Anxious I was about the climb towards the Cristo Redentor pass. I counted 18 perfect symmetric curves. It turned out to be 30, and I took them in only 1,5 hour. Hail to Cindy indeed!
What was more of a problem was what lay behind the Cristo Redentor tunnel: Argentina. The sheer beauty and the unrivaled colors so distinguishable for this country had taken me a full day to cover 40 kilometer, even though I was on a long downhill.
Another distinct evidence of this country was something I felt as soon as the Chileans dropped me, a mandatory service, at the end of the tunnel: the saddening, neglected atmosphere. Now I remembered why I felt how I did in Argentina, a few months ago. And why I loved to be in Chile, but for this incredible impressive nature.
Colors are befriending the moment you admire. Peaks and walls are watching you with a smile, while the wind decide to trick you just when you are drenched with the entire Andes.
For aA short while, I had a cycle partner who forbade me to make any more photo’s: ‘Or I cycle on and won’t wait anymore for you,’ he said while carrying the tent. I think of him, and smile.
The route is so incredible beautiful that I am stopped in my ongoing more than I move forward. Being here is being full in the Andes, with massive peaks and wide open passageways with colorful splashes of red and orange.
From the pass to the first town in Argentina it is as far as the last town in Chile, about 80 kilometer, the Argentinian side much more gradual, but again with the wind right in my face.
The wind howls around the electricity wires, like a person playing violin. It sounds eerie and frightening. I need all my weight to keep standing when getting off the pedals. I sometimes succeed in finding shelters to camp.
Cycling has become difficult now the back brake cable has snapped. Being on a downhill, however gradual, combined with rain, is not the safest option to sail down.
Being it open, vast and spacious, I ogled a spot for an hour and the oncoming rain has me decide to pitch my tent, and admire the view, although I will sit in the tent and won’t see much. Soon rain falls with quite a force, incredible loud thunder is felt in my bones, it gets scary and I realize sitting in a tent might not have been the best choice, 4 kilometer away from Uspalatta town.
But I guess this is Argentina in autumn. And however I dislike rain, I am sure I will receive a lot more.
After lingering at several spots along the river downstream to Mendoza I check into a cheap hostel, if only they would come cheap ($12). My Magura brake has snapped and I hope someone can fit me Shimano brakes as a I guess Magura is alien out here. It turns out not to be so exotic a brake and they are fixed within a day!
The hostel I stay at is occupied with students and workers. It reminds me of my student dwelling in Antwerp, except that the kitchen is even more dirty, so I avoid cooking in it. ‘That’s because they are all Indians,’ says a woman who is obviously not of Indian origin, with a face wriggled into a wry expression. When I get, softly, kicked out of my room due to double booking, I am together with the Indian students in a loud, football-cafe alike ambiance. Puta, maricon, and lardon are words often spoken, and which I understand, because I watched Narcos on Netflix. Needless to say I do not fancy those conditions.
It takes me two nights more before I am finally in quietness again. I cycle in the lands of agriculture before reaching the pampas. They embrace me, it’s silence has an effect that is immediately warmhearted, and faints the car sounds which bothered me so long.
One thing disagreeable are the fences, and I need to trespass again. When I find a gate which is easy to open, and close, I make my camp at a beautiful spot where as soon as the nighttime sets in, temperature drop to zero and sounds of animals I have never heard appear. Two foxes alarmed by someone in their territory, a scream I had not heard before.
The stars are like grenades, bombarding down on me in silence and utter peace. Laying in my tent I feel underneath a Diamant bell when I lay warm underneath my sleeping bag. More secure than this seems a dream.
I don’t want to move. The only thing which has me leave, eventually, is the prospect of a 160 kilometer stretch with no services.
Having the wind in my back I make a rough speculation which has me thinking I can do a 50 kilometer a day, easily. When I have a 160 kilometer stretch without services I assume that’s fine, and start the journey a bit too optimistic.
When there is a desvia, I take it, it is ripio, as I knew I would be on. But now I realize that I’d forgotten how slow I am on ripio. Immediately I know I have too little food with me. The cream cheese I bought appeared to be whipped cream and the two tins of tuna fish are not sufficient.
The ripio is so corrugated that I soon switch back to the parallel road. It doesn’t come to mind to check MAPS.ME. A thirty kilometers further the asphalted road stops again, and so does the route altogether.
I ignored the desvia, and the bridge which was built here, is no more. Augustine talks to me a lot and I understand I have to go back. But he will bring me. A few minutes later his colleague comes with another alternative, and 40 kilometers further I am delivered at where the main road meet, where I would have been ended, if not for the absent bridge.
The expanses of land are endless, a few cows and horses roam the pretty vastness, so everything is fenced. Fences has a big impact on my experience of freedom. When fences are gone I feel at once the openness where I am part of.
Next long stretch without villages is a 180 kilometers long. I am prepared with 7 kilo extra food. This time I have a new assortment: black beans and meat. So, bring it on!
Again, the information I have about the route is not correct. I usually check the map on internet and ask around to where villages are. The wrong info works in my benefit: less ripio and more places to buy food.
A few of the above photo’s above were made especially for Pushbikegirl, see and read her interview here
‘No, don’t camp here, it is dangerous,’ says a man in a car. ‘Go to that farm there, they will let you sleep in their home and they will feed you too,’ he continuous, translated by a French woman sitting next to him. Coming to Argentina is because I want to feel where I am, in the pampas, in the vastness of nature. ‘It is dangerous because… trucks may run off the road, and then they will hit you,’ the man says. Another man told me that there are bandidos. I doubt it…
I don’t totally ignore their good intended advises but I also see that they do not see what I see. So I place myself at a spot where I wanted to.
The wind has start to show some of those notorious Patagonian forces. The pegs of my tent are pulled out, making a fire has flames getting 1.5 meter across camp. It is an interesting process to see how I need to find solutions without burning the pampa down.
I’d made a list with distances to every next town to resupply. I do so in a gas station where they have WiFi. The route from Malargüe to Las Lajas turns out to be one of the more beautiful routes I have been on. Some of it is rough stoned ripio, having my tires deflate a bit.
Next, meeting with a Parisian gaucho, in part II of The Sweet Solitude.