22 February 2011

CYCLING ARGENTINA - Mendoza to Buenos Aires

2 February 2011
Mendoza – Las Catitas

We left our bedbug-ridden accommodation and headed East on Ruta 7 towards Buenos Aires, more than 1000km across the pampas. It was a good day as the road was pancake flat and the temperature (I guess) in the low 30’s. We camped fairly early at a petrol station along the road which had some grass at the back and a shower. A Japanese cyclist called Nobu arrived from the opposite direction and also pitched his tent where we were camping. He’s been cycling for the past year and a half.

3 February 2011
Las Catitas – Alto Pencoso

We awoke to a fairly strong wind, probably sounding worse than what it was due to the popular trees we camped under. The pampas consists mainly of large open plains, and is therefore quite exposed. We saw little in the way of interesting sights just low bushes and sandy soil. The wind was against us all day, but at least it was nothing close to the wind in Patagonia.

In Argentina road fatalities are not just indicated by a humble cross but by little shrines and sometimes quite elaborate ones, the purpose of the collection of empty plastic bottles at some shrines still baffles me. The shrines surrounded by red flags have an interesting history and (I understand) pays homage to Antonio Gil.

We camped in the municipal grounds of the small settlement of Alto Pencoso. People went out of their way to accommodate us, even unlocking the community hall’s toilets for us. Mostly people were just amazed at these two foreigners on bicycles arriving in their tiny village.

4/5 February 2011
Alto Pencoso – San Luis

20km Down the road Ernest’s back hub eventually packed up totally. He tried to do makeshift repairs, but it was too badly damaged. We were fortunate enough to get a lift into San Luis where he could buy a new hub. Spoking and straightening the wheel is a time-consuming activity, and the next morning Ernest was still not happy with his work so we moved to a cheaper hostel and spent another day in San Luis. San Luis is actually not a bad city; it has a lively town center with, as usual, a central square and some nice buildings surrounding it. I still find the language a bit of a problem; it is surprising how few people actually speak English. I also seem to find food a bit of a problem as this is beef country!! Argentinians are the biggest consumers of beef per capita in the world and God forbid that one should be a vegetarian in this country! At least there’s plenty of good wine and pasta around as well.

6 February 2011
San Luis – Picnic area (close to Villa Mercedes)

It was an excellent cycling day, the wind was slight, it was bit overcast and the road fairly flat. We cycled along quite happily until we spotted a really good picnic area next to a river, and we thought we may be able to camp there. People were swimming and having a picnic on the grass under the trees and we went to investigate.

We explained that we wanted to put up our “carpa” (tent) and camp for the night which was no problem. Smoke from the asadas (barbecues) was hanging thick in the air and people stared at us in amazement as we cycled in. They even came to have their pictures taken with us. We hadn’t even unpacked the bikes before our neighbours presented us with a plate of barbequed meat. Not wanting to be outdone other neighbours also came with a huge plate of meat. True to Argentinian asadas they don’t bother much with salads and other food, just a huge plate of meat. Even I tried a piece of meat, as I felt too embarrassed to turn them down.

7 February 2011
Picnic area – Old petrol station (Washington)

All good things come to an end as it started raining the previous evening, with some heavy storms during the night. We woke at 8h00 but it was still raining so I crawled back into my tent. Eventually the rain stopped and goats and sheep came wandering past. It was 12h00 by the time our tents had dried and we got on the road. What a lonely stretch of road it was. We saw little in the way of life along the road and when we finally reached a disused petrol station we were out of water. We filled our bottles at the still functioning tyre repair workshop, and decided to camp there seeing that there was water – we camped on the porch of a vacant house on the premises. I’ll be more careful tomorrow and take more water with me for the road.

8/9 February 2011
Disused petrol station – Laboulaye

We set off and soon reached Villa Mackenna where we spotted several service stations, a camping area and a Motel. We stopped and had a nice lunch at one of the petrol stations and then carried on along the road. Once again there was not much along the way but large cattle ranches, vast fields of corn and soybeans. The crops are probably for cattle feed as I have not noticed much soybean products in the shops. I guess that in a beef eating country like Argentina soybean products will never been very popular.

The road was once gain fairly narrow with loads of trucks and we had to be very careful staying out of the way of the trucks and cars. A steady headwind slowed us down and it was getting late enough for us to get concerned that we would have to cycle in the dark if we were going to reach Laboulaye. 7 km from Laboulaye Ernest came to an unexpected and sudden halt. The front hub on his bike had also siezed up totally and with a fast setting sun he quickly had to do an emergency repair job before the light faded. We then managed to battle on to Laboulaye in the dark.

The town was much bigger than expected and we even found a hotel room for a reasonable price, where we stayed the next day while Ernest repaired his bike. Fortunately Argentinians are a fairly sporting nation, and one can find a fairly decent bike shop in most sizable towns. Laboulaye was big enough to sport a bicycle shop and we could even find a new front hub for Ernest’s bike. Then it was back to the room for the time consuming job of spoking the wheel again.


10 February 2011
Laboulaye – Rufino

We encountered a head wind from the start of the day, and the traffic seemed to have gotten even worse. The narrow road left us virtually no room to cycle as there was just not enough space for two trucks and us. The grassy verge was of no benefit to us as it was nearly impossible to cycle on it. By the time we reached Rufino we turned off into the town as I dearly needed a mirror so I could at least see what was coming up behind me (Ernest had fitted a mirror in Chile already).

We arrived at siesta time and the place was like a ghost town, but a policeman on a motorbike took us to the town park where we could camp . People here take their siesta seriously and only seem to wake again at around 17h00. No sooner have they woken up from their siesta and the entire town was at the park (which was also the sports grounds), playing football, hockey, running, and even the local marching band was out practicing. What a delight it was to observe a small Argentinian country town in full swing. Once again there was a bike shop where I could get a mirror.

11 February 2011
Rufino – Vedia

It was another windy day on the road and 18-wheelers still came roaring past, causing us to dive off the road every now and then. The mirror I bought the previous day at least helped a bit. Again we cycled past vast cattle ranches. This is the Pampas and home to the Guacos, it’s an area known for tasty beef. With Argentinians being the world’s biggest meat eaters, no decent petrol station comes without a nice grassy area and some barbeques, making it pretty easy to camp at these places (which we did again on this night). An added bonus is that they also come with good clean toilets as well as showers. Most also have hot water on tap as it is quite inconceivable that one could go without a flask of hot water for mate (a herbal tea sucked through a metal straw).

12 February 2011
Vedia – Junin

The wind seemed to have picked up during the night, fortunately it was not as bad on the road as I had expected. The traffic was a bigger problem than the wind. My legs felt lame all day, and we turned off into Junin town where we found a comfortable room. We relaxed lying on the bed watching TV for the rest of the day. I seem to be constantly hungry these days, and after a visit to the local supermarket I had my fill of bread and cheese as there seems to be little else around this part of the world except for meat, meat and more meat.

13 February 2011
Junin – Carmen de Areco

We picked up a nice tailwind for a change, and not being one to waste a tailwind we cruzed all the way to Carmen de Areco. It was a Sunday and the traffic not too heavy, a pleasure to be on the road. At Carmen de Areco we were in luck and had 3 nice petrol stations to choose from to pitch a tent. The best one was at the YPF with a large picnic area at the rear of the buildings, a children’s play park and plenty of barbeque areas, perfect. Ernest cooked the usual large pot of pasta and after a beer and a big serving of pasta I was off to bed.

14 February 2011
Carmen de Areco – San Antonio

I could tell we were going to have a head wind and was pleased that we’d pushed on the day before. We ate our leftover bread with cheese, had some coffee (as I have not yet acquired a taste for mate) and then it was time to leave again.

The traffic was hectic as usual, but once we turned off Ruta 7, it was slightly better. A nice ride through the countryside brought us to the town of San Antonio. Dating from the 18th century it is loaded with history and is also considered home to the Gauchos. We pulled in at the local campground and relaxed in the shade.

15 February 2011
San Antonio – Buenos Aires

We followed Ruta 8 East in the direction of Buenos Aires and soon found ourselves on a highway. Much easier than cycling on that narrow road. Closer to Buenos Aires traffic became a bit hectic and about 10km from the city centre we eventually got kicked off the freeway. We slowly battled the rush-hour traffic on one of the regular arterial roads, which spat us out right into the city centre as it became dark. Every few hundred meters there was a traffic light so it took forever to reach Ave 9 de Julio (the main road). It was 21h00 by the time we found a room. Although the hotel was rather expensive it was really nice and right in the city centre.

What a lively city Buenos Aires is, street cafes everywhere, and people out and about until the early hours of the morning.

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16 February 2011
Buenos Aires

We walked around town, down Ave Florida a pedestrian mall jam packed with people and street vendors, down to Plaza de Mayo with its pink palace (or presidential office), past lovely old colonial style buildings and around the famous Obelisk right in the middle of Ave 9 de Julio, with its 8 lanes in each direction it must be the widest main road in the world.

Eventually we decided to sit down at a sidewalk restaurant, and while looking at the menu a very skilled thief nicked my bag (which I’d placed on the ground between my feet). So good was the thief that neither Ernest nor me noticed anything. This was quite a disaster as my wallet with cash and bank cards was in the bag, as well as my camera, glasses, and the disc with all my photos which I’d taken in South America since arriving in Ushuaia. Most of the rest of the day was spent cancelling cards, ordering new ones, and contacting home so someone can send me money.

17/21 February 2011
Buenos Aires

Early morning I was woken by a phone call from my bank to advise me that they will have a new card delivered, but it may take 7 working days! (We may be waiting here for some time). Again we wondered around town, and down to Puerto Madero (a waterfront area with a bunch of modern skyscrapers), and South to San Telmo district with its narrow cobbled street, old buildings and antique markets. We carried on walking to La Boca district with its colorful houses and home of Boca Juniors football team. Eventually we took the bus back to the city centre and scanned the shops for a new camera.

Fortunately there is a lot to see in BA, and we’ve been spending our days visiting all the interesting places. I’m in awe of all the beautiful old buildings in the city.

1 comment:

Tiago said...

Great journey you did! I envy you. I traveled Argentina when I was young and my father had a rent apartments in buenos aires, I spent fabulous times there. Is an amazing country, with nice people, I remember the unlimited farms most of all. Amazing.