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.
As paved roads give way to ripio the sun warms tired and achy limbs rejuvenating us, casting aside memories of yesterdays mini epic.
Once again happy clicking through the kilometers on one of many long, lonely desert roads characterise this part of Argentina.
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.
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.
The road gently winds through the Calingasta valley with snow capped mountains in the far distance.
Rows of vines and fertile land all around.
For hungry cyclists there is plenty to be happy about. Cass showing one of our daily purchases of homemade bread. Still warm and delicious.
Chats with farmers yield a generous handful of walnuts and warm wishes for our journey north.
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).
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.
A kind invitation to spend a night inside by Daniel and his father. A team of builders restoring local properties.
Or disused farm buildings.
Tractors stand rotting.
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.
Before far reaching views are offered, as condors circle high above.
As the light begins to fade, the harsh light softens and temperatures cool allowing us to ride late in to the evening.
Golden brush, and deep 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.
Climbing out of the gorge we ride desert trails between cacti and over gravel strewn domes.
A happy Cass after a dose of singletrack.
Any more singletrack?
Mud brick adobe buildings stand with murals.
The harsh sunlight leaves walls cracked, and fading paint peeling.
Sandy ripio roads see Cass’ fat bike float where I slither and struggle. A mere taster of what is to come in Bolivia.
Before long our ripio detours see us deposited back on those long and lonely and bolt straight asphalt 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.
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.
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.