Days 573 - 588: Riding in the Oven, with Ants and Flies

Catamarca to Mendoza 851 km

November 17 to December 1, 2013

 This stretch was more of a test of endurance and staying power than touring through idyllic countryside.  Long, hot and very flat stretches were occasionally interspersed with a green patch or view of a mountain.  At night we would fight with the ants and flies for dominance of the dinner plates.  But, we have realized that riding conditions such as this are an important part of the journey, they allow us to really appreciate the beauty when it comes, and they also give us a pretty good sense of the sheer vastness of the world.  Along the way we passed through the cities of La Rioja and San Juan allowing us to relish in the greenness and shade that these irrigation fed cities provide.  We also were lucky to meet up with some other cyclists along the way...which provided us all with some much needed entertainment ! 

Northern Argentina: Part Three

Catamarca - La Rioja (one and a half days) 

A long, flat, straight road takes you between these two mid-sized cities, which are also the provincial capitals.   We left Catamarca as early as we could, trying to get in the groove of the new heat cycling schedule.  It was Sunday morning, and when we came out of our hostel room at about 5:30 am, we heard that the party next door was still going strong...luckily the fan noise blocked out the music so we had slept well.  Leaving town was very easy, some people were stumbling back from the  bar...but otherwise no traffic to speak of.  We were lucky to have a tailwind so we travelled fast and arrived in the the village Chumbicha around 11:00am, the son of the shop owner where we stocked up was very friendly and set up a table and chairs in the shade for us to eat our lunch.  He told us it was about 40 km before the next village and water source.  We carried on, figuring there must be another water source earlier, but if not we would make the 40 km quickly because of the tailwind. The wind had turned, however, and the heat was rising...and no water sources, or humans for that matter where anywhere in sight.  So, the afternoons 43 km was much slower than the mornings 66km!  We finally arrived in the village...and found it practically abandoned.   There was a police post and a friendly dog, and also a picnic table under a tree.  So without anyone around to ask we set up there and passed out for a little while.  After we had made supper, cleaned up and were lying in the tent, the police officer showed was around 9 pm at this point.  Luckily he was very nice, giving us the thumbs up to camping and telling us he was headed out again to patrol the roads but would be back later....we didn't see him again...

It was only another 55 km of flat road to La Rioja...but it was a headwind today.   So, we inched along and finally made it to the city centre.  la Rioja is famous for its heat, people all over the country seem to cite it as the hottest of cities.  It was pretty hot when we were there, but not quite 40 degrees...maybe only 38!  We ended up checking into a hostel, our bodies and brains tired from the heat, and we joined the masses in afternoon nap-time.  After a quick dinner, it was back to bed.

La Rioja - Usno  (three days) 

We woke up to a bit of rain, hallelujah!!!  Leaving La Rioja, the temperature was a refreshing 23 degrees!  It inevitably heated up over the day, but we had a little tailwind.  We arrived in Patquia mid-afternoon and set up our tent in a recreational complex.  We tried to get a little nap in here (we are really getting into this cultural practice!), and around six I went off in search of food.  Turns out that the small town of Patquia takes the afternoon siesta very seriously...the one grocery store in town did not open until 7:30 pm!  Luckily we were able to find some very basic supplies at a little shop.  In the evening our seemingly abandoned recreation complex campspot became increasingly populated....we were hoping that we would not need to move our tent, but when the local "Bocha" club came around 9:30 and turned on the blinding lights of the Bocha course, we realized it might not be the best campspot.  Glenn asked one of the Bocha players how long the game would last...he was told they that since it was Tuesday night the group would end early "maybe around one or two (am!)".  So....we packed up our tent and stuff and headed off to look for some dark and quiet.  In the end we found a spot on the other side of the complex behind an "out of order" toilet building, which blocked the lights a seems to be a never ending challenge to get a good nights sleep in this country - no wonder everyone needs a siesta!

It was a late start, as we didn't get to sleep too early.  But the riding was fairly easy, and the air was not too hot.  We were climbing all day, but at about a 0.5-1% with a nice tailwind to help us out we hardly noticed.  Unfortunately the road more or less appeared flat, and our minor elevation gain did not provide us with any new scenery.  There was very little by way of villages or towns enroute.  We  got water at a school in the first village, and had a roadside lunch.   By the time we reached La Punta, a tiny little village, it was mid afterrnoon and we were ready to call it a day.  We stopped at the one house in town advertising cold drinks and shared a large Fanta.   When we told the man of the house we were looking for a place to camp, he went in to consult with his wife and then offered us a place in the shade of his yard.  They were such a generous couple, even letting us use their shower and kitchen!  It was a very peaceful nights rest too.

We pushed out eary, having slept well.   The road brought us to the corner of the national parks of Talampaya and Ischigualasto, and although we did not venture in, the scenery was quite lovely ...big beautiful rocks mostly.   We even saw some wildlife, including a number of foxes an a pair of emus ! We had entered the Valle Fertil, a marginally touristic area - however we did not see many tourists.  That night we decided to stop in the village of Usno, which had a small municipal campground.  When we got to the campground it was yet another case of arriving at nap time...and no one being around.  The fence of the campground was held closed with a number of elaborately twisted wires... After waiting around a bit, we decided to just untwist a couple of the wires and let ourselves in....

We ended up spending two nights in Usno, we were in need of a little rest and it was a peaceful place.  No one seemed to be bothered by us being at the campground, so we spent a day off doing laundry and making some bannock for the first time! It was actually quite delicious! On our second evening a man showed up, and it turned out he was the caretaker for the campground.  He told us that there is rarely anyone at the campground (maybe because of the elaborate wire locking system...), but he seemed happy to see us and gave us gifts of mate, rocks(!) and shells.   

Usno - San Juan (five days)

From Usno we pedalled about 10 km to the town of San Agustin, which was quite a bit bigger.  We stopped to stock up on food supplies as there would be very little available until San Juan, and we had around 280 km to cover.   As we were heading out of town we ran in to some old cycle friends - Joanna and Stephanie ! We had first met Joanna in Trujillo, Peru and Stephanie in Cusco, Peru.  We made plans to meet for lunch at a clearwater river that was rumoured to be 30 km ahead.  The river was quite lovely, and it was nice to finally see some water in a riverbed!   After lunch we all didn't really feel like carrying on, especially because there was a nice spot to camp right beside the river.  It was a lovely evening.... But unfortunately, it was a Saturday night - the noisiest of nights! A few hundred metres away there was an official campground, and beside us on the riverbank there was a group four guys.  The guys were very sweet and nerdy, but their sweetness seemed to disappear with the they became louder and drunker.  Meanwhile, music was blasting from the campground.   The noise combined with a very still heat, made for a restless night. 

We all took off together. When we passed the campground (at around 8:00 am) the party seemed to still be going strong.  We moved along quickly in the morning, and then came to a descent of a good few hundred metres.  Before heading down, we had a quick celebration of yet another excellent number achievement: 23232 km!

23232 km!

When we reached the bottom, the wind seemed to have switched and was now a strong head wind.  We were inching along...slowly slowly.  It was a hot sort of head wind that feels like it is blowing straight out of an oven.   Terrible. Somehow, we finally made it to the town of Marayes.  It was nap- time, but we did manage to get a shop to open up for us, and we each chugged a litre of Fanta!  We decided to camp in the football field and made some dinner in the increasingly windy evening.   The clouds became darker and darker all around us, and then came the lightening. It was a strobe light show that seemed to last for hours.  Finally some rain came, and the air got a lot cooler... And we slept. 

It was still cool and windy in the morning, strangely cool enough for us to put on long pants and long sleeves.  Unfortunately I woke up to find one of my Birkenstock sandles missing from in front of our tent.  Seems a dog must have snatched it.   The wind was a headwind, and it looked as though another strong storm might be coming.  Not wanting to bike right into a storm we decided to find shelter in an abandoned building and wait to see what would happen.  An old health centre seemed to do the trick.  As the morning progressed the wind did not seem to be letting up, but the dark clouds did lift so we decided to push out after lunch.  We made another batch of bannock, and we even had a brick oven this time!  The riding was slow, but we made it to the town of Bermejo, which is famous for its shrine to 'San Expedito', known as the saint of 'just and urgent causes'.  It was pretty packed when we arrived, but it seemed to be all day visitors, so we were able to get a quiet nights sleep in the campground. 

We took off into the headwind yet again.  Along the way I decided to donate my lonely Birkenstock to a Gauchito Gil shrine, and ask for some tailwinds.  We stopped in Vallecito along they, were there is yet another shrine to Difunta Correa.  Difunta Correa is a folk hero, who's story goes that she died of dehydration, but saved her infant child by letting it breast feed.  You see shrines for her all over Argentina, often with many many bottles of water that people have left.  The large shrine in Vallecito had room after room of offerings to Difunta.  In Vallecito we met up with another cyclist, Hugh and carried on with him.  Gauchito Gil even came through with a sweet tailwind...and a bike lane!   The bike lane was built to accommodate the large numbers of pedestrians and cyclists that make the pilgrimage from San Juan to the Difunta Correa shrine.    We made it to the town of Caucete,  and found a make shift was a fun night of wine and pasta and meat for the carnivores.  

We only had about 40 km to San Juan, but we bid farewell to our travel companions as they turned off directly to Mendoza.  We had decided to spend a couple days in San Juan as my dad was not arriving in Mendoza for another week.  The ride was easy, but I was feeling really tired.  I had been having a bit of upset stomach over the past few days and my body just seemed beat.  Finding a hostel was a little more challenging than we would have liked, so we had lunch in the park and I took a long nap! After this we finally found a hostel, and I slept some more!   

Unfortunately on our day off in San Juan, Glenn started feeling super tired and weird in the stomach... So it was more sleeping and resting, which it seemed our bodies needed.  We did make it to the art gallery, which was quite impressive. 

San Juan - Mendoza (three days)

Even though Glenn was still feeling a little tired, we decided to hit the road, but make the trip three short days instead of two.  We didn't have high hopes for this stretch, it looked flat and boring from all accounts.  But we were actually pleasantly surprised.   We took back roads for the first 30 km or so, and wove through vineyards and small villages.  We were then diverted onto the main highway, but it was four lanes, so we had plenty of space.  The first night we camped in the town of Media Agua, in another recreation complex.  We were a little worried in the evening, when hoards of 10-13 year old girls started showing up...turns out it was a birthday party.  Luckily it didn't last too late, and we had some refreshing rain in the evening to cool things off.

The next day we actually had a tailwind, but the riding was still quite hot.  There was a long stretch, almost 60 km with nothing much so yes, it was a little boring.  We pulled into Jocoli mid afternoon and the police station offered us a place to was a very hot afternoon, so even in the shade, it was hard to take a nap, or do much of anything.  But, a little later Daniel, another cyclist pulled in! So we enjoyed his company, which helped to take our minds off the heat!  It was saturday night, and shockingly it was a good nights sleep.

Our final stretch into Mendoza was only about 45 km.  We rode with Daniel and enjoyed fantastic views of white-capped Andes !   Mendoza is a lovely town, roads are lined with huge trees, and Cafes are everywhere.   My father is arriving in just a day, and we will likely spend about a week in the city before crossing the Andes, yet again, this time into Chile.