We made it as far as the town of Cafayete, a few days riding from Salta before Charmian had to make her second visit to a South American hospital, she was not having too much luck with this bike touring thing. This time it was with stomach problems, a course of anti-biotics and some recovery time would see her right. This however left me with a few days of waiting so I decided to get on my bike and ride, a great opportunity to be in the beautiful Calchaqui valley and ride up the Cuesta del Obispo.
15th November – El Carril to Payogasta
I took a bus from Cafayete back up to El Carril, a route we had already riden on bicycle. From El Carril I turned on to a smaller road that took me through fertile valleys, dotted with vineyards, I was waved on by farm workers as I sailed past.
There is plenty of shade at the beginning….
… I then enter the dry valley and begin to climb in the relentless heat.
Such a dry landscape does lend itself to dramatic views.
Up and round I go.
I stop to chat to some of these Gauchos who are on their way to a fiesta.
Better take a photo of myself sweating up the mountain.
Winding through the valley I then begin the climb known as the Cuesta del Obispo. After having bike toured in Peru it is hard to find a climb that really scratches the itch I now have for a good honest switch-backed climb, still, the cuesta was quite pretty.
I continue to snake round the mountains, 64km and 2745m of climbing later I finally reach the top, there are lots of false summits just to add some frustration. With bike touring you have to learn to pace yourself, because you know you have to get up the following day and ride again, however with this climb I gave it all of my energy, knowing I did not have to ride the following day if I didn´t want to, it was really fun to just go all out.
Then a gradual descent down to Payogasta in the fading day light, through Los Cardones National Park.
16th November – Payogasta to Cachi
In Payogasta I find a fancy looking hotel with ample green space outside, they let me camp next to the river and I sleep like a baby, they even let me use their spa bathroom facilities. I wake pretty late so decide to ride no more than the 12km to Cachi.
My first views of the Calchaqui valley.
I am now riding on the famous ruta national 40. The road runs the length of the country parallel to the Andes, all the way down to Ushuaia, my destination. You can see if I now take this road the whole way to the end I would only have the marked distance left to ride.
It is Sunday and when I arrive in the touristy yet relaxed Cachi I make a bee-line to the women selling empenadas on the plaza. These are cheese, olive and spring onion, I am not sure why I only ate four of them. I relax for the rest of the afternoon in the plaza and then the municipal campsite.
17th November – Cachi to Molinos
The morning begins the same as the previous day, with lush green valley views.
Cactus here are sometimes called cardones. This one has more points than a Hannukah menorah candelabrum.
The beauty even shows itself amongst spikes and barbed wire.
Another Gauchito Gil.
The parrot´s cries add the soundtrack for the days riding.
Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out on the mid-day sun, everyone else is in the shade it seems.
Into the afternoon the road heads away from the river and the greens are swapped for duller shades, still dramatic though. I have a bad afternoon, my gear cable snaps which means I have to push up the slightest incline. After that things just literally fall apart- my pink cycling top gets a massive rip with over use, my headphones get caught in my wheel and break and then the arm on my glasses fall off. I was also sad following quite a scary experience in the campsite in Cachi. I sit for an hour and contemplate trying to get a lift back to Cafayete but instead I trump for a guest house in Molinos and decide to ride the following day.
18th November – Molinos to Cafayete
I am glad I did not abandon this route quite yet, it´s a stunner.
Distant snow capped peaks, I think of Nathan riding in the puna the other side of this cordillera.
For several months prior to this most of my blogs have been filled with pictures of high altitude dry landscapes where nothing much grows; about this my mum told me that she was not really into the landscapes I was riding in, she wanted to see more greenery, beaches and the like, so the wild flowers reminded me of her.
Another one for you Mum…..
… and another.
I see beauty in even the simple scenes.
With the broken gear cable even the most gradual climbs mean that I have to get off and push, I know my ego should not rule but I will admit I feel like a pussy when a car passes me.
The route is dotted with small holdings and settlements.
As well as the occasional hacienda.
People have said that this is the highest altitude wine in the world, it also seems a miracle to me that these vines produce grapes in such a dry desert climate.
At lunch time I arrive at the village of Angastaco and it´s rock formations.
After lunch I am quite tired by all of the pushing and there is still quite a distance left to ride. This humble looking slope defeats me and some friendly tourists offer me a ride for the 50km to San Carlos, which is a great desision. I then ride the remaining 20km of paved road to Cafayete through the vineyards. I meet Charmian who having just finished her antibiotics is feeling a lot better, we go to get my bike fixed. Whilst we wait we head to Grido´s for ice cream, it is two for one Tuesday so it seems silly not to. What a lovely few days of riding.