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La Quiaca, Argentina to Mendoza, Argentina (11-12-08 thru 12-04-08)

December 5, 2008

Only a little over 3000 miles to go!!!

Only a little over 3000 miles to go!!!

We crossed the border of Argentina, our 13th country on this epic journey at LaQuiaca. The first thing we saw was a highway sign, “Ushuaia 5131 Km”, only a little over 3000 miles to go!

wild landscape in northern Argentina

wild landscape in northern Argentina

Upon entering Argentina we noticed some real differences that we did not see in the last year throughout the rest of Latin America! We actually had a very clean hotel room with a hot shower, heated floors, 2 bath towels, 2 hand towels and toilet paper without even have to beg for them! What a country! To further amaze us, we had a great dinner at a local restaurant. A thin steak the size of a plate topped with thin slices of ham, cheese, tomatoes and oregano (think of a pizza whose crust is a steak – actually really tasty!) with mashed potatoes and liter-size dark beers – a biker-size dinner that wasn’t greasy and filled us up! And – And – AND – the waiter brought everything as quickly as in a U.S. restaurant, which is unheard of in the rest of Latin America where the wait is typically around an hour from when you order. We met a very helpful Argentinian couple with blue eyes and blond hair (this is very different, because we only saw people with dark eyes and dark hair for the past year!)

We started the ride in northern Argentina on the high puma – the high (11,000′) arid, windy grasslands. From here we dropped steadily through a desert canyon of fantastic sedimentary rock outcrops – steeply pitched flatirons of red, yellow, orange, green and tan. There were also 20′ to 40′ tall cactus studded with huge starburst-like 10 inch diameter white flowers – absolutely gorgeous! Each day brought strong headwinds in the late afternoon, which we soon found out was typical of this area, so we decided to adjust our schedule to be done biking before they kick up – meaning up at 4:30 and biking by 6:00 AM. Yes – it’s as fun as it sounds.

23 degrees south

23 degrees south

Are we in Utah?

Are we in Utah?

more Utah looking country

more Utah looking country

On our third day biking in Argentina we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn. It seems like only yesterday we crossed the Equator with our friend Christian. After steadily dropping through more of the beautiful desert canyon we ended up on a single lane road winding through tobacco country, then forested hills where we spent a night camping on grass in a municipal campground. Green grass – we haven’t camped on green grass since Colorado! Argentina is full of good, inexpensive municipal campgrounds. From here we dropped down into the town of Salta, where we finally met Randy and Nancy, whose website www.hobobiker.com we’ve been following for the whole trip. They have ridden here from Inuvik, Canada and have been a wealth of information and support for us!

One day off in Salta and we were turning our wheels south again through yet another desert canyon with red rock walls that reminded us of Utah, then on to Cafayate, a nice touristy desert town surrounded by vineyards. Have we (hic! hic!) mentioned the wine in Argentina – some of the best red wines we’ve ever had – and cheaper than bottled water! Tough choice! From Cafayate, we dropped even lower (now we are biking around 2000′ in elevation which seems easy after being around 12,000′ in all of Peru and Bolivia!) and into very hot desolate desert, until San Blas, where it felt like we passed through the gates of Hell (over 100 degrees with a hot blast furnace wind – and that was at night, when we were trying to sleep! Nearly toxic heat! After talking to some locals, we decided to get off Route 40, the road we had been taking, and veer east, then south to avoid more super hot desert. We rode to La Rioja on “the road of silence” – not much traffic there!

WINE

WINE

bordom after miles in the desert!

bordom after miles in the desert!

Leaving La Rioja on Thanksgiving day in 75 degrees by 7 AM led to another problem with Argentina biking! Thrown into this toxic, hot mix is the fact that we are traveling through sparsely inhabited country. There are very few villages along our route to get food and water and to further complicate it Argentinians take siesta time seriously. Most stores and restaurants are closed from noon until 6 PM or later (most restaurants don’t even open for the day until 9:00 PM!) about the time we really need food and cold drinks. So, needless to say, about the time most Americans were sitting down to a big fat turkey dinner, we were in the middle of the desert in a 95 degree concrete bus shelter eating white bread pastrami sandwiches and chopped up warm veggies!

Thanksgiviing day - we were grateful for a bus shelter out of the hot sun!

Thanksgiviing day - we were grateful for a bus shelter out of the hot sun!

and grateful for the full bottles of water people leave at the shrines all thru Argetina.

and grateful for the full bottles of water people leave at the shrines all thru Argetina.

Through this section, we did some big days – up before daylight, biking by daybreak to try and get in lots of miles before the afternoon wind and heat got us! We were lucky though, and had 3 days of clouds and and some rain which is unheard of in this area, and made it to Mendoza, which is almost 1100 miles into Argentina! We will head south after a couple days off.

From here we look forward to biking out of the hot desert which will take another 7 or 8 days, then will be in the Lake District, which will be a welcomed switch, with hills, trees, lakes and snow-capped peaks to gaze at once again.

Argentina is very different than the rest of Latin America that we’ve seen so far. The people of Argentina are very helpful and friendly. Even though it feels more like a first world country here, over half the population still lives in poverty, seen mostly in the countryside. We still see some horse-drawn carts, mud huts alongside the roads and some primitive methods of farming, but there are many more private vehicles driven here and real live grocery stores! Argentinians have the schedule of vampires and Edgar Winter – “they only come out at night!” Most towns we ride through during the day are totally deserted with shops all closed up – like a scene out of “Twilight zone”. Then, about the time we are in our tent or hotel room drifting off to sleep, the whole town wakes up and goes full bore until the wee hours. Definitely not geared toward the biker’s schedule, instead, adapted to avoid the desert heat and/or a thriving economy.

Like Ralph says, “A bad day of biking still beats the best day at work!”

Bikin’ On,

Ralph & Pat

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8 comments

  1. Wow! Can you believe it only 3000 miles to go. I can’t believe you guys made this wild, and crazy trip. I thank you so much for sharing it with us. I envy all the beautiful, and even not so beautiful places that you’ve been. Can’t wait to actually sit and talk with the 2 of you. Be safe!


  2. What an amazing trip!! I’ve been following your adventures since we met (w/ my wife Pam) in Skagway when we had a few drinks at our travel trailer in the campground. Anyway, last spring I took a 6 week trip to Chile and Argentina and loved it. Don’t miss taking a day hike into the Fitz Roy Range out of El Chalten, Glaciar Perito Moreno (better than what we saw in Alaska), and Parque Nacional Torres del Paine (Chile). Warning – Rte 40 south of the lake district. Think going across Texas on a gravel road but not as scenic and minimal services. An alternative is the amazing 3-4 day ferry from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales, Chili. Take care and Happy Holidays.
    Steve


  3. You guys a driven!
    I’ve heard wonderful things about Argentina,enjoy it to the fullest!
    Keep on bikin, you almost have it!
    Deb


  4. […] La Quiaca, Argentina to Mendoza, Argentina (11-12-08 thru 12-04-08) By ralphandpat mentioned the wine in Argentina – some of the best red wines we’ve ever had – and cheaper than bottled water! Tough choice! From Cafayate, we dropped even lower (now we are biking around 2000′ in elevation which seems easy after being … Ralph & Pat’s Epic Ride – https://ralphandpat.wordpress.com/ […]


  5. Back in the first world and summer in December. Have been using your pictures for screensavers, they get me through the work week. You’re right, a bad day biking still beats a good day at work! Thinking I might like 100 degrees better than squirting concrete at 28F. Are you out of the desert yet? Looks like its more rainy this time of year. The salt desert looked pretty extensive from the satelite map. Printing off a few more of your pictures, they’re too cool to lose.

    Ride ’em! Mark.


  6. Merry Christmas to you in warm S.America. Its been veeery cold and snowy here for a couple of weeks. In Ouray for week or two, have teles, Red mt. pass where we biked three yrs. ago is deep. Your pictures, again, are too good for words. Have blown one up and will frame for you as a late christmas gift.

    Hasta la vista, Mark.


  7. Merry Christmas! We won’t tell you how good the snow is, but the new software program at ASC is so bad I just skied for the first time yesterday as I have been so busy. Thinking of you – the photos and writing that you are doing are really great. Enjoy Argentina. Betsy and Thane


  8. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

    Nice freestyle trick on the touring bike Ralph. You’ll be standing on the seat going no-handed pretty soon.

    The snow has been pretty good here in the RFV, although quite tender in the backcountry.



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