinds
After a 4 mile ride into town to find the supermarket closed until 7 pm we decided to cook dinner in the square and wait giving us some time to hatch a plan for the evening. Once we had replenished our supplies we rode back to the highway stopping at the Garage to get petrol and water for the road ahead. We thought about camping next to the garage but being very noisy and several people around we rode on a couple miles to find a good spot in the bush. By this time it was now getting dark and with the sun now set and the stars coming out. Checking we couldn’t be seen by the cars and trucks travelling the road we made ourselves comfy and settled down to a good night under the stars for a peaceful nights sleep.
Saturday 24th March
After an amazingly starry night and being very quiet we both slept better then we had for a while. The alarm went off at 7.30am and by 8 we were finally up. Today would be a sad day as the huge pot of honey Tim had been nursing over the pass was pretty much all gone. We were on the road by 9.30 and slowly climbed a long gentle hill over a ridge and down to the turn off for villa union.
Heading towards Cuesta de Miranda volcano
We stopped at the junction for a break as we didn’t want to ride into town to find that the 2km sign would be more like 5km which it did at the last junction. With another ridge to climb only slightly higher and being 12pm we got our heads down in the increasing heat and reached the top by 1.30. Feeling tired from the heat we stopped for a break and both managed to get in a short nap but having not much water we needed to get to the next turn off on the map which showed us a settlement.
It was a nice gentle descent into a slight headwind but with the sun beating down on us the heat made it feel tiring. Reaching the junction there were just a couple road signs and no buildings. We rode on with Sharon not feeling her best and with only quarter of a water bottle between us we arrived in a strange village with one guy sat in a hut to which we asked where we could get water. With a reply saying there was no water we rode on a little worried as the temperature was in the high 30’s. With our water bag empty as well we rode on looking for anything. After another hot 6 miles we came across a few houses. We spotted a lady who was more then happy to give us water and as she filled them we saw some coke crates in the garage. We asked if she had coke and soon we were sat drinking an ice cold coke in the shade of a large tree with all our bottles filled. It was amazing how we could feel so dehydrated then to find some amazing water followed by an ice cold drink was what we needed.
We had already put in a good day and could have stopped close by but wanting to get as close to the next town of Sanagasta to leave a shorter day tomorrow we got going.
As the road weaved in around red sandstone rocks we passed a road construction site and into a tiny village that wasn’t on our map. Tim spotted a ice cream cabinet in a building and headed straight for it barely having time to put his bike down. We sat in bliss on the side of the road enjoying a rare and unexpected treat with the locals looking bemused at the ways we enjoyed our treats. With the extra boost getting us ready to ride on to find a camp spot we continued up the road which started to climb more sharply and soon we could hear the sound of a river down to our left.
As we rounded a bend we saw a great flat area surrounded by towering cacti perfect for the tent with access to the river which meant we could get as much water as we needed and a great place to wash.
Sharon not wasting anytime to get the kettle on
With a camp spot selected and the ground cleared of devil thorns which were about the size of a cashew nut with about ten small yet very sharp points that would pierce ground sheets, theramarest’s and tyres we found a good spot to relax for the rest of the evening cooking and washing but as with all rivers in hot places the Mosquitos were out to play. Once covered up we could enjoy a huge array of sounds of many insects, frogs and the odd glow bug flying around. With the stars now well and truly out we sat in star light and absorbed this stunning place.
Sunday 25th March
With the fly sheet off we fell a sleep under a huge starry sky only to wake in the early hours to the sound of rain hitting the tent. Tim lept out of bed grabbing the fly sheet out of the pannier and fitting it before we got soaked. In a few minutes the fly was on and pegged down so it could rain as much as it liked. It had taken us by surprise with cloudless days and being on the Argentine side which is normally drier.
One good thing was we had left a short days ride to the town leaving a rest day and so to wake with the rain still coming down we lay in until 10 when it finally stopped. This gave us enough time to dry the tent and have breakfast before packing our kit. As Tim picked up the ground sheet a tiny scorpion appeared. It was the first one we had seen in South America and took note to be more careful. We checked our shoes and rejoined the wet highway up the rest of the climb to the summit.
It was a small pass for Andean standards at just over 2,000 metres and having slept at around 1,500 it was fairly short climb. As we reached the summit the scenery became more spectacular on the east side with huge steep sandstone hills covered in green vegetation.
The area looked like it got a lot of rain and with sandstone roads on unstable rock we could see where the old roads would have been and with the new road ahead still being built made for a few hairy stretches.
As we descended Tim stopped after passing what he thought was a snake. He went back to find it was still alive and could have been very poisonous. The colours were stunning but made more a stark warning not mess with it.
After checking for some time we believe this is a coral snake also known as the 20 minute snake as it is how long you have if bitten by one.
Wanting to move on rather fast and with the rain falling we descended down a vivid sandstone valley with huge rocks balanced on each other and into the town of Sanogasta. It was a quiet yet pretty town with lots of new houses being built and reached the centre where we picked up a few things in the shop. We looked on the GPS for a campsite we had been recommended and headed off to find it.
When we arrived we found the only 2 people there were 2 young Argentine cyclists who were very friendly. We chatted with them while they were trying to fix an ongoing problem with one of their bikes which Tim managed to fix while working on his.
It felt strange in the campsite as is was massive with loads of benches and places for barbecues a winding stream that wound its way through the middle past the football pitch yet it felt abandoned. We managed to get a load of jobs done like sewing up holes, mending punctures, checking wires and charging batteries despite the rain and relax with a few glasses of wine.
Shaz happy to have the kettle on again or was it the wine!
It turned out to have been a good day to have off and with the camp site being free we sat in our tent and enjoyed a movie. After our experience with the scorpion and snake we kept a close eye out for nasty’s and spotted this one which was a good way from our tent.
Tim spotted this bad boy looking hungry
Monday 26th March
Waking to a damp day is always harder work to get going. We packed what we could and dried what we could but with a cool cloudy sky nothing was going to dry fast. With all our washing probably wetter then it was when it went on the line all we could do was put into dry bags and wait for the weather to clear. We met up with the 2 Argentinian boys and wished them luck on their journey south and headed out of the campsite on to the road.
It was around 8 miles to Nanogasta and being pretty much all down hill we soon arrived. As we turned north the clouds started to clear and the warm air started to warm us. Making the most of the sun we put on a couple bits of wet clothes to dry and a few bits strapped to our bikes and were surprised how fast they dried.
It was feeling much nicer as the skies started to clear
Once past Nanogasta and swooping our now dry clothes for wet ones we rode on the 8 miles to Chilecito. Once in the town we located the main square and found a panderia (bakery) to buy some cakes and sit in the square to upload our blog and down load emails for later. We chatted to a few Argentine cyclists a couple of which were keen to have a go at cycle touring and one that had a Chinese petrol bike. It is always interesting to see different bikes and mad to see his.
we have seen some strange bikes but this looked interesting
We finished our chores and headed out of town and back onto the highway. We would have stayed but with a warm showers host 150 miles north to get to in 2 days we didn’t have the time. We headed out of town picking up a few bits and hoped to pick up water in a small settlement on the way.
heading out of town and seeing the long road ahead
After 10 miles and no houses we rode another 10 and still no houses. We looked at a river which was not even good enough to wash in so went on in hope.
After a few more miles we spotted one of the tiny Corea monuments that people leave water for travellers. It was perfect and once we had water we rode on for another half an hour to find a camp spot vowing to leave fresh water at the next monument. After finding a dry river bed we made our way up out of sight of the road and started to pitch the tent. As Tim laid out the groundsheet a rattle snake moved past Sharon’s feet. It was so close we knew we had to be more alert but being almost invisible against the gravel it would take some doing.
Hoping we had covered enough miles we cooked our tea feeling nervous of any movement jumping at any tiny sound and felt like we couldn’t relax until we were safely in our tent.
Tuesday 27th March
After seeing a snake so close to where we camped we checked everything before we packed our bikes. With only just enough water for a cupper we didn’t worry to much as there was a town in 15 miles called Pituit
With flat roads if you don’t count the very slight rise we soon arrived in the sleepy village and found a tiny shop to pick up a few bit we needed. We sat in the square and checked our emails to find that Jo and lizzie were in the last town we had gone through.We were gutted we didn’t check our emails and sent them a message and hoped to catch up soon if not in Salta. Once our emails were checked we got going as we wanted to get as close to Belen to give us a shorter day tomorrow.
The ride from the village was fast with a slight down hill soon which made arriving at our 20,000mile mark even greater.
We couldn’t believe we had ridden so far for so long through so many countries with so many languages, cultures, religions, colours, wealth, dress. In to fjords, over mountains, across rivers, lakes, sea’s, oceans, plains, deserts, glaciers and yet met the most incredible people who all had the same welcoming smile the same willingness to give and love and wonder at the the world around them.
Tim enjoying the first few miles of our 21,000
We had seen some of the most amazing sights, heard amazing sounds in heat and cold, wind and rain and we loved it. we and become part of it and it made us stronger.
We all often look out the window to see what the weather is doing but being out in the elements for so long we felt it and became part of it. we could feel the weather change and feel the world was alive around us.
Passing steaming volcanos, feeling earthquakes, watching the rivers flow, mist lifting to form the next rain storm way off in another land and watching dust being lifted by the strong winds and being blown off to form nutrients to feed the vast array of flora and fauna.
And yet for us it felt like any other incredible mile on the road as it was so hard to really comprehend just how far we had gone. What did feel great is the physical mile stone like major city’s or iconic mountain passes or even the next country but having been in Chile for over four months and Chile being the longest country in the world with Argentina a close second we still had a long way to go.
We were however proud we had reached our 20,000 mile mark and to have even started our challenge. The thought of all the people helped to rebuild their lives by Shelter box and from the generous donations by everyone made us stronger.
The most amazing part that has helped us get to this point was from our family and friends who have supported us from the start and all the people who have given us food and shelter along the way and given us the belief we can fulfil our dream. This journey wasn’t just isn’t just ours but everyone who has participated in some way over our lives and to have had this experience we will be forever grateful.xx
Being a mile from a town and wanting to celebrate our mile stone it didn’t feel the best place to have lunch on the side of the road so we rode to the junction and rode through into the village. We looked for the village square and brought ourselves an ice cream. The problem was the square commemorated the lost Argentine soldiers in the war over the Falklands and so the square was named the isle of Maldivas as it is called in Argentina.
Not really wanting to celebrate our achievement with a british flag hanging off our bikes we rode on to find another square where we could have lunch without upsetting anyone.
With this square not being that great we didn’t stay long wanting to get a few more miles done we rode out of town. Tim spotted a short cut on the map which ended up involving a river crossing which added to the excitement (he said) and so after a slightly longer shortcut we rejoined the nice tarmac highway north.
This is defiantly quicker and shorter way 🙂
It had been a day of milestones and a numerous sea of brown butterfly’s that were everywhere as we rode on northwards. We also saw a very large bug which was like a flying ant but about 5″ long and a desert fox who ran off to start with then sat under a tree not really that bothered to move any further.
we couldn’t believe the size of this bug
After a short climb we got to within 45 miles of Belen and spotted a good place to camp so popped over the fence away from the road to pitch. It was a great spot with no snakes. With the clouds showing there strange pattern once again and with a dark sky off to the east it looked like it would turn into a big storm but only time would tell so we cooked our tea and rested hopefully for and easy day tomorrow.
Wednesday 28th March
Shaz appearing from our hidden campspot
We got on the road by 9.15 and knew we only had 45 miles to Belen where we would stay with a warm showers host. The going felt hard despite little wind and a straight reasonably flat road. After a couple of hours we were tired and realised it was because we were hungry. We stopped for bread and cheese in the shade before riding on to the town of Londres for a more substantial lunch.
Unfortunately the shop there didn’t have much selection and we were faced with bread and cheese once again. We spiced it up with an apple each and some instant pumpkin soup. We enjoyed our time in the town square despite having to constantly fend off a hungry looking dog.
We made light work of the 10 miles to Belen and after a glass of cold beer while waiting for the supermarket to open we found our hosts house. After being shown a room swarming with mosquitos or a yard that was also the dog toilet it was a tough choice. Finding a clean area and knowing our tent would be the cleanest option Tim put the tent up whilst Sharon attacked the clothes washing. Once showered we ventured out for a beer with a lovely Argentinean couple who were also staying. We picked up supplies before heading to a recommended cafe to eat delicious empanadas and chips. We enjoyed chatting the evening away about each others travels before heading back and headed to bed at the late hour of 10pm. what party animals we were.
Thursday 29th March
The smell of dog poo was horrible but were happy to be packing the tent away. We had breakfast and sampled the local Matte with our new friends before heading off around 10.30. We’d like to have got to know our hosts better and they were clearly a lovely family.
We headed out of town when Sharon realised she had left her hat behind. Once retrieved we carried on along a winding valley with sharp jagged green hills that looked like they belonged in south east Asia. It was around 35 degrees and the humidity must have been high as the sweet was pouring off us. The road steadily climbed slowly following the river ever higher. After a late start we rode until 2 when we saw a bus stop and sat inside for lunch. Apart from the incessant horse flies we regained our energy and continued up a valley that was getting less green. The road also disappeared turning into a bad dirt track that was being worked on.
It was amazing how a famous road like this the Ruta 40 could be a superb highway in one place then a dirt track through soft sand and rivers.
Thats what we call big tyres
It did keep it interesting though and so we rode on reaching the small sleepy town of Hualfin. I say sleepy because everyone was a sleep. We did find one tiny kiosk thanks to a young lad and were greeted by a lovely lady who talked the whole time. We managed to get the gist of what she was saying but were more amazed at how she could keep talking for so long with little input from us and not even knowing us. We left the town feeling a little word swept and again struggling to find our way out of town having to cross another river.
We followed a sand road for a while finally reaching the highway/ track and continued to slowly climb. With a couple more river crossings and many road works the road started to improve until at least it was black.
With huge storm clouds growing behind us we pushed on climbing up to a ridge reaching 2,350 metres. Much higher then we thought it would be but now being used to much higher heights it didn’t have much effect.
We rode until 7pm and with 30 minutes before sunset we passed a aerodrome and spotted a very large low tree in front of a wide trench perfect for hiding the tent. Seeing the lights of vehicles up the long flat road we knew we would at least have an easy start.
Friday 30th march
Apart from a car stopping up the road and turning its lights off after a while it was clear we couldn’t be seen. We woke to the engine starting and driving off at first light giving us an hours lay in. We got up to a breezy day the only problem was it had turned into a headwind. With breakfast out the way and Tim having to pump up a slow puncture we joined the high plateau and slowly descended about 50 metres before it levelled out into a long flat straight road.
Although the mountain in front didn’t look far away it took us about 25 miles to reach the bend in the road where we would descend through a flat valley. With the odd snow capped peak, donkey or condor to keep us happy we followed the road east until it took a sharp left north where we stopped at a tiny shop to buy refreshments. The lady was lovely and we were pleased at how much Spanish we were starting to understand.
With only 10 miles to San Jose we rode on to find a nice square to have lunch. It was Sunday and siesta time so we cooked what we had and relaxed. Tim managed to mend his puncture and once finished we made our way over to a shop to have an ice cream now that the shops were starting to open. With people arriving with mountain bikes with numbers on, there had obviously been a race. We chatted with them briefly before heading on to Santa Maria and the junction north. We had done well on our mileage but with the wind in our faces it was making for hard going. With a few turns into a strong headwind we reached the junction to collect water then left the town and headed towards Cafayati.
With the wind now on our backs and a down hill to the river we made quick progress to where we would camp. With loads of places on the side of the road out of sight it wasn’t long before we were tucked out of the way and ready to rest. It had been a day of getting the miles done and we managed to cover 70. With tea out the way and All Creatures Great and Small making us laugh on our laptop we retiring for the night hoping to get to the next town by lunch where we hoped there would be a campsite. giving us the strength ready for the final push to Salta.
Saturday 1st April
After a peaceful nights sleep we woke to the sun on the tent and knowing it was only around 30 miles to Cafayati. With the wind still coming from the north we pushed on to try and get there by lunch.
good spot to take 5 minutes out
An American Black Vulture
With a couple short breaks we arrived in the town by 2 and looked for somewhere to have a cool drink. Knowing we had the afternoon off we found a lovely quiet side street cafe and brought a cool bottle of wine and sat in the shade to relax. With Cafayati being a famous wine region we were stopping in the right place.
The rest of the town was in siesta mode so with almost everything closed we relaxed with the wine very quickly going to our heads before heading which wasn’t going to help us look for a place to stay. We were approached by a nice guy who recommended a place and a self contained room and said we would check it out later. We headed into the square and met a lovely English couple called Jim and Caroline who had passed us on their motorbikes on the way into town. We joined them for a beer and enjoyed chatting to them about their trip. With time already against us we headed off to find the hostel but after riding down the wrong way on a one way street we rode straight into 2 police on bikes. Tim quick on his pedals asked if they knew where there was a bike shop and within seconds we were being escorted to a small shop. We said our thanks and not having the part we needed and not really wanting a bike shop in the first place we heeded back to find the hotel.
After some searching and by now having had a 2 bottles of wine and a couple beers between us in the sun we were feeling a little sleepy. We met the owner and after some negotiation we secured a room with a shower and 24 hour hot water ?
With little time to spare before meeting up with Jim and Caroline we had a quick shower. With not having had any tea and still feeling a little jaded from the wine and beer we went in search of empanadas to line our stomachs but with no luck we ended up with a sandwich each.
We were soon sat in a wine bar with Jim and Caroline tasting Caroline’s favourite wine which was one of the best we had tasted and not wanting to spoil it we left on a good one and headed to a bar for a beer.
One of the reasons for the great tasting wine was the altitude which made the skins thicker and inturn gave a a thicker creamier wine.
It was such a nice evening and were pleased to have met such a lovely couple with the same love for life and had even sold everything to live out their dream.
As we were saying goodnight we got chatting to a couple of French girls called Estelle and Marine who we ended up having a few more beers and chatting for the rest of the night. After crossing our 20,000 mile mark With such a nice town and meeting such nice people we were pleased we had stopped and decided to make the most of it and stay for another rest day.
Sunday 2nd april 2014
After drinking far to much and vowing to try and do our jobs before we relaxed on our next rest day we slowly set about making breakfast and starting the many jobs we had to do. This involved copy and pasteing Tim’s diary extracts and emailing them to Sharon to edit and add her side, pasteing in to a post then picking out the best of our pictures from our 2 cameras, then picking the ones we want from them, shrinking each one and fitting them into the post and check it. drink tea, eat biscuits,check emails, Skype home and send emails, add states and GPS files to blog, check both bikes, clean chains and tension, check brakes, drink tea, eat biscuits, write shopping list for food,check tyres, panniers, fix puncture’s, clean bikes, wash clothes, sleeping bag liners, drink tea, eat biscuits, clean kit, fix zips, sew up any holes, charge batteries, copy SD cards to hard drives, drink tea, eat biscuits and rest by looking at maps for the next part with a cup of tea and maybe some biscuits before heading out to do a food shop.
With all this going pretty much to plan it was time to back up pictures when our computer started to behave in strange ways like it had in south Africa. Unable to copy any pictures then losing GPS files we found the SD card virus had returned. with the last pass being one of the most amazing places we had seen, our hearts sank. it was horrible and the thought of having to get it fixed was a night mare. what had turned out to be a lovely place was now marred by the loss of hundreds of pictures and memory’s. Tim Spent hours trying to run anti virus software that we had but with no luck all we could do was wait and hope we could recover some of them in Salta.
With the computer to dodgy to even try and use and not even wanting to risk writing a blog we tried to finish our other jobs which was hard with the motivation gone and the wind out of our sails we spent the day catching up with people, food shopping and cooking.
Trying to finish our rest day on a good note we promised the owner and his lovely family we would recommend his place which was very nice and cheer ourselves up by watching All creatures great and small.
With our day off behind us which made us happy and sad after crossing our 20,000 mark getting some of our jobs done and the annoyance of a virus, life on the road seemed easier then stopping. We had however made friends and that is what made our trip. Even if we had lost everything we would still have the memory’s. Leaving for Salta tomorrow was exciting as it would be our last city in Argentina and almost the end of a very long country.
Thanks for reading x