Mendoza to Cafayate: Sun, Sand and Shivers

Leaving Mendoza, Cass my new riding partner and I set out on another long arid, and dusty stretch of riding taking us to Argentina’s northern province of Salta.

Two days in to our cycling courtship we find ourselves and our bikes in the back of a 4×4 pickup as we bounce down a 3,000m Andean pass toward the ski town of Uspallata.

Both cold, tired and deflated we have spent the past 8 hours slowly winching our way up the mountain pass. Buffeted by 100km per hour winds until we are forced to push our bikes for the final few kilometres as wind rips at us, our bikes, stinging our faces with sand in the process.

As we sit hunched on the tailgate of the pickup sheltering from the biting wind we are both lost in our own personal thoughts. The ever ebuliant Cass even lost for words.

Chilled to the bone we plump for a hostel and spend the evening warming ourselves next to the log fire. As blue skies dawn the following morning, a fresh coating of snow adorns the high moutains. Reminding us winter is fast approaching.

Lonely Roads

As paved roads give way to ripio the sun warms tired and achy limbs rejuvenating us, casting aside memories of yesterdays mini epic.

Ripion

Once again happy clicking through the kilometers on one of many long, lonely desert roads characterise this part of Argentina.

Empty Roads

A visit to the El Leoncito observatory gives us the opportunity to view Jupiter, Saturn, the Moon and many constellations. By morning the views aren’t bad either.

Countryside Kioscos

Dry, dusty towns like Barrel illustrate a slower, relaxed way of life. Our stop at the hole in the wall kiosco sees us chat with the owner Juan and his wife for over half an hour before we come away laden with artsenale fayre and many generous tastings of regional produce.

Hole in the wall

The road gently winds through the Calingasta valley with snow capped mountains in the far distance.

Calingasta Valley

Rows of vines and fertile land all around.

Vineyards

For hungry cyclists there is plenty to be happy about. Cass showing one of our daily purchases of homemade bread. Still warm and delicious.

Bread

Chats with farmers yield a generous handful of walnuts and warm wishes for our journey north.

Walnuts

Hector a keen cyclist in Famatina ladens us with more yet walnuts. Concerned by the cold weather he thinks we are in need of a bag bigger than either of us wish to carry. Good for both our health (and libido apparently).

Hector

Admittedly Hector has a point (about the cold). The nights are much colder than either of us had anticipated and we begin to seek shelter inside where possible.

Be it changing rooms at the Municipal campsite.

Changing Room

A kind invitation to spend a night inside by Daniel and his father. A team of builders restoring local properties.

Workers

Or disused farm buildings.

Farmyard camping

Tractors stand rotting.

Tractors

Slowly making our way north we leave the daytime chill behind, as daily and nightly temperatures begin to climb. Quiet roads taking us through gorges and river valleys.

Quiet roads

Before far reaching views are offered, as condors circle high above.

Desert landscapes

As the light begins to fade, the harsh light softens and temperatures cool allowing us to ride late in to the evening.

Evening Sun

Golden brush, and deep reds.

Desert Reds

A visit to the local bike shop in Villa Union sees us fixed up with two young local riders Jonathan and Brian who take us to the Anchumbil gorge the following morning before school.

Anchumbil

Climbing out of the gorge we ride desert trails between cacti and over gravel strewn domes.

Domes

A happy Cass after a dose of singletrack.

A happy Cass

Any more singletrack?

Native Statue

Mud brick adobe buildings stand with murals.

Famatina Mural

The harsh sunlight leaves walls cracked, and fading paint peeling.

Famatina Doorway

Sandy ripio roads see Cass’ fat bike float where I slither and struggle. A mere taster of what is to come in Bolivia.

Sand

Before long our ripio detours see us deposited back on those long and lonely and bolt straight asphalt roads.

Empty Roads

Cuesta De Zapata has us both smiling from ear to ear as we climb up through cactus fields, the road sinous and impassable by cars.

Cuesta De Zapata

Cuesta De Zapata

Cactus spines and goat head thorns are the source of frustration and many punctures over the last few days. Cass patiently waits, whilst I swap tubes he regales me with tales from his travels or snoozes in the warm afternoon sun.

Cactus Spines

In the heat of the South American summer many choose to skip through this section by bus, avoiding the sting and ferocity of the desert sun. Yet it is the desert landscapes and warmth of the people we have encountered in these sun parched, and dusty towns that stick in my mind.

7 Comments

  1. Harriet
    26/06/2014

    “ever ebuliant Cass even lost for words.” HAHA!

    Great post, cracking photos and I doooo love Cuesta de Zapata! Keep on rolling!!!!!!!

    Reply
    • Mike
      26/06/2014

      Thanks Harriet!

      Thanks also for the near daily updates on route info and weather 😉

  2. cintia
    27/06/2014

    Are you still in argentina!??? What a life! So amazing beautiful photos. I hope you still trying talk in argentinian spanish 🙂
    Good luck! Cintia (we met in Ushuaia)

    Reply
    • Mike
      27/06/2014

      ¡Hola Cintia!

      Sí, estoy todavía en Argentina por un par de semanas por lo menos, antes de cruzar a Bolivia.

      ¿Cómo olvidar el trabalenguas que me hizo leer!

  3. Mark
    28/06/2014

    Hey Mikey boy I’ve left a few replies and not one response from you….. two chicks reply and you respond in a flash!
    Too many wallnuts boyo👍

    Reply
  4. Martin
    05/07/2014

    Look forward to seeing your posts.

    Reply
  5. Cafayate to San Pedro De Atacama: Wine, Rarefied Air and Birthday Cake » Mike Howarth
    20/07/2014

    […] As settlements thin out the asphalt eventually gives way to much anticipated dirt, the proverbial carrot that kept us sane pedalling along arrow straight roads further south. […]

    Reply

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