Around the world by bike
(1 334km - 32days)
27 January - Road side camp to Puente Del Inca - 40km
Three years and 10 months on the bikes! All day long the road zig-zagged up the pass. Although the gradient was acceptable it was still a steep and dreadfully slow 22km climb up the pass from where we'd spent the night. Roadworks along the way also caused more long delays. Eventually we reached the tunnel at the top of the pass and the authorities were kind enough to give us a lift through the 3km long tunnel. Once on the other side it was still 18km to the customs office. We flew downhill past the small settlement of Las Cuevas with just a few timber restaurants and a strong smell of lentil soup. Then it was onto the small touristy village of Puente Del Inca where we found a basic campsite. At least we had a sight of Aconcagua from the road, the highest peak in the America's (6 960 m). Ernest cooked supper and then it was an early evening for me. Puente Del Inca has the most amazing scenery with high mountains all around which turned all colors of the rainbow at sunset. In addition there was a natural stone bridge across the river which has turned a lovely orange color from the sulfur spring waters running over it. The remains of an old spa were located directly under the bridge and were slowly turning the same color.
28 January - Puente Del Inca - Uspallata - 70km
Ernest had some work to do on his bike and it was midday by the time we finally left. We cycled past Cementerio Andinista a small cemetery for climbers who died an Aconcagua. Then past Los Penitentes a well-known ski resort, now all boarded up (because it is summer and there is no snow). The pinnacles around the town are supposed to resemble a line of monks but I looked and looked but could see nothing that resembled a line of monks. Then it was a long mostly downhill run to Uspallata. Unfortunately we had a headwind all the way which made us pedal even on the downhills. The views were sublime and it is no wonder the film “7 Years in Tibet” was shot here. It was a stunning ride and we stopped many a time to try and capture the beauty of the surrounding mountains but to no avail. We had a scary moment when a large truck and trailer overtook us on the downhill and burst a tire right next to Ernest (who was ahead of me). I got quite a fright but things could have been much worse as pieces of tire flew everywhere and the truck swerved madly from side to side. Soon we reached Uspallata and what a surprise it turned out to be. It is a true oasis of poplar trees in this absolutely barren mountain landscape. Uspallata is a small town but with a campsite and all the necessary shops.
29 January - Uspallata - Potrerillos - 58km
The party next to the campground in Uspallata carried on through the night and little sleep was had. It was 12.30 the following afternoon by the time we finally left. Again the road followed Rio Mendoza and the scenery was as spectacular as the previous day. Although it was mostly downhill there were still plenty of uphills and narrow tunnels as we followed the river. This is also a popular rafting destination and we could see many tour operators carting people to the drop off point for a raft down the river. Again a headwind picked up and I was kind of sorry that we'd left so late. However, we reached Potrerillos early and found a campsite close to the lake with beautiful braai places amongst shady poplars and other trees. Ernest had to have a braai in Argentina, and he bought a large chunk of beef and wood which he strapped to his bike, and that evening he was in his element just tending the fire.
30/31 January - Potrerillos - Mendoza - 72km
It was a fairly short cycle to Mendoza, but first we had some solid hills to cross before going down into the valley. Once we reached route 40 junction the road widened and at least we had a shoulder to cycle on. This is wine country and we cycled past many a wine farm offering wine tasting and wine tours. Although Mendoza is a fairly large town it was an easy cycle into town. We found the accommodation frightfully expensive but still settled for a room in one of the hostels in the touristy part of town. It's high season and prices are at a maximum, the weather was however fantastic and in the high 20's.
Included in the hefty room price were bed bugs which, together with the disco next door, kept me up all of the first night. Fortunately the hostel had a nice garden with a swimming pool and some shade where one could relax during the day.
1 February 2011 - Mendoza
We decided to stay another day in Mendoza, as there were things to do like internet, etc. We also booked for the braai tonight (eat all you can - of course for Ernest as I haven't changed my vegetarian status quite yet.
2 February - Mendoza – Las Catitas - 106km
We left our bedbug-ridden accommodation and headed East on Ruta 7 towards Buenos Aires, more than 1000km across the pampas. It was a good day as the road was pancake flat and the temperature (I guess) in the low 30’s. We camped fairly early at a petrol station along the road which had some grass at the back and a shower. A Japanese cyclist called Nobu arrived from the opposite direction and also pitched his tent where we were camping. He’s been cycling for the past year and a half.
3 February - Las Catitas – Alto Pencoso - 99km
We awoke to a fairly strong wind, probably sounding worse than what it was due to the popular trees we camped under. The pampas consists mainly of large open plains, and is therefore quite exposed. We saw little in the way of interesting sights just low bushes and sandy soil. The wind was against us all day, but at least it was nothing close to the wind in Patagonia.
In Argentina road fatalities are not just indicated by a humble cross but by little shrines and sometimes quite elaborate ones, the purpose of the collection of empty plastic bottles at some shrines still baffles me. The shrines surrounded by red flags have an interesting history and (I understand) pays homage to Antonio Gil.
We camped in the municipal grounds of the small settlement of Alto Pencoso. People went out of their way to accommodate us, even unlocking the community hall’s toilets for us. Mostly people were just amazed at these two foreigners on bicycles arriving in their tiny village.
4/5 February - Alto Pencoso – San Luis - 22km
20km Down the road Ernest’s back hub eventually packed up totally. He tried to do makeshift repairs, but it was too badly damaged. We were fortunate enough to get a lift into San Luis where he could buy a new hub. Spoking and straightening the wheel is a time-consuming activity, and the next morning Ernest was still not happy with his work so we moved to a cheaper hostel and spent another day in San Luis. San Luis is actually not a bad city; it has a lively town center with, as usual, a central square and some nice buildings surrounding it. I still find the language a bit of a problem; it is surprising how few people actually speak English. I also seem to find food a bit of a problem as this is beef country!! Argentineans are the biggest consumers of beef per capita in the world and God forbid that one should be a vegetarian in this country! At least there’s plenty of good wine and pasta around as well.
6 February - San Luis – Picnic area (close to Villa Mercedes) - 85km
It was an excellent cycling day, the wind was slight, it was bit overcast and the road fairly flat. We cycled along quite happily until we spotted a really good picnic area next to a river, and we thought we may be able to camp there. People were swimming and having a picnic on the grass under the trees and we went to investigate.
We explained that we wanted to put up our “carpa” (tent) and camp for the night which was no problem. Smoke from the asadas (barbecues) was hanging thick in the air and people stared at us in amazement as we cycled in. They even came to have their pictures taken with us. We hadn’t even unpacked the bikes before our neighbours presented us with a plate of barbequed meat. Not wanting to be outdone other neighbours also came with a huge plate of meat. True to Argentinean asadas they don’t bother much with salads and other food, just a huge plate of meat. Even I tried a piece of meat, as I felt too embarrassed to turn them down.
7 February - Picnic area – Old petrol station (Washington) - 96km
All good things come to an end as it started raining the previous evening, with some heavy storms during the night. We woke at 8h00 but it was still raining so I crawled back into my tent. Eventually the rain stopped and goats and sheep came wandering past. It was 12h00 by the time our tents had dried and we got on the road. What a lonely stretch of road it was. We saw little in the way of life along the road and when we finally reached a disused petrol station we were out of water. We filled our bottles at the still functioning tyre repair workshop, and decided to camp there seeing that there was water – we camped on the porch of a vacant house on the premises. I’ll be more careful tomorrow and take more water with me for the road.
8/9 February - Disused petrol station – Laboulaye - 128km
We set off and soon reached Villa Mackenna where we spotted several service stations, a camping area and a Motel. We stopped and had a nice lunch at one of the petrol stations and then carried on along the road. Once again there was not much along the way but large cattle ranches, vast fields of corn and soybeans. The crops are probably for cattle feed as I have not noticed much soybean products in the shops. I guess that in a beef eating country like Argentina soybean products will never been very popular.
The road was once gain fairly narrow with loads of trucks and we had to be very careful staying out of the way of the trucks and cars. A steady headwind slowed us down and it was getting late enough for us to get concerned that we would have to cycle in the dark if we were going to reach Laboulaye. 7 km from Laboulaye Ernest came to an unexpected and sudden halt. The front hub on his bike had also seized up totally and with a fast setting sun he quickly had to do an emergency repair job before the light faded. We then managed to battle on to Laboulaye in the dark.
The town was much bigger than expected and we even found a hotel room for a reasonable price, where we stayed the next day while Ernest repaired his bike. Fortunately Argentineans are a fairly sporting nation, and one can find a fairly decent bike shop in most sizable towns. Laboulaye was big enough to sport a bicycle shop and we could even find a new front hub for Ernest’s bike. Then it was back to the room for the time consuming job of spoking the wheel again.
10 February - Laboulaye – Rufino - 71km
We encountered a head wind from the start of the day, and the traffic seemed to have gotten even worse. The narrow road left us virtually no room to cycle as there was just not enough space for two trucks and us. The grassy verge was of no benefit to us as it was nearly impossible to cycle on it. By the time we reached Rufino we turned off into the town as I dearly needed a mirror so I could at least see what was coming up behind me (Ernest had fitted a mirror in Chile already).
We arrived at siesta time and the place was like a ghost town, but a policeman on a motorbike took us to the town park where we could camp . People here take their siesta seriously and only seem to wake again at around 17h00. No sooner have they woken up from their siesta and the entire town was at the park (which was also the sports grounds), playing football, hockey, running, and even the local marching band was out practicing. What a delight it was to observe a small Argentinean country town in full swing. Once again there was a bike shop where I could get a mirror.
11 February - Rufino – Vedia - 119km
It was another windy day on the road and 18-wheelers still came roaring past, causing us to dive off the road every now and then. The mirror I bought the previous day at least helped a bit. Again we cycled past vast cattle ranches. This is the Pampas and home to the Guacos, it’s an area known for tasty beef. With Argentineans being the world’s biggest meat eaters, no decent petrol station comes without a nice grassy area and some barbeques, making it pretty easy to camp at these places (which we did again on this night). An added bonus is that they also come with good clean toilets as well as showers. Most also have hot water on tap as it is quite inconceivable that one could go without a flask of hot water for mate (a herbal tea sucked through a metal straw).
12 February - Vedia – Junin - 58km
The wind seemed to have picked up during the night, fortunately it was not as bad on the road as I had expected. The traffic was a bigger problem than the wind. My legs felt lame all day, and we turned off into Junin town where we found a comfortable room. We relaxed lying on the bed watching TV for the rest of the day. I seem to be constantly hungry these days, and after a visit to the local supermarket I had my fill of bread and cheese as there seems to be little else around this part of the world except for meat, meat and more meat.
13 February - Junin – Carmen de Areco - 126km
We picked up a nice tailwind for a change, and not being one to waste a tailwind we crused all the way to Carmen de Areco. It was a Sunday and the traffic not too heavy, a pleasure to be on the road. At Carmen de Areco we were in luck and had 3 nice petrol stations to choose from to pitch a tent. The best one was at the YPF with a large picnic area at the rear of the buildings, a children’s play park and plenty of barbeque areas, perfect. Ernest cooked the usual large pot of pasta and after a beer and a big serving of pasta I was off to bed.
14 February - Carmen de Areco – San Antonio - 66km
I could tell we were going to have a head wind and was pleased that we’d pushed on the day before. We ate our leftover bread with cheese, had some coffee (as I have not yet acquired a taste for mate) and then it was time to leave again.
The traffic was hectic as usual, but once we turned off Ruta 7, it was slightly better. A nice ride through the countryside brought us to the town of San Antonio. Dating from the 18th century it is loaded with history and is also considered home to the Gauchos. We pulled in at the local campground and relaxed in the shade.
15 February - San Antonio – Buenos Aires - 118km
We followed Ruta 8 East in the direction of Buenos Aires and soon found ourselves on a highway. Much easier than cycling on that narrow road. Closer to Buenos Aires traffic became a bit hectic and about 10km from the city centre we eventually got kicked off the freeway. We slowly battled the rush-hour traffic on one of the regular arterial roads, which spat us out right into the city centre as it became dark. Every few hundred meters there was a traffic light so it took forever to reach Ave 9 de Julio (the main road). It was 21h00 by the time we found a room. Although the hotel was rather expensive it was really nice and right in the city centre.
What a lively city Buenos Aires is, street cafes everywhere, and people out and about until the early hours of the morning.
16 February - Buenos Aires
We walked around town, down Ave Florida a pedestrian mall jam packed with people and street vendors, down to Plaza de Mayo with its pink palace (or presidential office), past lovely old colonial style buildings and around the famous Obelisk right in the middle of Ave 9 de Julio, with its 8 lanes in each direction it must be the widest main road in the world.
Eventually we decided to sit down at a sidewalk restaurant, and while looking at the menu a very skilled thief nicked my bag (which I’d placed on the ground between my feet). So good was the thief that neither Ernest nor me noticed anything. This was quite a disaster as my wallet with cash and bank cards was in the bag, as well as my camera, glasses, and the disc with all my photos which I’d taken in South America since arriving in Ushuaia. Most of the rest of the day was spent cancelling cards, ordering new ones, and contacting home so someone can send me money.
17/21 February - Buenos Aires
Early morning I was woken by a phone call from my bank to advise me that they will have a new card delivered, but it may take 7 working days! (We may be waiting here for some time). Again we wondered around town, and down to Puerto Madero (a waterfront area with a bunch of modern skyscrapers), and South to San Telmo district with its narrow cobbled street, old buildings and antique markets. We carried on walking to La Boca district with its colorful houses and home of Boca Juniors football team. Eventually we took the bus back to the city centre and scanned the shops for a new camera.
Fortunately there is a lot to see in BA, and we’ve been spending our days visiting all the interesting places. I’m in awe of all the beautiful old buildings in the city.
22 - 25 February - Buenos Aires
As shopping malls go, Galerias Pacifico with its vaulted ceilings and painted dome must be one of the most stunning shopping malls ever. Constructed in 1889 and restored in 1992 it is now a very upmarket place. The same goes for Teatro Colon, stunning!! Constructed between 1880 and 1908, I understand that it romantically opened with Aida! I can just walk and stare, I had no idea there were so many stunning buildings in Buenos Aires (must be the valuer coming out in me).
We took a train ride to Tigre (less than 3 Rand for the return ticket) and spent the day wondering around this peaceful settlement on the Parana river delta. There’s just sooo much here one can do with little money that I can’t think of a better place to wait for my new bank card to be delivered (although it’s taking somewhat longer than expected). We had our own little picnic in the park and then took the train back to the city.
Still there are loads of free things to do in Buenos Aires like visiting the Recoleta Cemetorio. Quite an amazing cemetery with loads of statues and crypts, all of course for the rich and famous of their time. The most visited grave must surely be that of Evita, as there were so many tourists that we could hardly get close.
Of course nothing is ever perfect, as Ernest and I are getting on each other’s nerves being cooped up in a room for such a long time. Ha, ha, I guess we’re just meant to be out on the road cycling.
Food-wise however, I’m in seventh heaven in this meat-eating country. I discovered this most amazing vegetarian take-way place right next door to our hotel!! Owned by Chinese people it was the most delicious food I have eaten since China - I was in there twice a day!! I was getting bored with the very Argentinean breakfast (included in the room price) of coffee and croissant! They’re just not big breakfast eaters in this country. And just in case that was not enough there was Ugi’s on the corner, the cheapest pizzas in town. They only sell one thing and that is Mozzarella Pizzas - and you pay 50 cents extra for the take-way box!
In the meantime I was still scanning the shops for a camera as I got some good tips from my cousin Ansie and my friend Kathy in what to look for. I also ordered new glasses at an optician around the corner – but I can only get all those things once I get my sweaty paws on my money! Come on Nedbank how long can this card take to arrive?!
The bank card eventually arrived on the 25th but was not activated, so I had to contact Nedbank again, who said they’ll come back to me the next morning to activate the card….give me strength!!! In the meantime we had some excitement at our hotel, as we discovered to our horror that the guest in the room next door had died. Something strange was going on as the police were in and out the entire day. I did not ask any questions, but felt that they could at least have closed the door or pulled a sheet over the body.
26 February - Buenos Aires
The bank phoned me back in the early hours of the morning to inform me that the card was unlocked. There was hardly time for breakfast as I was keen to pick up my new glasses. We took a walk to the ferry ticket office to purchase our tickets for the following day to Uruguay. Then it was off to the camera shops to see what they had in stock. None of the latest models where available, and in the end I settled for the Lumix.
27 February - Buenos Aires, Argentina – Colonia, Uruguay - By ferry
We were up rather early to start packing and get the bikes out of the storeroom where they were resting for the past 12 days. Then it was off to the harbour to check out through immigration and board the ferry. We took the slow ferry which took 3-hours instead of the more expensive fast ferry.
It was smooth sailing across the huge Rio de la Plata estuary all the way to Colonia, Uruguay, where we arrived in the heat of the day. Colonia dates back to 1680 and is now a Unesco World heritage site. We cycled past the old city gate, through the old city with its cobblestone streets and down to the old harbour. Eventually we headed for the local campsite. We were a little shocked at the price and the quality of the facilities and there and then decided to wild camp from then on.