0071: Argentina - Part 1
In Mendoza, I was hosted by Lucas. A friend of Devora.
He was a nice but slightly odd chap. Though friendly and accommodating as was "She" his girlfriend and her son.
He was a self described philosopher, thinker and web designer.
And EXTREMELY talkative!
He had strong political views, claiming to have more or less single handedly persuaded the local government to have built the cycle lanes within the city.
He met me at the bus station and guided me home on his beaten up old and undersized Trek mountain bike.
"I don't think you need to buy an expensive bike." He argued, while talking about the cycling culture in the city. And while I agree you don't, I do believe one that is appropriate to the type of riding, frequency, distance and journey is very important.
A $100 hardware store mountain bike will not last long on a world tour, but then again, neither will a $5000 Carbon fibre race machine.
You would not regularly commute on these bikes either, so if you want to improve the cycling infrastructure in a city, you miight target those with money and aspirational lifestyles.
The young designer types, with the lumberjack shirts, iPhones, strong opinions, world experience and Fixies.
And 'cool' Fixies are not cheap. But they are popular, fashionable, easy to maintain and to ride.
Commuter bikes are also having a renaissance as people become more aware of the need to cut car use for short journeys.
Get these people motivated and riding them and the rest follows.
Encourage ALL cyclists, regardless of the price of their bike. But target those with money.
Argentine life is like Spain, understandably.
People wake late.
Shops open late and families eat dinner late.
"Sorry for making you have such a late dinner" I apologised as we were eating at around midnight after my arrival. "No, this is normal for us" commented Lucas. We discussed my bike problems and I thought I could make a temporary repair.
I sent an email and photos to HPVelotechnik, the frame manufacturers in Germany, knowing this was likely a manufacturer's fault and that my frame had a 10 year warranty.
I was very certain they would send me the parts I needed.
My experience in the bike industry meant I know how to organise this and what would likely happen next.
Lucas' girlfriend drove us at warp speed to the hardware store the following morning and I picked up a few things I needed to make a temporary repair.
And that afternoon, I set about repairing the frame.
"We will take you on a tour of the city and into the mountains tomorrow night. Some friends will come along." I thought a sunset evening tour of the city would be nice and to meet new people would also be good. So a picnic was organised.
The following evening, well after the sun had set, I asked if the event had been cancelled?
It was dark outside now and getting late. By my standards anyway.
Lucas's friend arrived around 10 pm and we hurriedly made some sandwiches.
My eyes were beginning to shut. I was incredibly tired. I'm normally asleep by 8 or 9 pm and the long journey and late night the evening before hadn't helped much. And I was departing the following morning very early, I really wanted to sleep.
We left the house around 11 pm and drove through a popular local park.
Several things were pointed out to me, but the pitch black darkness under the trees and the tinted black rear windows meant I saw absolutely nothing at all.
I sat quietly in the back, shut my eyes and tried to rest.
Eventually after lots of crazy driving and a couple of near misses we arrived at.... I have no idea where.
It appeared to be a tourist location during the day, but everything was closed, dark and only one bar and a few locals drinking beer in the bushes made me wonder why had come?
A footbridge crossing the river was the only landmark I could make out. I was tired and irritable as we descended the hillside to find an area to sit in the darkness on the banks of a river.
To add to my irritability, I stood in a pile of dog poop as we descended and in the still air, all I could smell was this!
It really put me off my sandwich and drink and I wanted to go to bed.
It was now around 1 am and I was really not in the mood for this picnic.
I sat quietly while the little group chatted and eventually we left for home and I slept as soon as my head hit the pillow.
I do remember the clock saying 2:46 AM.
In the morning, I said a quick goodbye then began pushing my bike as I had a puncture and realised my pump was missing. I guess it must have fallen off on the bus?
Almost 2 hours of pushing into the city and 4 service stations later, I finally found one with a fifth one with an inflater which actually worked!
It was 10 am now and with 4-5 hours sleep, I was not in the mood for cycling.
I stayed a further night in the city in a hostel close to the centre, slept for a couple more hours, then treated myself to a nice lunch and dinner.
But the first steak I ate, I sent back immediately. I thought the meat was bad and the apologetic waiter quickly brought a second. It left a nasty mouldy chemical taste in my mouth and washing the taste away with a Coke didn't help much.
It was a medium rare beef with a cream of mushroom sauce on top.
The second tasted the same. I asked again.
As I thought, the sauce was made with the local wine.
Famous both regionally and globally for its excellent taste and quality. I scraped off the sauce and tried to enjoy the bitter, acrid tasting meat.
Alcohol; drinks or food, cooked or otherwise never did agree with me.
It really was awful!
The road to La Paz (the third La Paz on my trip) was flat and apart from a couple of badly patched roads, were in fairly good condition.
And they were quiet, which was a relief as I have quickly discovered that the Argentinians drive badly.
It isn't helped by the fact many junctions are missing signs or they are damaged.
But simply, the drivers here are the worst on my entire journey and have little respect for the laws of the road, other drivers or specifically cyclists.
Every road is a race track and every other vehicle a competitor.
Cars pass too close, trucks pass closer and all at speeds way too quick for the poor roads.
I fear my journey through this massive country.
But I survived my first day, without incident and a really good roadside Hamburger!
The desert heat seemed to return on the road to San Luis.
Mainly flat, but as I entered the province of Cordoba, low hills started to rise before me.
Not much of a challenge having ridden the heights of the Andes, but with a dry heat and being continually on guard for traffic made it a tough day. But another giant burger made up for it to a degree.
A quiet night in a hostel in the city and a poor but expensive meal in a chain type restaurant.
It's becoming clear there is not much variety on the menus.
Sandwich de Lomo or Milanesa.
A thin sliced beef sandwich with or without breadcrumbs and often deep fried till it is rubbery or crispy.
Dry and flavourless in the mouth. But the only other options all have cheese.
Burgers, 'Panchos' or Hotdogs. And Muzza's. A slice of Pizza with more cheese than topping.
Pale imitations of other foods but I have yet to find the local specialities.
I thought Argentine food would be more diverse than this?
Breakfast, if offered, is often a small local croissant called a 'Factura' or 'Media luna' then a small Coffee or tea and a small glass of juice. Small meal, small calories. Not enough for cycling.
I could really eat a plateful of the huge breakfasts offered in Peru and Bolivia.
North to San Francisco de Oro and a municipal camping ground at the back of a sports complex.
The caretaker was offsite doing some jobs and his panicked assistant told me to wait for him to pay the 100 pesos fee.
I cooked some spaghetti and was kept awake by band practice going on late into the night.
Fortunately they actually had some talent so the booming drum rhythms were not too annoying. Though I would still not have objected had they quit early.
The next morning and half asleep I cooked a small breakfast and looked for the caretaker again.
I left the money with some fellow campers.
About 5 km's up the road it dawned on me that I should not have done that. I could have had a night for free. Or paid for their site...I must still be tired...
Shops don't open early here.
Early is at least ll A.M. in Argentina.
Early for me is 7 or 8 A.M. for me as I want to leave before the sun gets too high and hot.
I have had to forgo breakfast for the past couple of days.
Cycle for 3-4 hours then hope I can find a place to buy a sandwich.
Usually Ham and cheese or something and cheese or plain cheese. Or Lomo with or without breadcrumbs....again...cheese optional.
Dull and flavourless, but calories are more important right now.
Heading north to Villa Dolores, I did find a small roadside farm selling fresh bread.
A tin of Tuna and the last of my Mayonnaise made a great roadside sandwich as I sat in the shade of a tree. And brushed off the ants rapidly crawling all over me picking up fallen breadcrumbs.
My arrival in Villa Dolores was delayed by a crazy driver.
None of the roads here have a shoulder so when I hear a certain engine note, I know that the driver is going too fast and veer into the dirt and grass on the side.
I'll do this at least 10 times a day now, with passing trucks creating a strong suction.
No different, as this idiot came screaming past without a care in the world and I almost dumped my bike in the grass.
I dusted myself off and continued.
100 metres later, I noticed the characteristic wobble of a deflating tyre.
I pulled under the shade of a tree and saw the familiar goathead thorned seeds sticking in my tyres.
23 in the front and 14 in the rear!!
'Fortunately' only 9 of them made it through.
Conveniently all avoiding the puncture resistant belt built into my tyres.
An hour or so later I set off again.
My puncture total now at around 50.
I arrived in the town in the middle of a festival. I think it was a school graduation. But the policeman who stopped me to tell me the road was closed was more interested in finding out which region of Brazil I was from.
Then didn't believe me, though he had my British passport in his hands which he was reading for a second time.
Well, by read, I mean he was staring at the UK declaration on the first page rather than actually checking my personal identification details and photograph.
My guess is he was bored of diverting traffic and the 'Brazilian on the strange bike, "Do you pedal with your hands?"- was much more interesting.
I was not amused.
Next to climb the mountains between Villa Dolores.
First though, I went to a bike shop, fitted a new inner tube and also filled them with some puncture sealing gel.
It adds a little extra weight but as I seem to be jumping off the road with more frequency I don't want to waste time fixing punctures every day.
Leaving the town the clouds gathered and as I ascended. A powerful wind pushed me off the road instead.
Hailstones pelted me. Painfully hitting my hands, face and luckily my sunglasses deflected a big one off my eyes.
It knocked them from my face.
Some were about 10-15 mm in diameter.
I took shelter under a small tree and watched the sky turn black as lightning flashed through thick grey clouds.
It passed as quickly as it started though.
The rain stopped and the hailstones began to melt rapidly on the warm asphalt. A few made a cracking sound as I cycled over them.
The wind, however, didnt stop.
It became stronger as I climbed. And I had hoped to complete at least half of the 140 kilometres I had left before nightfall. But being delayed by the wind and another police check. This time attending an accident in the road.
A pickup truck had ended up in a ditch.
There didn't appear to be any casualties, but I guess the driver was speeding through a thunderstorm.
"Do you know anything about this accident?" The officer asked me. Why would I?
I didn't witness it.
I was not involved in any way.
I feigned stupidity (not hard I know!) and pretended I didn't speak Spanish well.
He was just trying to keep me there for the conversation I think.
A bored officer diverting traffic around another stupid speeding driver.
Still, he seemed to enjoy reading the declaration in the front of my passport again. My ID page is at the back. And I'm still not from Brazil....
The wind became stronger as I continued up the mountain.
And it pushed me off the bike a couple of times.
A little further up the road I managed to find a campground and settled in for the night.
And had a very good hot shower too. Though the young lad in charge did try to charge me too much, I'm certain.
The following morning, and after a quick porridge breakfast, I continued.
After an hour or so, the wind picked up again.
Of course, it had changed direction over night, and was once again blowing into my face.
I had only half a packet of biscuits left and refilled my bottles from a dribble from a rock face. It took an hour or so.
The ascent was made harder by the wind and frustrating by passing several tourist shops selling nothing but jewellery, leather goods and ceramics. Despite advertising bread, jams, homemade salami's and cheeses, they had no food at all.
By 10 A.M. I was getting hungry having eaten only the remainder of the packet of biscuits, and a packet of artificial fruit juice drink.
Another police check point, but this time they were just guiding traffic as it seemed there was a mountain bike race on the top of the mountain.
The land levelled out now and I could see the racers in the distance. I had hoped there might be a booth selling food or snacks, as there usually is at such events. But all I could see was an overflow carpark. The main event was a further few kilometres down a steep dirt road.
I didn't want to go down and be disappointed.
One racer, curious about my adventures kindly gave me a Banana and an energy gel and I continued.
A few kilometres further on I saw a truck parked by the roadside.
The driver appeared to be doing some maintenance.
I pulled alongside and asked if he could take me down the mountain towards Cordoba.
He hesitated, walked to the cab, asked his wife who was now poking her head out of the window to see who the stranger on the bike was and they agreed after a moment of discussion.
I hauled my bike into the empty truck which had previously been hauling onions. Judging by the skins and smell staining the wooden sides.
I climbed aboard and with much grinding of gears and engine noise we set off.
The couple were agricultural hauliers taking everything from Onions, Potatoes and Avocados to Grapes, Eggs and meats to various distribution hubs on the eastern coast and occasionally to Cordoba or the Capitol, Buenos Aires.
This time they were headed south and dropped me off at a junction along the way. They also left me with a pack of biscuits and a 3 litre bottle of pop!
Thanks a lot!
At the lower altitude, the wind had died and the sun came out. I sat in the warm sunshine eating junk and suddenly realised the sky was full of white butterflies.
The road climbed some low hills to Carlos Paz. I was originally going to stop and buy some lunch but fuelled on sugar now, I kept going. Enjoying the spectacle of a million dancing butterflies.
Carlos Paz was the largest town I had passed through since Mendoza and despite being a Sunday, was packed with crazy traffic.
I skirted the edge fortunately. Too many cars buzzed passed too close. I am beginning to wonder if they do it deliberately?
Around the lake and a final hill climb and descent to the River Indarte neighbourhood on the north west of Cordoba city.
I felt strangely emotional as I pulled into the street where Milagros lives.
I wasn't even sure I had the right address, but waiting on a dusty street corner for a reply to my confirmation message.
Mila came rushing out of her house and greeted me with a hug I had been waiting 37,786 kilometres and almost 5 years to receive.
My goal achieved.
The Road of little Miracles was over.
Time to rest.