To Mendoza: Pushin’ On
Sat next to the roaring log fire, the sound of rain drums on the roof and patters on the window pane. The weather forecast for the next 10 days looks equally dismal and depressing. It seems that Chile and my native Calderdale arent that dissimlar when it comes to winter weather. I spend a further 2 days in Pucon sitting out the worst of the weather before scratching my plans to head north to Santiago and instead head west crossing back in to Argentina and every north bound cyclists worst nightmare. The dreaded pampa. Climbing out of Melipueco rain pours down, looking back down to the valley floor those Autumnal colours sit in front of bands of rain.
As I climb out of the valley the Monkey Puzzles I first saw in Villarica National Park return. Climbing higher the road weaves through them. Its a cold climb over Paso Pino Hachado, ice crystals line the side of the road. Goodbye rain. Catching my second tail wind in 3 months of cycling, wind buffets me as I hit over 90 kilometers per hour. Progress is quick but not without incident as lateral side winds coming off the Cordeilla Del Viento give me the odd speed wobble before blowing me off the road. Hmm. Back amongst the pampa my plan is to ride some fast kilometers to Mendoza. Peru and Bolivia’s dry season beckons. Focused, I get down to business and ride for 10 days straight. Despite Ruta 40’s mythical status it has to be said that up close the riding is entirely unremarkable. Scrub flashes past, as do the kilometer markers. Its only as the day’s harsh light softens do the sunsets give a sense of drama. As Ruta 40 weaves its way through this arid landscape, ripio detours are offered up allowing the adventurous to cut corners and mileage off the circuitous Ruta 40. Hesistantly I call them detours. Taking the back road from Chos Malal to Barrancas I ride through El Tromen National Park. Things climb, and steadily keep climbing. With over 2000 metres of climbing its more alpine col than quick off road detour. As landscape is bathed in warm afternoon light, I look back at my days work. Volcan Tromen in the distance. High up the scale and granduer of this landscape is revealed. Distant volcanoes, crimson dirt leading ever downwards and back to Ruta 40. Racing the last of the sun’s rays, I hit the dusty wind swept town of Barrancas as darkness descends. Tired, happy and ready to guzzle some juice. By first light crowing cockrels and clucking hens surround my tent. I am up early and back on the road. The tarmac peters out as the desert encroaches leaving ripio in its place. Any ideas of fast progress are scrubbed out, as corrugations and deep sand jar my arms and rattle my fillings. Still the tussocks take my mind off things. As the city of Malargue approaches the road surface improves. A rollercoaster ride of tarmac, with distant mountains in the background partly obscured by afternoon haze. Soon its time to take another one of those ripio shortcuts cutting an arrow straight line across the pampa to the cluster of towns south of Mendoza. By afternoon dark clouds descend, the clouds backlit by the sun and occasional rays acting as a spot light on the pampa. With wild horses for company… And occasional flowers… I pedal ever onward. Wondering when the horizon will draw near. Rejoining the tarmac I make fast progress north of Pareditas to San Carlos. Eduardo an Argentinian cyclist flags me down in need of a multi tool. Once his bike is fixed he rides with me for 10 kilometers as I chat away while he gasps for air, and beads of sweat roll from his forehead. ¡Suerte Amigo! A disused building just off Ruta 40 is the perfect bikeshack for the night. A room with a view.
Pucon – Villarica – Melipueco – Liucara – Paso Pino Hachado – Las Lajas – Chos Malal – El Tromen National Park – Barrancas – Malargue – Pareditas – San Carlos – Mendoza