I should explain, the ruta 40 (or la cuarenta as it is usually just referred to here) is a road that travels the length of Argentina running parallel with the Andes, and would be our road from Salta down to Mendoza.
After a conversation with my Dad about riding Argentina´s famous ruta 40, reminding him that this was the road that Ernesto ´Che´Guevara took in the film the motorcycle diaries, he said it would be like going on a road trip. That is how I am trying to think of this mainly flat, mainly tarmaced, and always hot ruta 40, that I am on a road trip. It is a time to engage with music, to day dream, to appreciate the fast kilometres that I am able to ride; the road is easy, so no need to carry much extra food or water and moral is kept high with ice cream stops, long siesta lunches and wonderful locals. Life is not bad at all, it´s just really different from the high altitude dirt roads and Andean mountain culture of Peru and Bolivia. We cycle tourists are like chameleons, adapting to our ever changing environments. I realise too that this life of tarmac roads, desert heat, and crushing long distances is probably what I imagined bike touring to be before I began this trip, and also how I started out back in Mexico.
With less engaging riding there is course a fine line between day dreaming and letting your mind wander too far from the place you are. I find that I now think more frequently about the future, where will I be for Christmas? When will I book my flight home? When will I go home? What will I do when I get there? Each night we can look at the map and see our progress south, and each kilometre the distance markers on the road tell us how far less we have to travel to get to Ushuaia.
8th November – Campo Quejano to Rosario de Lerma
We left our hostel on the ourskirts of Salta late in the afternoon and stopped only 18km later in the village of Rosario de Lerma. Whilst looking for a municipal campsite we stopped to ask Rafael for directions. Rafael said we could actually come and sleep in his outhouse which sounded like a good idea to us. An incredibly kind hearted person he bought us biscuits and told us the story of how he fled the facist Pinochet ruled Chile over 30 years ago and planned on waiting here for a few weeks before he could get asylum in Australia, instead he set up home with his family here. His son´s family came over to meet us and took us out for a beer in the town square, his son organises mountain bike events so he was keen to talk to us about our cycling trip, and it was late before we went to bed. A great night to begin our cycle south in Argentina. Here I am wearing a t-shirt and medal given to us by his son Jaime.
Charmian was singing “we are all going on a summer holiday” as we hit the road through tree lined farm land.
I am still really excited to see the colour green after so long in the alti-plano.
It was hot and sweaty work before we stopped at the village of Coronal Moldes to share a pot of dulce de leche.
The sign reads álso here the nation is growing´and someone has written below, like my love for the empenadas.
We enter the Quebrada de Cafayete after lunch sat in the plaza of La Viña. We had planned to go further but when we arrived at the small village of Alemania we decided to call it a day, the heat had beaten us. Here you can see Charmian riding across the bridge into the village.
Alemania, which means Germany in Spanish. We were allowed to camp to the side of the old railway station in the village.
10th November- Alemania to Cafeyete
We actually sleep quite horribly due to the heat, barking dogs and then cockerels early in the morning, still it is a great spot.
Out of Alemania for quite a spectacular day of riding through the Quedbrada de Cafayete. The valley was really hot.
I feel hot just looking at this photo and remembering how much we were sweating.
We stop in the small village of Santa Barbara for lunch, we only manage to find crackers and sweaty cheese as the lady running the restaurant is out of town, still it is enough to fuel our pedals to Cafayete.
11th – 15th and then 18th – 20th November – Cafayete
We find our way to the Huayra Sanipy Hostel where you can camp in the garden under the grape vines and use all the hostel facilities for a very good price. There is a buena onda here.
Apricots fall from a tree in the garden….
… and of course there are grapes growing above our tent.
This is a wine growing town, and 80 per cent of the people work in wine production, famous for its malbec and torrontes grapes. Wine is cheaper than water and there is a very good casa de empenadas to eat at. Life is good.
We stay the first day to relax in Cafayete, the second to be lazy, the third because Charmian is not well, she has had stomach problems since Bolivia, the fourth we go to the hospital as she just is not getting any better, and she is given some anti biotics. Poor thing, Charmian has only managed a few weeks of cycling touring since coming to meet me a couple of months ago. I head off on a bike ride for a few days to give her time to recover.
Pepo, centre who works at the hostel makes it a really nice place to be, he is an excellent chef and prepares shared dinners each night. Here we are making pasta.
Pepo, what a great guy. Another night he makes a spinach pie, cooked in the hostel´s wood oven outdoors.
20th November – Cafayete to Amaicha del Valle
We head out of Cafayete, through fields of vineyards and small villages.
The road side shrines of Argentina add some interest to the road. Disfunta Correa I am told was a woman who went wandering in the desert with her baby, looking for her missing husband. She died out there but when her body was found her baby was alive and said to be still suckling at her breast which was producing milk. Travelers leave her bottles of water and other travel related paraphenalia.
Late morning we take a 5km turn off to the ruins of Quilmes.
The village dates back to 800B.C and was a city of over 7,000 in habitants. We are told they resisted the Spanish conquistadores for 130 years, the longest resistance in Spanish colonial history.
When the Spanish finally defeated Quilmes they marched back to Buenos Aires and named a town to the south of the city after this place. Quilmes is also the name of Argentina´s most popular beer, named after the city near Buenos Aires.
Out here people work with the wood of the cacti, which I have never seen being done before.
We make it to the village of Amaicha del Valle that evening.
Where we visit the Pachamama museum. I thought it would be art related to worshiping of Pachamama, mother earth, but this seems more of a pretense as most of the museum is actually dedicated to the work of the artist and founder Hector Cruz. The garden is lovely though, just a shame it is not a public space.
21st November – Amaicha del Valle to desert camp
We stay in a very nice hostel who only charge us for camping, the breakfast however is not sufficient for a cyclist so we have a second, croissants and dulce de leche in the plaza.
The road is really dull and we are in and out of villages all day.
A Gauchito Gil shrine.
We leave the last of the villages and stock up with water, preparing for a night of wild camping. We then have a strong head wind whilst going up hill which is quite tough.
Any changes to the scenery are thrilling.
We find a good camp spot hidden from the road. It doesn´t get dark until 8.30pm so we are able to relax and cook in the day light which is incredible.
22nd November – desert camp to Puerta de San Jose
Signs of us having emerged from camp.
We hit the road.
The snow capped mountains feel like another world away.
I have a staring competition with these guys.
I stop to wee and see this little Gauchito Gil on a post, he is everywhere.
San Expedito is said to be protector of the travelers. These shrines are usually under trees so they make a good place to stop and rest.
Along to Hualfin the scenery becomes more interesting.
I keep forgetting to take photos, but in Hualfin we stop to chat to Juan who sets up a table and chairs outside his house so that we can relax in the shade. That evening we set up camp at the campsite in Puerta de San Jose which is a great place.
23rd November – Puerta de San Jose to Belen
It is only 12km to Belen through a beautiful valley.
Another Gauchito Gil shrine. I will explain now about this guy, he is not officially a saint recognised by the Catholic church but is treated as such here in Argentina. A gaucho is the name for a farm worker, usually on horse back here in Argentina. It is said that he fell in love with a wealthy widow. When her brothers and the head of the police (who was also in love with the widow) found out about their relationship, accused him of robbery and tried to kill him. He enlisted in the army to escape from them. In the army, he fought against the Paraguayan army. Finally, he could come back to his village as a hero. But, when he arrived at his village, he was forced to return to the army to fight in the Argentine Civil War. It was a brother versus brother war and “Gauchito” Gil was tired of fighting. Therefore, he decided to desert. During this time he became an outlaw and acquired a reputation as a Robin Hood figure, for his efforts to protect and help the needy. In the end the policemen caught him in the forest. They tortured him and hung him from his feet on an algarrobo tree. When a policeman was going to kill him, “Gauchito” Gil said to him: “Your son is very ill. If you pray and beg me to save your child, I promise you that he will live. If not, he will die”. Then the policeman killed “Gauchito” Gil by cutting his throat. That was 8th January, 1878. When the policemen came back to his village, the one who had killed “Gauchito” Gil learned that his child was in fact very ill. Very frightened, the policeman prayed to “Gauchito” Gil for his son. And afterwards, his son got better. Legend has it that “Gauchito” Gil had healed his murderer’s son. Very grateful, the policeman gave Gil’s body a proper burial, and built a tiny shrine for “Gauchito”. Moreover, he tried to let everybody know about the miracle.
The Falklands belong to Argentina we are told. I am not quite sure who needs telling this?
On our way into Belen we are beckoned to the house of Paco ´Vengan, vengan, tengo higo´ he says, which means, come, come I have figs.
We gorge on these delicious fruits until we are unable to eat any more.
We then explore his garden….
…..which has some great views of the valley.
Turns out his daughter Ursula is a mountaineer, she scaled Everest a few months ago and had met The Pikes on their first Puna trip 4 years ago. We stay for lunch, which turns into an offer to stay for the night, sounds like a plan.
Paco is happy for us to pick fruit from his trees.
An orange tree. We are invited to the dance recital of Ursula´s niece, followed by beers with Ursula, which in true Argentinian style turns into a late night for us, we get to bed around 1am with no plans of cycling the next day. As Argentine´s have a long afternoon siesta they are able to stay up really late at night which is not exactly conducive to cycle touring.
24th November – Belen
Paco used to be the sheriff of the local area so takes us on a ride around his old stomping ground. We go to the family finca to pick walnuts, the largest variety in the world we are told.
We break open all of these and fill a bag of the delicious nuts.
Views from the finca.
The following day we plan on riding the Cuesta del Zapata. Paco does not want us to, says it is really dangerous with plenty of snakes this time of year. He takes us to a friends house to show us a puma skin, also found on the cuesta he says. Eventually he wears us down into saying we will not take the pass.
25th November Belen to San Blas de los Sauces
Paco is really sad to see us go, and calls up the local radio to tell them about us. There are tearful goodbyes and we are commanded to go to the local radio station. We do, and I have an interview live on air, eak.
I was quite excited to enter the village of Londres but there was no sign, only this.
An interesting mural in Londres.
Some of the highlights of the 40.
Kilometres come fast on these roads.
It is the small things that keep you happy here.
We arrive in San Blas, find a Grido ice cream parlour and a campsite which is also on warm showers, perfect.
26th November – San Blas to camp
A gradual climb out of San Blas.
Signs all over the village of Pituil which say that the dignity of our people is not for sale, referring to mining companies which want to buy up the area, rich in gold.
Afternoon angry clouds.
We find a nice campspot of the road and settle in for the night.
27th November – camp to Chilecito
Our camp from the road.
We ride the 40km to Chilecito which takes a few hours.
After so long on dirt roads I am now suprised at how black my tyres look whilst riding on tarmac.
A Gauchito shrine with fresh biscuits and fruit.
We arrive in Chilecito for our Grido fix and take the afternoon off. We are more than half way between Salta and Mendoza.