North Argentina. Apologies to Vegetarians.

12 12 2007

What happened there? I’ve been going relatively hard the last week or so, first to catch up to Jörg and Rahel, and then to keep up. 1200km in 11days. That’s why there have been no posts here. The map looks a lot better, looks like I’m starting to make some progress!

After the excitement of spending the best part of a week curled up in bed in Tupiza (and a few days talking to Mikkel, Motorcyclist from Denmark), and then finishing off in Bolivia, I finally hit the land of the long red steak. Not before time. For a few days I couldn’t eat steak, but that is currently being rectified – two nights running we have had asado (BBQ), and last night I got the fire just about right – the meat was (almost) perfect!

I’ve already crowed about my first long distance day. This ended in Tilcara, where I met two Belgian cyclists who are going north (Carl-Eric and Adrian). I camped, and the storm I hadn’t noticed broke just before I got the hammock sorted out at 10:30. Around 3am I could get to sleep, because the rain and lightning/thunder stopped. Wasn’t an ideal sleep. Well, the next day was slightly shorter, only 180 odd km. I did make it to Salta that day, riding along a thin and winding Ruta 9 between Jujuy (pronounced Hoo-hoo-yee), over a pass and loving it. The road surface was nice and smooth, there was a bit of a pass, but the trees everywhere made it feel like I was in a tropical forest – which I guess I was. It was so different to the last few months, and I really enjoyed it. So despite being tired (almost 400km in two days), I flew up the hill, and caught up to another long distance cyclist/mountain climber, Reinhard from Austria. Yes, Argentina could be called the land of cyclists – we seem to be bumping into them all over the place.

But I got a rest day in Salta. The other cyclists I knew were at the Casa del Ciclista, and Ramon and his family took me in as well. Unfortunately, most of the party had departed that morning, only leaving Jörg and Rahel and Jose (from Spain). But still I had a full dose of Argentinian hospitality. Big dinner (BBQ one night), and made to feel very welcome. It was a pretty special experience – possibly more so by me being semi comatose after the long few days cycling. Having dinner begin around 10pm, with bed about 2am doesn’t help recovery, but it is a pretty good way to live. It suits me anyway. It doesn’t suit cycling though.

Salta was a bit of a blur. The first big city since Cusco, but a completely different world. In some parts it looks like any other city, with big shopping malls (and prices to match), almost everything is available. I wouldn’t have minded exploring a bit more – or maybe I was just enjoying the chicas (there are some very fine looking women in Argentina, let me tell you…).

From Salta we have gone more or less directly south for 750km, on almost exclusively paved road (except for 30km which is inexplicably dirt road – I don’t know why, maybe they haven’t got round to it yet?). It has been mostly riding through desert, with little oasis where they put the towns. There has also been a fair amount of irrigated land, and a lot of it is used for grape growing. So they make wine, which also means they have pretty good food – one seems to go with the other.

I have finally relented and agreed that my front tyre was dead. Since there was almost no tread, the sidewall was cut twice and the inside had separate from the tyre frame, I guess it had reached the end of its life. 6120km. The other one (on the rear) is still going – but not for much longer I suspect.

Just before Cafayate we passed through an amazing gorge with red cliffs and a few very narrow and oddly shaped side gorges. The views were great, the sun was shining, we were going downhill with a strong tailwind. Life is good. The valley was well worth a visit.

The next few days are a story about wind, heat and desert. A strong tail wind turned into a strong cross wind as we approached Amaichá del Valle. The first day toward Belén was pretty good until about 1pm, when a fierce headwind sprung up, straight out of Patagonia we feel. The wind stopped us from going as far as we wanted, so we camped in a bus shelter for the night (to try to avoid some of the wind). Second day to Belén saw us get up at sunrise to try to avoid the wind. A patch of dirt road slowed us down, then the headwind came in to deliver the knockout. Luckily we ducked, and got into Belén. Then we thought maybe we should leave earlier (after eating with the Argentinians at 11pm). The wind thought the same thing, and at 10am the headwind came in. The wind meant that we were riding at full power and getting about 9 to 14km/h. Sooo slow! So we stopped for a siesta, got sand blasted in the heat, and stopped for the day 10km later in San Blas. Turns out to be a really nice campsite there, run by Herbert. For some reason I thought that I could play football (soccer) with the Argentinians for an hour until after midnight in borrowed (too small) shoes after cycling 100km. Two days later I am still tired and can hardly walk. The following day we again rose before sunrise and left early so in addition to the wind, I had the added enjoyment of trying to stay awake (and stiff and sore all over).

I haven’t mentioned the heat. It’s been hot, over 45°C in the hottest part of the day. We are trying to work around that part of the day, as do the locals, but cycling at night is still not appealing. Perhaps when the wind gets really strong in Patagonia we’ll give that a go.

Cycled yesterday with a Dutch couple, Maurice and Miranda (edit-for some reason I had Miranda’s name as Anna, until July 2009!) (who live in Belgium). So of course it was a pretty late night, with another big asado. Meat here is ridiculously cheap, you can get a kilo of prime BBQ steak for 12 pesos and Lomo (the best steak they have) for 15 pesos (4 or 5 dollars). So we cooked 2.5 kilos for 5 people – a crazy amount of meat for the Europeans, and still pretty big for me. I managed to finish it all though (it just tastes so good!). I suspect I’ll get bored of the red meat diet before Ushuaia, and I’ll work on making ths the case. Perhaps I can be a vegetarian later to compensate.


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