Carry on down la cuarenta – life in the low lane, part 2

We have been continuing along Argentina’s Ruta 40.  It would be easy to say that there was nothing but pampa, and at times I did find this section a real challenge in a way that I have not experienced before. However, by addressing some lazy thinking and adjusting my expectations I did genuinely enjoy the ride. Rather than just put my head down in an attempt to gain southerly distance I tried to open my eyes and was able to appreciate the subtle changes that have spanned the 3 weeks and around 1400km that this blog post covers. From the constant sweat and desert camps north of Mendoza, to hills and valleys, a freshness in the air and longer days now that we are further south. We have also had an introduction to the infamous Patagonian winds. I have been so glad to have Charmian for company, to laugh and keep things fun and to eat a lot of ice cream.

                                29th November – Chilecito to camp

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In Chilecito we had stayed with the wonderful warmshowers host Jorge.

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We are told that Chilecito has the longest cable car in the world, so we checked this out on our way out of town, where there is also a museum dedicated to this.  The cable cars were used to link the mines in the mountains to the city down below.

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Good old Gauchito Gil protecting us en route.

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We had planned to take the Cuesta de Miranda but were told that the road was closed to traffic due to road works. We decided to give it a try anyway and the construction workers let us pass. I was looking forward to this climb but it was a foggy day so there was not that much to see.

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Making our way through the road works, although the fog obscured the views it meant that it was not as hot and sweaty as it had been down in Chilecito.

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Disfunta Correa shrine.

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There were a few sections that required lifting our bikes. Argentinian machoism came in handy as these guys insisted on lifting for us.

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Mike had told me when they passed they had to carry their bikes over dynamite, seems as though we got off lightly then. The plan is to totally pave the road.

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On the descent we were treated to some better views.  We found a place to stay at a kiosco / home, this was actually really useful as the kind lady, Mercedes let us use her stove as ours had given up working that night, the pump is broken.

                         30th November- camp to Villa Union

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Goodbye Mercedes, thank you.

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A gentle descent through some interesting red rocks.

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Then it´s flat all the way to Villa Union.

Typical Ruta 40 scene.

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Parque Nacional Talampaya near Villa Union is an important Paleontoligical site. We do not visit as we hear entry is expensive, this photo is enough.

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Grido Helado, the ice cream chain in Argentina offers good weight to peso value. We usually get a quarter of a kg each which costs 22pesos (just a bit over 1 British pound if you get your pesos on the black market). I look quite happy . Flavours – tramamonta, mint choc chip and dulce de leche with brownie.

                              1st December – Villa Union to desert camp

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We had arrived in Villa Union before lunch but the shops were already closed, so we waited around until 6pm when siesta finishes so that we could buy our food. We camp in the town but it was a mistake as the campsite was a horrible rip off. Nice views out of town though.

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We meet Ecuadorian motorcyclist Roberto who is very postive and excited. He is from Tumbaco, the town the casa ciclista is located in. He has ridden down to Ushuaia and is now on his way back up, visiting all the places he missed out on his way down.  Often think about all the places I would go to if I had a chance to go back up.

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The edge of Talampaya.

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Straight on!  We find a desert camp off the road that night.

                          2nd December – desert camp to restaurant near Jachal

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I have really enjoyed camping in the desert and looking at the stars. Charm limbers up for another day on the 40.

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We see this French hitch hiker who got bored of waiting for a ride and had already walked over 20km from the last town. We wish him luck on finding a ride as it is hot and dry out there and around 50km to the next town, he is happy though.

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We stop for lunch in Huaco, with a broken stove we get some cooked food for lunch, otherwise we have been eating sandwiches twice a day.

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A dull and hot afternoon of riding. This section had been freshly tarmaced thanks to a mining company, although it didn´t seem to be getting much use.

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We meet these father and son cyclists who insist on riding with us. The Dad annoys me intensly, when he finds out I am British, he asks if I am here to invade them, he mentions the Malvinas on several occasions, in the end I get angry with him and tell him off about his stupid remarks.

                            3rd December – Jachal to Talacasto

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We decided not to head into the town of Jachal as it would involve a 8km detour in each direction. We camp by a little restaurant run by friendly Miguel.

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Another long hot day of riding. Here we had an option of taking a quieter road that went further west, and closer to the Andes but we were running out of time to collect a package in Mendoza, having lost a week in Cafayete when Charmian was poorly.  Instead we opt to take the 40 all the way to Mendoza.

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Colours come as a welcome change of scene.

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Yep, this is the 40.

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The shade of a tree means snooze time.

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We ride on to Talacasto which is bascically a service station. They are a friendly bunch and we camp behind the building.

                            4th December – Talacasto to Mendoza

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Heading out of Talacasto service station.

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We arrive in the city of San Juan before lunch. It is only 156km to Mendoza but I can not face the 2 days of riding that it will take, the 10km of dual carriageway leading into San Juan is enough for me. I call time on this section and we get a bus. It is the only time on this trip I have taken another mode of transport to further myself south, and the only time I have wanted to, we should not have been on that horrible road.

                         5th to 8th December- Mendoza

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A bench I liked in Mendoza.  We find a good couch surfing host in Mendoza and our time is spent route planning, doing bike repairs, sending a package and making a replacement stove and buying money on the black market.  Mendoza was a hot place and getting jobs done was difficult due to siesta times, a bank holiday long queues for everything as it normal in Argentina.  It seemed like a nice city.

                              9th December – Mendoza to San Carlos

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We took a more residential road out of the city to avoid any busy dual carriageways.

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This took us through Mendoza´s famous vineyards, parallel with the Andes.

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There was even a bike route for a section.

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We stopped for a late afternoon Grido and decide to bash out another 40km to the town of San Carlos. Here I am excited about a new flavour – chocolate and peanut butter, which I have alongside white chocolate.

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First night using our beer can stove, all good.

                    10th December – San Carlos to camp

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Looking good Charm.

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Chortle, chortle.

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20km on from San Carlos we arrive in Paraditas, where there are 3 route options. The paved road which goes via San Rafael goes the long way round, the ruta 40 which is paved for the first 40km and then a bad combination of sand and corrugation, or the option that we took which is the old 40. The surface is bad at times but the road is quiet and the views are nice enough.

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Horses for company.

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It is up hill and there is plenty of pushing involved, progress is slow.

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I push more on this road than on any other route so far. It is great when we can finally ride again.

                       11th December- camp to camp

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The previous night we found a great little camp spot, there were so many shooting stars, we later find out that this was a meteor shower.

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Camp views.

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I get distracted by this furry catapillar whilst brushing my teeth which results in this weird selfie.

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This little dude.

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We continue up to the high point. The road is then undulating, the surface is a lot more rideable than the previous day.

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We see no cars that day, just beautiful flowers…

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…. and lots of catapillars.

                          12th December – camp to Malague

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The following morning we arrive at the small village which is mainly made up of several service stations, we then make our way to Malague.

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The 50km only takes a few hours but we are happy for a shorter day.

                      13th December- Malague to Bardas Blancas

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We avoid municipal campsites as much as possible as there are usually more people there to have asados (barbeques) than there are campers. These asados don´t kick off until around 10pm as Argentinians have a habit of eating very late. It is also a Friday night, we are therefore strategic in choosing our camp spot and only set the tent up around 9pm as it is getting dark when we are confident that everyone has already began prepping their asados. We are successful and have a good nights sleep, unlike some other cyclists camping who told us that they were in the midst of the fiesta.

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Looks like an Argentinian flag, but if you look a little closer you will notice the silhouette of The Falklands. At the beginning of our time in Argentina we would sympathise with Argies whenever the subject of the islands was brought up, after all they are not exactly close to Britain. However after being subject to this political propaganda we see on signs all the time declaring Las Malvinas belong to Argentina, and people (even children) wearing t-shirts declaring the same we are getting pretty tired about all this delusional crap. The Argentine economy is struggling for breath and I can only assume that the government is trying to direct anger away from themselves by creating this collective anger about the Malvinas. A little bit of research tells you that the islands have never been Argentine territory, and it was them who invaded the islands beginning the war that took place 32 years ago before I was even born.

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Heading out of Chos Malal, we don´t actually leave town until lunch time.

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There is some good climbing to be done that day.

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It is a cold descent and we have little water cleaning break from the wind….

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… and a chance to eat Argentina´s finest biscuit, the Toddy.

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By 6pm we arrive in Bardas Blancas, the hosteria offers camping and we sleep in one of the disused buildings to shelter from the rain.

                 14th December- Bardas Blancas to camp past El Zampal

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Rafael is very kind and gives us toffees to send us on our way, he asks me to stay and be his wife. His shop is well stocked, we even buy 96% alcohol for our stove.

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Leaving Bardas Blancas behind…

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… it is green as we continue riding in the valley….

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…past some interesting rock formations.

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Time for a biscuit break, it is Frutigrans today.

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The road is quiet and the views are pleasant.

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I´d love to say we took this track.

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As we get higher it becomes drier.

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The tarmac disapears for ripio which lasts around 40km.

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Through lava fields.

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We have a place called El Zampal on the map which is just one house. We fill up with water from the Rio Grande and carry on for a few kiometres into head wind before setting up camp out of site from the road. We have done over 90km and we are tired. Good camp, apart from a tent pole cracks, argh, all of my stuff is falling apart!

                     15th December – El Zampal to Barrancas

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My wanders around the camp produce these interesting rocks, quite a collection.

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We hit the road.

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We are invited by some gauchos to drink mate. We know sharing mate is a symbol of friendship but we just do not like the taste. They tell us they are looking for girlfriends, we tell them they are probably looking in the wrong place.

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Down, round and up, back on the tarmac now. Past the sleeping village of Ranquil Norte.

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We cross a regional border before Barrancas which means we are now officially in the region of Patagonia. No typical Patagonian scenes here though.

                         16th  – 17th December – Barrancas to Chos Malal

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We take a dirt road detour through El Tromen Parque Provincial. I wrote a whole blog post about it which you can read here.

                           18th and 19th December – Chos Malal

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We had not had a rest day since Mendoza so arrived in Chos Malal pretty tired. Although the campsite was clean and the spots looked ideal we were kept awake til gone midnight with people having asados, it was not even the weekend! There was also excessive flood lighting on the site which was not really conducive to a good nights sleep. We had a few jobs to do in Chos Malal, mainly laundry and some kit repairs. On the second night we thought, if you can´t beat them join them, and we drank some wine. I think the second litre carton was a mistake. I woke up the next day feeling pretty awful and it was incredibly windy, so we decided to stay put another day.

                        20th December – Chos Malal to Casa Nuestra

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The wind was down the morning we left Chos Malal.

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Shrine to San Expedito.

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Up we go!

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Some directionally confused overtaking signs – don´t overtake the British?

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The wind arrives around 4pm making progress slow. It is early but we decide to stop at the only shop we see on the side of the road that day. We buy some food we don´t really need and ask if we can sleep in one of their disused buildings to shelter from the wind. It is beginning to get cold at night now.

                          21st December- Casa Nuestra to Las Lajas

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Leaving our home for the night.

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Subtle changes to the colours of the bushes on the pampa. The wind is so strong all day, we have to work hard for each kilometre.

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Our days on the Ruta 40 are now numbered.

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It looks so tranquil but it was so windy, I find Charmian sheltering here. We push on to Las Lajas, it is really exhausting.

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The campsite in Las Lajas is closed, but Guillermo Catalan is out on a bike ride, he stops to chat to us and says that we can come and stay at his house. He is a keen cyclist and takes in touring cyclists when he finds them in his town. We had a lovely evening chatting, he insisted we drink Fernet Branca, Argentina´s national liquor on our last night in the country. A great guy, always smiling and full of energy.

                      22nd December – Las Lajas (Arg) to Liucara (Chile)

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We are tired, so it is hard to force ourselves to get on the road that morning. From the outset the 1000m paved gradual climb up to the border crossing of Pino Hachado is beautiful.

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Along we go.

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We were very lucky that the wind did not come out to play that day.

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Our first views of the monkey puzzle trees.

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Some beautiful thistles.

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It is stunning up here.

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Monkey puzzles.

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Charmian is waiting for me at the Argentine customs. We stamp out and continue climbing, it is around 8km of boring no-mans land up to the pass. It´s goodbye for now to the land of siestas, gregarious people, late night asados and pampa.

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Welcome to Chile! After the pass it´s a few km of descent to Chilean customs.

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It is our third time entering Chile and each time we have to sign a declaration that we are bringing no fresh produce into the country. Our bags are then put through scanners for any contraband such as an apple you might be trying to sneak past them! I realise afterwards that I had this long life cheese in my bag, oops!

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We cycle down through the Alto Bio Bio Parque Nacional. It is a stunner and we will be making our way back there to check it out when we have more energy. We descend to the small village of Liucara where the police offer us beds in a disused dormatory, our first bed since we left Chilecito nearly 4 weeks ago.

 

4 thoughts on “Carry on down la cuarenta – life in the low lane, part 2

  1. Lauren

    I especially love that this blog contains marriage proposals, chat ups and cherry putting an argumentative Argentinian back in his box. Beautiful photos too

  2. Danielle Ramsey

    Hi Cherry,
    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you are awesome!! True explorer extraordinaire! Are you heading all the way down to Torres Del Paine? If you get the opportunity do the w-trek (if you fancy a good walk after your cycling). The Erratic Rock hostel in Porto Natales is a good pit-stop before the trip. Also I hope El Chalten and Fitzroy are on your list together with taking a look Perito Moreno Glacier, ah soo many beautiful places to see in Patagonia. Oh and so many beautiful patagonian men, enjoy the eye candy!
    Danielle xxx

    1. Cherry Post author

      Yes Dannielle, we will go to TDP, dont think I will do the trek as time and money is such an issue at the moment, but I think riding my bike through the national park will still be incredible. Yes, I think there is a woman who let´s cyclists camp for free in her garden in El Chalten so hopefully I can hire some walking books and explore. Very exciting. Thanks for all your encouragement, I can not wait to hear about your Arctic adventures.

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