Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Segment 51: Mendoza, Argentina to Pucon, Chile (January 10 - 30, 2012)

Onward from Mendoza: this segment was to be outrageous in its diversity of experience: half in Argentina, half in Chile; part in desert, part in high Andes volcanic plateau, part in forest; some on uncrowded paved highway, quite a bit on rugged rough dirt roads, some on crowded superhighway, some on crowded secondary highway; from burning sun to pouring rains...

leaving Mendoza we were invited by the Sarmiento family in Chacras de Coria for dinner and to spend the night.  Muchas gracias, linda gente!

unfortunately our puncture problems continued while heading south of Mendoza

in Argentina, tire repair shops are called gomerias

at this gomeria in Tunuyán we were invited for a mid-afternoon cerveza by the guys at the shop... who also fixed our  6-7 punctures (between the two of us) without charge

this was bound to happen sooner or later: sleeping in a vineyard

vineyards backed by the snowy high Andes, a common sight along this stretch

banner seen outside an apple orchard.  Citizens banded against corporate mining.  Most large-scale mining is so destructive to water quality (locally, and in general) in the short and long term that the residents of this area have chosen vineyards, orchards, and livestock raising over mining.

a curious sight: mini-shrines to Difunta Correa, San Expedito, and Gauchito Gil, all together

from Pareditas we continued on Hwy. 40, which became a sandy, washboarded track for the next 160km or so

sunrise out in the remoteness

truth be told, we weren't too excited to be cycling in so much desert, still...

this crazy-looking huge bearded jackrabbit (roadkill specimen seen here) is called a vizcacho

...no traffic here, we had some fun riding moments on this remote little-travelled part of 40...

unlike north of Mendoza, these rivers actually have water, crisp cold water.  we took full advantage of this to cool off.

on this day we rode 115km or more, all on rough gravel and sand, zero shade, with plenty of climbing, in high heat, and with majority stiff headwind...
Cerro Diamante in the distance

Argentina has plenty of vintage, weird cars like this one; this at one of the two or three ranches we passed along this route

we'd do anything for a break from the hot sun, here crossing the Rio Diamante

climbing up from the Rio Diamante, big sky country

hard to believe, but the famous 40 was no more than an overgrown jeep track here, complete with grass growing in the road.

without a doubt, dusk and dawn are the best moments in the Argentine precordillera

tarantula spotted in the road

we started at 6 AM, rode all day long, and having ridden the last 2 hours in the dark, we arrived at El Sosneado at 12:30 A.M., completely exhausted.  All this to meet up with our next cycling guest...

Greg Altman, old university friend of Jeff's, has come to Argentina to cycle from here to Ushuiaia.  Greg cycled from Ghana to Cameroun with Jeff in 2005-6, besides various other adventures over the years.

female Northern Harrier

horseflies were so bad that in this area that we hunkered down for an afternoon and hid from them

this group of Chilean guys invited us for asado and gifted us a bottle of wine

we spent a stormy night in a spare room at a friendly roadside shop, cooked dinner on alcohol stoves, and drank the bottle of wine the Chileans had given us.             

Greg looking mean

here we are heading up towards Las Leñas, from which we plan to cross into Chile.  We have heard that Chile is green, with water everywhere, and forests, and there are towns and people and provisions; in fact sounds like a paradise compared to the Argentine precordillera... (we had previously thought to enter Chile from Mendoza, but the highways there are very crowded and truck-heavy)

meat tourism

idyllic scene at Los Molles

(photo Greg Altman)

Well, we arrived at Las Leñas (normally a ski resort but now a summer getaway for Argentinians), only to be told that there is no road to Chile from there (never has been), even though one appears on at least 4 maps we have studied, including National Geographic and various highway maps.  This is one of the hardest parts of cycling in South America: the maps are often incorrect, highway mileage signs are normally incorrect!, local people aren't always sure of the roads and often contradict each other, police and military are marginally reliable sources of information... in the end you are kind of on your own.  So, we turned tail and returned to Hwy. 40, afer a 100km detour... browbeaten, tired of so much desert... 

map clearly showing the non-existent road

(we later found out from an American/Chilean motorcyclist, days later and hundreds of kilometers south, that there IS in fact a way across from above Las Leñas, including two deep river fords and following numerous cattle tracks.  But nobody at Las Leñas knew about this, or anybody else for that matter) 

(photo Greg Altman)

at least the cycling was easy on 40, now paved again, heading towards Malargue

this sad sight was Greg's guitar.  This is truly Chinese crap.  It didn't last two full days on the bike, on paved roads.  Too bad, because three guitars was quite nice.

leaving Malargue, this wine is earmarked for Greg's birthday the following day

dusk colors on Hwy 40 south of Malargue

this was to be the dramatic, aesthetic swan song of the guitar, Hendrix-style, up in flames in the Argentine desert on a clear starry night. 

the inscrutable and inconsistent 40 here resembles a crumbling Gambian or Angolan highway

we followed this river (Rio Grande) for a good spell, asking ourselves if the desert would ever end...

Tom encountered this goat skull in a memorable campsite, named it "El espiritu del desierto" (the spirit of the desert) and attached it to his bicycle, swearing to keep it until our desert days were over (hopefully soon).  Seems the desert had completely infiltrated our fragile psyches by this point, had us prisoners in fact.

only 2820 more km till the end of 40.  In any case we are going to jump ship and head to Chile at first chance.

we started seeing big snowy volcanoes along here

the lack of shade was killing us, though, day after day

this culvert was the ONLY shade we found all day, so we crawled up in here for a long siesta

little by little the landscapes were changing... this lake marks a soon-arrival in the Lakes District

great late-afternoon light

flying downhill at high speeds to great sunset skies is a highlight of the precordillera

when we entered Neuquen province, it seems we had officially arrived in Patagonia (photo Greg Altman)

nearing Buta Ranquil on the way to Chos Malal

this guy is praying to Difunta Correa here, just outside of Buta Ranquil

vast low-scrub landscapes are the theme here

most of this segment south of Malargue featured these colorful parrots: Burrowing Parrots, in Spanish known as Loro Tricahue

descending down towards Chos Malal

we were hosted by the friendly firemen in Chos Malal while we rested for the better part of two days. 

it seems we found our salvation in Chos Malal, an escape to Chile via Paso Picachén, a several hundred kilometer dirtroad route over the cordillera and down to Antuco, Chile.

this pass was originally opened in 1806.

late afternoon here brought some amazing lenticular clouds with iridescent fringes

opening up what must be our thousandth alfajor already... one of the world's greatest locally-found cycling snacks

beginning the long steady undulating climb towards the border, invigorated by thoughts of leaving the desert

it seems incredible, but this was Jeff's 42nd puncture in Argentina, occurring in the day's last moments of light while we still hadn't located a campspot.

steep climbing the following morning

...spectacular vistas and light shows opened up as we climbed...

just outside El Cholar, a shrine to omnnipresent Gauchito Gil

in El Cholar we went to the town park, and were immediately besieged by a group of great local kids.  We invented a long myth involving Espiritu del Desierto for which they showed intense curiosity.

they played our guitars...

... taught us some Argentinian folk guitar style...

... and even brought us homemade empanadas by Grandma!  Empanadas are an Argentinian staple as well, basically a smaller simpler version of an English pasty.  Folded dough over a meat-based filling, fried.

Southern Lapwing, very common bird in these parts

onwards from El Cholar

(photo Greg Altman)

striking colors and landscapes all through here

woodfire cooking with three pots... our fare at this point usually involves a pasta starter (to remove the insane hunger that we have after riding all day, so that we can then concentrate on really cooking dinner).  Main dish tends to be brown rice, bulgur wheat, or lentil-based, usually with a veggie soup accompaniment.

our campsite at Rio Reñileuvu

funky bug, one of various sorts of bizarre insects we have encountered

male (right) and female (left) Chilean Torrent Ducks hunting in the rapids

... now really heading towards the pass...

this was really fun riding at times.  We left Espiritu del Desierto here in fact, as it was becoming evident that we were poised to leave the desert...

our first encounter with a Monkey Puzzle Tree on this trip.  This was a beautiful specimen.  It seemed to mark our exit from the desert.

... the final climb to the pass at 2060m...

on the border

an evening storm rolled in and we were forced to camp in a scrub thicket...

it was clear the following morning, with snowy peaks in the near distance

... these two images represent a fraction of the torture Greg creates for himself, and transfers, while packing his bike...
somehow a 30-minute task evolves into a 90-minute ordeal, with a thousand-and-one plastic bags, small plastic bottles, various rags and doodads strewn across the scene, later to be meticulously returned to the bicycle.

we couldn't complain about the weather or the scenery (photo Greg Altman)

wow! (photo Greg Altman)

surreal scenes as we pass these gorgeous peaks.  But have we left the desert?   This whole area is a vast volcanic plateau.  There is, however, lots of water about.

just after clearing Chilean customs (photo Greg Altman)
loose sandy washboard road

(photo Greg Altman)
we passed through Parque Nacional Laguna de Laja

riding through not-too-old lava flows in the park

finally!  green forests, raging rivers, humid air, waterfalls!  after nearly 10 weeks in the desert (since the altiplano of Bolivia in November)... (photo Greg Altman)

descending through green hills

this whole area heading towards Antuco was blanketed in tree plantations, monoculture-style.

fresh blackberries found roadside as we connect dirt roads to Santa Bárbara

leaving Santa Bárbara we crossed this giant river, the Rio Bio-Bio, which is the second-longest and the widest in Chile.

locals in Mulchén

we met these Chilean cyclists in Collipulli.  The one on the left is riding a single-speed 28-inch wheel vintage bike he got in Venezuela.  Called "Delfin" (Dolphin), he has been travelling 12 years around South America, mostly on bicycle. 

Chile is full of nauseating promotion for agrochemicals, transgenics, what have you.  Sadly, it seems the country is a vast colony of Monsanto and its cronies. 

putting fresh roadside blackberries to use, in morning oatmeal

unfortunately, we were obliged to ride a 150km-or-so stretch of Chile's principal highway, Carretera 5, which runs from Arica in the north of the country to the southern city of Puerto Montt, one of the world's longest highways.  It is a screaming 24/7 train of 18-wheelers and assorted vehicles, fuelling Chile's economy.  Might as well be I-80 somewhere in Illinois.  Not ideal riding.  Thankfully it has a comfortable and safe wide shoulder.  But we rode as fast as possible to get off this thing as quick as we could. 

now on the road to Villarica and Pucon.  Unfortunately, Chile has followed a very capitalist development strategy, which results in lots of ugly roadside advertising, like this.  Very different from Argentina.

... our campsite in a forested meadow near Villarica...

hawks about

Conifer trees all around, shade, cool air.  We can hardly believe it.

this road to Villarica, however, was choked with loads of holiday traffic.  Chilean roads in this region are fast and crowded!

logging and timber industry near Villarica

now in Pucon, Greg prepared a fine dinner for us at The Summit Hostel, with fish and roasted vegetables.  We rested in Pucon for three days, while it rained endlessly.  Endlessly.  (photo Greg Altman)


Doug said...

Too bad about Greg's ill-fated guitar....but at least you got to enjoy the heat from the fire.....
Good going, guys....fantastic scenery. Can't wait to meet up in Ushuaia.....
Chris & Doug

Rodolfo said...

Mis amigos! Jeff y Jason, posiblemente no me recuerden, nos conocimos en la Malinche, México. Muy chido viaje muchachos!