Another excellent writeup by Paper Trail Tramp!
After the long haul from Ushuaia to Peninsula de Valdez and then to Mendoza, I took a much needed two week break to visit family in Buenos Aires and Rosario, leaving the bikes stashed at an acquaintance’s house in Mendoza. Tom took the opportunity to explore the Andes around Mendoza for the first week, avoiding the city (not to mention family!) chaos of Buenos Aires. He joined me in Rosario for the second week.
Since mid-June, I’ve only spent 10 days with my family (at Christmas time, between Australia and flying to South America), so having the opportunity to see them in Buenos Aires was perfect. Although we all came down with the same bug and spent much of the time in bed or around the diningroom table at the apartment my parents’ rented, we were still able to fit in some fun at the park, visit with relatives, and enjoy a couple outings to our favorite B.A. restaurants before it was time for me to head back to Mendoza and continue northwards.
The food quality wasn’t as spectacular as I remember it being in Buenos Aires, but it was still good, and very cheap. In Argentina in general we could often get huge toasted sandwiches with veggies, eggs and cheese for only $2 bucks, and surprisingly, I’m still not sick of them. On another occasion, Tom ordered a “parrilla” (a zoo of animals on a small grill brought with red hot coals directly to the table), two salads, bread, dips, a couple empanadas, and a glass of good Mendoza red wine that turned out to be massive (half liter, at least, of which I could only drink 1/3), for only $11 bucks total.
In the northern Argentine province of Salta, we stayed at an incredible oasis in the mountains called Hostel La Paya, which was one of the best culinary experiences we had in Argentina. Not a hostel at all but a grand old adobe house built in 1877 in the mountains, it is now run as a hotel and winery by an elderly couple and their adult daughter. It was a bit of a splurge given our small budgets, but worth every penny and ridiculously cheap for the value. For $65, we had a beautifully appointed and quiet room, a gigantic master bathroom gorgeously tiled and with big fluffy white towels (my Achilles heel when it comes to hotels!), and a 100% home-made dinner featuring a regional and delicious fresh corn soup, meat and vegetable empanadas, fresh homemade bread, a large vegetable omelet, a traditional scrambled egg, milk, sugar and vanilla dessert (sounds strange, but amazingly good), and as much of their vineyard wine as I could handle (which turned out to be two glasses). We even had our own personal waitress, as we were the only guests. The breakfast table was even more spectacular: Fresh yogurt, butter and cheese made in the region, homemade cakes, breads, jams and jellies, ‘tuna’ fruit from a cactus grown on their property as well as grapes, pears, sliced meats, and endless quantities of tea, quality coffee and fresh juice. All on a shady terrace overlooking the pool and mountains, with the house cat wrapped around our ankles. I would have loved to stay another day, but we had a big road to tackle and it was time to go.
The water rushed by cold and fast, and like a dog that’s scared of swimming, I padded back and forth at the river’s edge, waiting for the courage to make the plunge and swim for it. Or in this case, ride my tiny motorcycle to the other side. When I set out to do this part of Ruta 40 in the arid northwestern corner of Argentina, I didn’t expect to find myself fording rivers. But here I was, and it was time to take the plunge. This was not a hot summer day, but a fall afternoon ride that would take us 175km to biting air up 16,000 feet in the Andes range. With wet gear. Tom, standing in the river to find the best route, gave me the thumbs up and indicated like one of those guys in neon vests and light sabers on airport runways. I opened the throttle and bombed into the river, excited at the depth and chill of the icy current. Keeping my eyes up (and well away from that little rapid and drop off just a few feet away), I gunned it across and found myself emerging on the other bank unscathed. We would do this half a dozen more times by the end of the afternoon.
The ride was slow and hard going. I felt like Fred Flintstones peddling my little Honda up the side of the biggest mountains I’ve ever traveled over. Even well before approaching the summit at 16,000 feet, I was as out of breathe as my bike. I knocked her into 1st gear and slowly, slowly jerked forward until I reached flatter ground. Flat ground quickly turned vertical and I spent the next couple of hours fiddling with the fuel intake and coaxing the girl up and around hairpin turns and narrow switchbacks along cliff edges until at last, staggering to the top and frozen through, we snapped a few hasty pictures and hurried towards the decent in the dying light of day. Of the 175km of dirt road we would ride that day between Cachi and San Antonio de Cobres, we still had another 50km before reaching civilization. The last thing I wanted was to be caught having to camp in the cold alpine altiplano with damp gear and plain noodles for dinner.
By evening, we had only seen one other vehicle, two shepherds, a handful of inquisitive chinchillas and a few hundred startled llamas, their long puckered faces turned towards us and ears perked up high. By nightfall, we were following a dusty road when my headlight fizzled out, just before rounding the bend to the lights of a dusty town in the valley below.
It was the most beautiful and desolate ride of these last 12,000km through Chile and Argentina, and even though I write this just a few days later, it feels like it could have been weeks ago. The density of experiences each day pushes even recent adventures far back in memory, but certainly not to be forgotten.