Inside it drips on the ground from the wet clothes, outside it drips from the sky. That’s not as bad as it sounds. Inside, laundry is hanging to dry over curtain rails and open closet doors, outside it is raining for the first time since we left Buenos Aires, right on our rest day in a hostel in Mendoza. So the ideal conditions to sit down for a blog.
In Buenos Aires, 1000 km east of where we are now, we spent a week: resting from the busy preparation time in Holland, getting acquainted within the monetary system (exchange, Western Union, etc.), studying the route options and seeing the city.
We manage without any problems to exchange dollars at the “blue dollar” rate, within which the dollar is worth twice as much as within the “official” rate, which nobody here uses except the bank.
Buenos Aires, except for the main street, turned out to be many times quieter than expected. It is primarily a very large city, which we saw quite a bit of thanks to our bike tour and visiting a local market. We didn’t really like the city and so I will omit an extensive report.
The most fun was a local festive market where some handmade items, empanadas and honey were sold and there was plenty of dancing to live music, by old and young. We still enjoy the honey daily.
When we bought our tickets to Buenos Aires, we intended to start the bike tour in Mendoza, a city nestled against the Andes. From there we could follow the Andes south. For a train to Mendoza, however, we would have to wait two weeks in Buenos Aires. We thought that was too long, so we caught a train that went as far as Justo Daract, over 400km east of Mendoza.
It was no problem at all to take the bicycle on the train. It was allowed in a separate carriage. Because the most expensive class (private mini compartment with beds) and the luxury class (wide seats) were sold out well in advance, we had “only” first class tickets (the cheapest). However, even our seats turned out to be in very good condition and comfortable. Although you may wonder which seat is really comfortable for a 17 hour train journey including the night. With about 650km to cover and a travel time that extended to 20 hours it will not surprise you that the pace of the train was very slow. An average of 32km per hour! Riders sometimes flanked us at the same pace. With the € 6,- that the train tickets cost us each, we can say that we got value for money!
The route from Justo Daract to the west was for the most part on Ruta 7, the major road towards the provincial capital, Mendoza, and therefore two lanes and a wide shoulder in both directions. The road was fairly quiet and cars and trucks drove around us in an arc but the scenery was monotonous and dry. From the village of La Paz we could fortunately follow a narrower regional road that took us past more villages. Every now and then we even encountered a bicycle path.
We camped in the berm and behind the berm. Among prickly bushes of all shapes and sizes that caused several flat tires and because of which we bought yoga mats to put under our air mattresses. An unfriendly natural environment when you move and sleep on air and when your gear needs to be and stay waterproof. To avoid leaking mats, I sat on my knees feeling the entire piece of ground to check for the spiny balls that sting so viciously. It turned out to be the only way to find them all, albeit because they stung mean painfully in my hands.
Fleeing from the spines, we also spent the night in a campground, a village square, near a fire station and “Casa BiciAventuras.
I found “Casa BiciAventuras” by chance when I was searching for a campsite near the city on Google Maps. What would it be? Out of curiosity, we stopped there and planned to ride about 30km. We were welcomed by Fatima, Carla, Conrad and several dogs. There seems to be no house in Argentina without dogs. Fortunately, almost all of them are well-behaved and friendly. Before we could explain that we were just curious, we were shown the garden, kitchen and bathroom and water was set up. We drank tea and ate raisins in a living room decorated with murals of bicycles and large dream catchers made of bicycle wheels. Conrad turned out to be a long-term Argentinean guest and the ladies had started this house five years ago in hopes of meeting other cyclists and sharing their passion for bicycle travel. The hours flew by and with only two hours of daylight left, Paul and I decided to pitch our tent anyway in this beautiful place with warm people.
The next day, with the wind at our backs, we continued on our way to Mendoza, where we arrived in the afternoon. A friendly-looking city where we just ate our first delicious “outside the door” meal. From Buenos Aires to Mendoza, it’s pizza and empanadas that are the order of the day when you want to eat something somewhere. Pizza with a thick American bottom, lots of tomato sauce and even more cheese. The empanadas are almost always filled with meat. So we mainly cook for ourselves and try our luck in “panaderias” (little bakeries) where we try everything. To our happiness and amazement, we found a vegetarian buffet around the corner from our hostel, where you can fill your own plate and the bill is based on weight. We indulged in a delicious vitamin-rich lunch for a pittance and took another portion back to the hostel for the evening. The place is very popular because to check out you have to join a long line of local lovers. Luckily there is a microwave to warm up your plate afterwards.
Only here in Mendoza do we see some “other” tourists. Perhaps we will meet more of them in the near future as we cycle south. Because while we are cycling here (to our surprise this past week in a warm, burning, sun) it is the middle of winter here and in the Andes it is the time for winter sports.
As we cycled away from the Casa BiciAventuras yesterday morning, we suddenly saw the giants looming. Snow-white against a clear blue sky. Before that we made it inland from Buenos Aires and before that we cycled for a week through the brownish, balding, flat landscape. From now on we won’t lose sight of them for the time being!
One last thing I don’t want to keep from you: how amazed I am by the creativity of the Argentines! And how comparatively dull and straightforward “we Dutch” are in our decoration of public space. Along the balding brown route were beautifully painted bus shelters, the lampposts along the four-lane Ruta 7 are painted in green, blue, red and yellow, murals are colorful and widespread, and benches in parks are also painted with cheerful prints. The colorful creative notes here in and outside the city make me very happy!
All in all, we are already enjoying the trip immensely and then the giants of the Andes are only now on the menu! We are looking forward to it: gravel roads along the snow-covered mountains, small villages with hopefully some traditional food and, in time, maybe some less prickly bushes! Until the next blog.
With greetings from drizzling Mendoza, Hera