Oops, Forgot the Estimated Distance Cycled
We usually enter the distances we’ve cycled at the end of each leg of our journal. Last episode we forgot it and you asked for it. So, from Esquel to Mendoza we cycled 1159 Kilometers. Our distance cycled from Mendoza to Jujuy, this chapter, is 1300 Kilometers. Add these two to our previous total and you find that we have covered 26, 206 Kilometers, a lot of ground under our wheels. For us USA folks let’s talk mileage. Esquel to Mendoza rolled up 719 and Mendoza to Jujuy 806 for a grand total of 16,682 miles cycled.
Days On The Road
We set off on April 12, 2002 with a budget of 1000 days. Winter in Europe and now again here in Argentina ate into our time line. As we prepare to climb up to Bolivia the clock on our Home Page will begin ticking upward, 1000 plus 1 day on January 6, 2005.
Come Read Along With Us!
So, come along with us and enjoy the vineyards of Mendoza the foothills of the Andes and some hot desert days. Climb over Cuesta Huaco and Cuesta Miranda on dusty, dirt roads. Cycle through the beautiful Quebrada de Cafayate. Meet another bunch of interesting people and learn to love Argentina like we have. After 7 months here we have begun to think that this may be the place we will return to, maybe even live here at least part time, after we finish this epic journey.
PS Answers to often asked questions at the end of this chapter.
Mendoza to Jujuy, Argentina
November 29, 2004
Relax, Journal and Relax
So, if you remember, we did a tour of our new place at the end of last month’s journal. It is a wonderful apartment with view of Colon Street. The trees rustle in the breezes. We can see all the way to Aconcagua, the snow capped peak shows itself above the rooftops, when the clouds lift. It’s warmer here than Santiago was.
The day was spent resting, reading and writing. Cat caught up on the written journal pages. I worked on the computer once we were unpacked. This place feels like home. It’s hard to believe that our last apartment life was in Rio de Janeiro, 4 months ago. We really have been living on the road. It’s definitely time for a home, at least for a week.
Life here in Mendoza is great. You can drink the water, eat the food and the prices of everything are a bargain. This could be the place that we return to someday. Well, no sense dreaming about things that far in our futures. We still have 10,000 Kilometers (6,000 miles +-) before we’re even back to the reality of home.
Checked in with Internet and sent messages to both Horatio, the Attorney from Berkeley and Adriano, the guy who helped us find our way around Santiago the night we arrived there. Left our phone number and address in the hope that we can get together while we’re in town.
The only weakness we find in lifestyle here is the siesta hour and late dinners. Pablo’s, BiciService bicycle shop is closed from 1:00 to 5:00 PM. We took a taxi out and were going to mount the bags and ride back. Unfortunately one of the old tired screws that hold the rear bag rack on broke when Pablo pulled the wheel. The broken screw can’t be removed but he has two ideas. We can cut the rack but I didn’t like that one. So, we decided to get new screws and set the rack about an inch higher in the next set of holes. That means that we won’t be able to get the bikes until tomorrow.
Pablo called a taxi and we hauled the bags out to the sidewalk. The driver was friendly and helpful, even carried some of the bags and loaded the trunk and front seat. We’ve decided to replace our failing old helmets. Pablo has one helmet in stock and has ordered another. It didn’t come in so we have two reasons to come back tomorrow.
A home cooked meals, lunch and dinner along with BBC News and the fine wines of Mendoza, Life is great!
November 30, 2004
Ortopedia y BiciService
Breakfast is included in the very fair price of our new home. They serve juice, café con leche and media lunas at the nice Coffee House on the street below. The food, service and people watching is great. I have always wanted to live in a place with a Starbucks below where I’d sit and read the morning news. I have almost achieved another dream. It isn’t Starbucks but the coffee costs a lot less bucks. The Newspapers are free for the reading, unfortunately we don’t read Spanish. We settled into a barstool seat with window view. So, we sift through the papers picking up a word or part of a story as we people watch. The people watching is wonderful!
We strolled the block, getting acquainted with our neighborhood. It’s fairly upscale with nice shops and restaurants lining the streets.
For me, the keyboard and journal pages. Cat walked to CitiBank for money. Our already great rental rate gets 10% better if we pay cash. She brought picnic things back and we lunched in.
At 5:00 we taxied back to BiciService. Pablo had the bikes ready to roll but the helmet is still a no show. We cycled back home. We’re really getting to know Mendoza.
Argentineans, Soon To Be Canadians
A quick walk to our neighborhood Super Market yielded salad, steaks and veggies. Cat was in the midst of cookin’ when our doorbell rang. A young couple, Dario and Magdalena, had heard that we were from the States and wanted to introduce themselves. A bright young couple, he loves cycling and, they’re planning on a move to Canada and wanted to practice their English language skills. We chatted for a while then as dinner loomed we convinced them to call tomorrow and we’ll get together, maybe a bike ride?
Dinner was the best home cooked we’ve had since Rio. Another treat, we began watching a movie as we ate dinner and finished watching in the bedroom. Geez, two TVs, too. This is livin’.
December 1, 2004
Cat Haircut, Laundry, Adriano & Bella
Down for breakfast, we assumed our position at the window and were just getting into the coffee and news when a couple came in. He looked over and said, “Hello”. That started the conversation. Frank works with an Auto Dealer in Florida. His company puts together Used Car Shows all over the US. He commutes, 3 weeks on and 3 weeks off. His wife. Martha, is an Oral Surgeon here in Mendoza. They have just bought 2 investment Condos and a home that is under construction. Life here really looks good when we hear of bargains like this, they are paying $107,000 US Dollars for a 4,000 sq. ft. home in a fenced, security neighborhood!
I went back to the journal pages, determined to finish before we leave here. Cat walked to the ACA (Automovile Club Argentina) for maps of the Provencias to the north. The office is near the bus station, a long walk only to learn that they have none. They sent her to another office back in the Center, near our place. Along the route she picked up picnic things.
I shut down the computer and we took our lunch poolside. Yes, we have a wonderful swimming pool on the 4th floor. We sat on chase lounges, soaked up some sun and relaxed. What a life, eh? Our ultra white bodies could only handle an hour. It’s hot and windy but the pool is sheltered, only hot. We picked up my new insoles, they feel a little tight but the girl says that they’ll flatten out as I walk.
A Big Surprise then Dinner Out With Friends
More journalizing for me, I took a call from Dario in the late afternoon. We talked about taking a bike ride and I invited them to come over when he gets off work. He said 5:00 would be good. That surprised me because he had said that he works until 6:00 PM? Well, we were having a difficult time with languages. I suggested having Pizza together after our ride.
Cat got a haircut, her shortest yet and it looks very cute. When she returned we began to prepare for a bike ride. 5:00 PM came and went and the big hand slowly made full circle. At 6:00 the doorbell rang. What a huge surprise, it was Adriano and Bella. Now we worried that we had two guests, until we talked for a few minutes. Adriano said that he was confused when he called earlier, they don’t have bikes but would love to have Pizza or dinner with us.
What a laugh we all had. I was talking with Adriano and thinking Dario. No wonder he was confused. A glass of wine, good conversation and a look at some of our photos. They are really an interesting couple, remember we met them at the Omnibus Station and they helped us find a Hotel room in Santiago?. She’s from Seville, Spain and loved our photos of her hometown. She pointed out things to Adriano, he’s never been to Seville. They met because they share an interest in the Hopi Indians of Arizona. Adriano started writing a romantic novel based upon the Hopi’s. Bella is encouraging him to get back to work on it. She is in the midst of a Divorce. He has been for some time.
Adriano speaks good English and translates so that Bella can keep up with the conversation. He lived in Santa Barbara, California and worked at the University for 6 years. Cat discovered that Bella speaks French which led to them spending the evening chatting, exercising Cat’s ability.
We shelved the plan for Pizza and walked to Sarmiento Street for Chivito. Good food, good wine and now, good friends, too. During dinner Adriano told us about his work, he’s a Computer Programmer. He worked for Government for several years then took a position with the Vitriocultural Society. When times got bad they laid him off but he received severance pay. After scouting for work and getting lots of turndowns he used the money to open a Restaurant. Bad timing and he was out of biz in just over a year.
We walked past his old place on the way back home. Tough to make such a giant change but he seems to take it in stride. His philosophy is upbeat, he sees it not as failure but as a learning experience.
We never did hear from Dario and Magdelena?
December 2, 2004
Another Glorious Mendoza Day
Our regular window perch for breakfast, news in Spanish and a window full of Mendocinos going about their business. I continued the quest of completing the journal. Cat cooked lunch in then convinced me to take a break and get my haircut.
It was a short wait because of appointments but I finally got in to see the guy that had cut Cat’s hair. As I waited a regular appointment came in but was struggling with language. Marguerite is from Arizona but she and her husband have been living in Mexico for several years. They have now fallen in love with Mendoza and are buying a home here. She gave me her telephone number and invited us over for a glass of wine.
The stylist is an artist, he insisted on giving me a scissor cut when I suggested a number 3 buzz. He did nick my ear but I like the look of the hair. Cat scouted rental car offices while he cut. We want to see the area and visit some of the wineries. We called and invited Adriano and Bella to come along.
Expired License, New Chauffer
She came back and we walked to one that she thought was the best deal. They had no cars for tomorrow but sent us down the street to another dealer. They had a 4 door and a good rate but when I flipped out my Drivers License they politely refused, it has expired. So, Cat had to do the deal and will be the designated driver. So, even though I failed we are now ready to tour. They brought the car around, Cat checked all the numerous dents and dings then we were off. It’s only a few blocks to Millennium Towers but we had a tough time getting around the one-way streets and then into the garage. It’s 6 stories of parking, the guy at the gate told us to go to floor 3 and park in any space marked M T. Cat honed her skills driving up the narrow ramps, around blind curves and backing up to avoid oncoming cars. Then, on floor 3 we found all the M T slots were filled. We were preparing to drive back down when the attendant appeared and motioned us into a non-M T space. Whew, it’s been more than 1 ½ years since Cat’s been behind the wheel.
Back home, I called Marguerite and suggested that this evening would be our only possibility for having that glass of wine. She invited us over at 7:00 PM. We got ready and carried two of our favorite bottles of Chardonnay, Latitud 33 and Haroralds.
What an interesting couple. They’re in their 80s, retired and full of life. C. W. owned several businesses in Indiana then later in Arizona. They bought a home in Mexico and have lived there for several years. On an exploratory trip here 4 years ago they fell in love with Mendoza and Argentina. They love Mexico but admit that life there is more difficult. Dealing with the food, water and social issues can be trying. This place is a lot like Arizona except the price of living is at least 50 to 60% less.
Charles, their 20-year-old Grandson, is living here and attending University. He came to visit them last year and decided to stay. A nice young guy, he’s scheduled a trek up Aconcagua and is friends with some Geologists who have sort of taken him under their wings. They use satellite imaging to assist in their search for minerals. Pretty interesting stuff. We enjoyed every minute of the evening, even overstayed our visit. It was almost 10:00 PM by the time we pulled ourselves away. Oh, and we’d gone through our contribution and a couple of their favorite bottles, too.
Starving, we found plenty of places open at this hour for dinner but sitting for another hour or more didn’t excite us. There it was, the Golden Arches, a MacDonald’s dinner. Cat was pretty disappointed at first then we discovered that they have some items we’ve never seen before. A great chicken salad and two Pita sandwiches. Loaded up with goodies and fries, we gorged on the goodies while watching BBC and News. A good ending to another great Mendoza day.
December 3, 2004
Wine Tour with Adriano and Bella
It’s not easy to wake up early, as though we’re on vacation. We’re scheduled to meet Adriano and Bella at 9:30 AM. Coffee and toast down then we were off to the Correo. (Post Office) Cat has jammed most of our winter cloths along with brochures, city maps and back up CDs into a box.
Post Offices worldwide share one common feature, when you go there be prepared to stand in line. Of course since we’re mailing International, we have 2 lines to endure. The first was a sit and wait. Cat was impatient and wanted to wrap the box but I convinced her that they’d want to see the contents before approving them. Our turn came, the man in blue rifled through then stamped the paperwork. They then had us wrap with the brown paper while still in their control. Nobody is going to slip one in on them! Next, around the corner and an even longer line. The only difference in this line and one at home is, they allow smoking here. The fellow behind us was a chain kind of guy.
Finally, postage applied and addresses rechecked, the parcel was off to Dana Point, CA and we were off on the run. It was 9:50, we were late. I had left a message for Adriano that we had to get the package mailed and asked them to meet us in the Café. They were there, sipping on café con leche.
After dropping the tape and scissors we tried to get to the parking garage in the elevator near the Pool. It wasn’t working. At ground floor the Doorman told us that we’d have to go down stairs then climb back up to floor 3. Cat did the duty as we waited.
First Stop, Parque San Martin
All aboard, we’re off. We’d seen Parque San Martin when we dined at Jesus Maria Parrilla but it was dark and we just cut the corner. Adriano was an excellent guide. We cruised the tree-lined streets, stopped for photos at interesting spots. A large memorial depicts the Airmail flights that originated in France. Remember, we met the pilots who were recreating the flights in Africa at Tan Tan Beach? The flights left Africa and crossed the Atlantic to South America. Dodged joggers and cyclists as they worked out and thought of Central Park in NYC. There is a lagoon, even a rowing club and Paddle Wheel River Boat. Then, to the top where stands a huge monument dedicated to “The Glory of the Andes” as well as a pretty good view.
Another item on our list of places is the “Ruins of San Francisco”. Beginning in 1638 the Jesuits built a Church and other buildings on the site. The tour was time consuming and we were salivating, anxious to get to the wine tasting part of our day. There are several interesting things to learn as the guide takes you through the changes that occurred here over the centuries. The main building slowly sunk to the level of a slaughterhouse. Closed for several years, the area has been excavated and history exposed. Amazing, below street level are tow fountains, one on tope the other. The water carrying mud has raised the ground level more than 3 meters (10 feet) in the past 200 years. An earthquake shook the huge stones of the church down in 1782. Fairly ugly pipe scaffolding protects the remaining stacks.
We did meet a young couple, Florencia from Cordoba and Claudio who lives here in Mendoza. She lived in Colorado for 2 years, speaks great English and jumped in as our tour guide from time to time.
Wine, the Real Reason For The Ride!
Time has flown, we’re having a good time. Most of the Bodegas are fairly close to town. Lunch and a bottle of Chardonnay at a wonderful Restaurant. We sat outside, watched other tourists including a busload, come and go. A warm, sunny afternoon with friends. The food was like a taste of many local vegetables, olives, meats, sausage and cheeses. Time was getting away from us.
Bodega Rural is more than a winery tour. It’s a museum of wine production here in Mendoza. It’s overflowing with equipment from all eras of winemaking. Up to and including a cowhide used for grape stomping with a spout where its head once hung. Again, the tour took a long time. e finally bellied up to the bar and tasted. A trio, Hugh, Holli and James, all spoke English. Hugh was wearing a shirt that said, Pasadena Baseball. No not a fellow Californian but he did get the shirt from one. He’s from Colorado, Holli’s from Texas and James’s from England. They’re all here studying, today they’re studying wines.
Our second stop was Bodega Familia Tomasco, a small family operation. Enrique, the Grandson of the Founders, took us on tour. He’s a handsome young guy and his family pride is obvious. We did see something unique, at least to us, before stainless steel cooling tanks they had tanks of masonry. Of course we tasted here, too.
Time was fleeting, we stopped at what was at one time the largest winery in Argentina. Two Swiss partners founded bodega La Colina de Oro, Hill of Gold, in 1896. They did well and prospered for a long time then came the differences and difficulties. It finally broke them and the Government took over for back taxes. At it’s zenith they employed 3,400. They operate, a Co-Op, at only 10% of capacity. Most of the huge oak tanks are filled with water to preserve them and it takes only 15 workers to get the job done, now. We rolled in at a bedtime, they were preparing for a wedding and hated to break away to provide a tour. The girl was nice and the tour brief, we appreciated that. The wine we tasted was only so-so, at best.
The rental car was due to turn into a pumpkin or at least a very expensive one day item if we didn’t get it back by 8:00 PM. Just under the wire, we checked in, checked out the old dings and assured them that there were no new. The 4 of us walked together for 4 blocks then we did the hugs and cheek kisses. Adriano and Bella boarded a streetcar and we walked toward our apartment. Dinner, we picked up a chicken and scalloped potatoes. It went well with our last glass of Chardonnay of the day.
December 4, 2004
Readying For the Road
Breakfast in our window seat and the continued joy of the passing Mendocinos. The rest of the day was committed, mine to the journal and Cat’s to getting us organized and ready to roll. She completely unpacked and repacked every bag.
Adriano and Bella stopped in. They’d made us a copy of what he called Inca Music, Pan Flutes and Guitars. They both have a connection with Native Americans and this was a meaningful gift. E too had an offering for friends, we put all the pictures of the past few days and some of other places we’ve visited including Seville, on a CD for them. Bella is leaving, going back home to Seville on Tuesday.
Pablo stopped by with my new helmet. We had given up and were ready to ride with my old broken bucket. He is such a nice guy, we’re having trouble with the computer. Adriano had spent time trying to solve the problem but gave us as they had a luncheon date. Pablo sat down and went through the system then called a Tech friend and walked through the problems with him. All to no avail, we’re either stuck in two language programs or the keyboard is stuck, or both. He took the old helmet and will mail it home for us.
Time to carb up, Cat prepared pasta with chicken and veggies.
Sunday, December 5, 2004
Mendoza to Media Agua
Up early, loaded up then down and a wait for breakfast. The Café is closed to business but open for Hotel guests on Sundays. Cat cooked scrambled eggs and crudo ham, a real power breakfast for our first day back on the road. Between our spells of Guff Guff, time for the side trip to Santiago and this past week in our penthouse, it’s been a long time since we saddled up and moved on.
Rather than struggle, we took the bikes down one at a time then followed with the bags. The Doorman was curious and helpful. The Café has opened so we left the bikes for him to guard and had our last media lunas and café con leche in our window seat. It was pretty boring, no passers by, the streets are dead.
Out the door, into a beautiful sunny day and into the city streets by 9:30 AM. A couple of ask, asks and we soon broke free, into the countryside. Warm weather and the wind at our backs, who could ask for anything more? We’ve seen posters promoting bike races. It seems to be a series of races and at a cross road we found ourselves surrounded by racers.
The road runs flat and with the wind, we were flying. A stop for drinks at a small store then back into the fast track. Lunch, Empanadas that Cat had packed away in our bags. We sat in the shade of a tree and enjoyed the taste and sites of Argentina. The Sunday traffic was thin and courteous.
The road is now lined with small farms, rural homes and trees, lots of trees. A well received change from all the dry. Barren desert we’ve known for so long. Our well-rested legs pushed hard and we made good time. By 4:30 PM we stopped for soft drinks. The woman there had only a 2-liter Pepsi, we bought. She gave us some good news, there’s a small Motel in Media Agua, just 10 Ks from here. So, no camping tonight. We gave the remaining Pepsi to her kids who had been hovering around and cycled on with a renewed spirit.
Media Agua is really just another of those proverbial “wide spots” in the road but this wide spot has a place to sleep attached to a small restaurant and service station. The room is just adequate but better than the tent. The shower was a dribble but better than no shower at all.
Dinner, a typical truck stop menu, mashed potatoes and steak, pretty darned good steak too.
We were tired, a good tired. It’s been months since we’ve ridden more than 100 Ks in a day.
December 6, 2004
Media Agua to San Juan
Bread and Water Breakfast, worse than the usual, the coffee was almost water and the bread was at least 3 days old. As we bumped down the stairs we ran into another cyclist, Jorge. He’s ridden from his home in Uspallata high on the mountain. His equipment is minimal. He had no bedroll and when we asked about where he sleeps he said something about his wife coming? Maybe she’s sagging for him?
Flat and hot is the best we can say about the ride today. Oh, we did get a kick out of a Shrine and small town next to it. Santa Barbara, the Shrine is next to the tiny Pueblo of Carpenteria. Carpenteria is a small coastal town just south of the wonderful city of Santa Barbara, just north of our home in Ventura. Memories of home! The lovely tail wind has dampered down and slowed us, that and the fatigue that is filling our legs. Even with those changes we still made good time and entered San Juan at 1:30 PM.
Making our way through the busy streets, we asked and asked and finally found the Hotel recommended by Lonely Planet. Shock, they were fully booked. The guy told us about another just around the corner. I stood the guard while Cat took a look. She came back with her nose curled up, the place reminded her of a rundown retirement home. Onward, then as we rounded the corner on the street where our next prospective home, Hotel Alkazar lies, a guy, Francisco, stopped us and wanted to know where we’re from and where we’re headed. As we talked his friend, Andrea, walked up and joined the chat.
Francisco owns a just opened Hostel. We would have been tempted to follow him but the place is on the edge of town. He also teaches Salsa Dancing and Lectures on Ancient Eastern Philosophy. The best of it, he speaks great English. As we talked a fellow with a camera came up and asked for an interview. Francisco translated our story for the Reporter, we shook hands and promised to get together again, somewhere, someday then we pushed our bikes and tired bodies across the street.
Alkazar, the name, reminds us of places we visited in Spain. Though they advertise themselves as a 5 Star Hotel the price is right, 135 Pesos per night. As we discussed staying for a day off I talked with the Clerk and he discounted the rate to 108 Pesos. Wow, only $35 US per night. Well the 5 Star thing is questionable but the room is okay.
They have a subterranean garage and had us ride the automobile elevator down. The guard there promised that no one would touch the bikes. We off loaded our clothing and the computer then I lashed them to a sign. We went directly to the bar area and ordered sandwiches and Pomelo, the grapefruit soda.
I broke out the computer and began journalizing, Cat went to the Tourist Office to figure out how, when and where to get the bus to the Difunta Correa Shrine then shopped for food and wine.
We dined down, fish for the Cat and mustard steak for me. Pretty good. We were the only customers. BBC news then sleep.
December 7, 2004
R&R in San Juan
Our 6:30 AM wakeup call jerked us into the day. We need to get to the Bus Station by 8:00 to get tickets. Breakfast, a pretty good buffet, then off to the station in a Taxi at 7:30. Our concerns of missing the bus or not getting tickets were unfounded. The tickets cost 16 Pesos for both, only $5.33 US.
There were several locals on the half filled bus. We watched the ones carrying flowers or other gifts. The bus stops several times to drop off and pick up passengers. In just an hour we were in Vallecito and walking on the hallowed ground of Difunta.
Difunta, Saint or Myth?
Back during the civil wars here in the 1840s it is said that a woman named Deolinda Correa was following the army that her Husband had been conscripted into. She traveled on foot through the desert here with her baby in her arms. When she ran out of food and water it is said that she died here. When she was found the baby was still alive and nursing at her breast. We found no explanation for the name Difunta though it means, defunct.
Shunned by the Catholic Church, she is believed to be a person who had died but had the power to perform miracles or grant wishes. (One fellow who spoke English told us that though the Church doesn’t recognize her they never turn down cash donations made in her name. There must be plenty of those as almost 250,000 pilgrims descend upon the Shrine annually.)
There are 17 small Shrines, each dedicated to different types of gifts and wishes. They are covered with plaques thanking Difunta. Inside are items of thanks left for her. Models of houses are scattered about as thanks for helping the giver get a new home. License plates and pictures of cars are thanks by people who prayed for a new car. There are lots of old cars, even wrecked cars in a fenced area. Lonely Planet says that the Shrine began as just a simple cross on the hill in the 1940s. Definitely a strange and unusual place, definitely worth visiting.
Our moment of closeness with Difunta came when a guy pushed a bicycle into the receiving house for gifts. As he passed he said, “Hello Pat & Cat”. It was Jorge, the fellow we met in Media Agua. So this is where he was headed? He introduced his wife and two daughters then told us that he had made a promise to Difunta. Language and his need to get his sunburned face to shade and find food preempted our attempt to understand what he had promised or asked for.
The bus departs at 11:30, we were back in town in an hour. We dined on ham and cheese, really good ham and cheese sandwiches at a small Internet Café while checking our e-mails.
I went to the garage and tried to change the setting of the rack that Pablo had moved when the screw broke. It is tight and my wrench wouldn’t break it loose. The Bellman, Marcello, told me of a Bicycle Shop and drew a map to help me find it. Good thing I had the map, I set off up the street, dodging in and out of traffic only to discover that I’d come the wrong direction. Backtracking, I got to the shop only to find that they don’t work on bikes. The clerk tried to explain something to me then gave up and motioned for me to follow. Pushing behind him we walked a block then into an alleyway. There were several guys working on bikes, it reminded me of the little roadside shops in Africa.
A young guy came to me and by using sign language he got the point. He had the tools and he knew what to do. The rear rack had to be moved back to facilitate my big feet. They strike the bags on each turn of the pedals. It took him 10 minutes or so to reschedule and he refused to take any payment. He did say that he uses Internet and would look at our site.
Our afternoon was a lazy lay around. We are tired, we just lay back on the bed and dozed. Our plan to go out for Pizza was dashed but the rest felt great. We dined down, again. They do have Pizza but it is like frozen crust baked in a regular oven.
Back to the bed, we watched most of a movie before zonking off.
December 8, 2004
San Juan to Campsite @ Tucunuco
The nice gal who serves asked if we wanted eggs. They made fried eggs with ham for us. That and the rest of the good buffet fueled us up for the log ride ahead.
It’s breezy this morning and often in our faces. The road is flat, traffic hectic getting out of town then it leveled off, too. There were several other cyclists on the road. More posters touting a Bicycle Race and these guys looked like they were headed to one. The road took a little up that caused heavy breathing and burning legs.
Another anomaly, a Hotel with hourly rates? It brought back memories of cycling in Japan. They call them “Love Hotels” there.
A deserted building, probably a Service Station/Store in days gone by became our lunch break. We’ve picked up a tail wind again and it’s cool. We had to break out our jackets while we ate.
Onward, flat and fast to the place where Cat’s map said that we’d find a Hosteria. The name is the same but the buildings now hose government offices. That is all there is out here. It is really desolate. We’re following an old Railroad track that at times hangs between places where the dirt has washed away. Another place showing on Cat’s map turns out to be a ghost town of rock buildings. A truck driver we talked with at the Government Offices told us that we’d find a place about 40 Kilometers further. We pushed on, being pushed by the friendly wind.
It was getting late and we were beginning to doubt the guy’s word when we came upon another cluster of stone buildings. We pulled off into the rocks then pushed across the abandoned tracks. These places were at one time the connecting stations of the Rail Road. I had an emergency need and just barely made it to the abandoned Stone Outhouse.
The wind calmed, we enjoyed calm warm evening as we set up camp. Then while cooking or rice it began to rain. Not a downpour but enough to wet the ground and give it a wonderful fresh smell. Lights out at 9:00 PM. We lay and listened to the spatter of raindrops as we dropped off to sleep.
December 9, 2004
Campsite @ Tucunuco to Jachal
The clouds were gone, we awoke to a bright sunny morn. The sun brought our bugs by the thousands. We sat in the shade and ate our cereal and bananas, swatting and cursing the little devils.
This morning’s road is a slow climb into a constant headwind. Off by 9:00 AM we pedaled hard and were in the streets of San Jose de Jachal by 12:30. ell, we turned the corner at the City Sign then rode a long way in the now warm sunshine. I stopped to take a picture of tow old trucks, lost balance and dropped the bike. Cat had ridden on, she was around the corner and out of sight. I had to hustle to catch up. We have a rule that we stay in visual at all times but she was so anxious to get to a bath and food that she lost track of me.
There are only 2 Hotels in Jachal. We looked at one then rode on to check out the other. It had less to offer but the gal did tell us of a place to find lunch. Nico’s turned out to be the only restaurant open for lunch in town. We parked the bikes in front of the window and took a seat. Service was slow, the place was busy. I found Pomelo in the refrigerator and we split a big bottle. The lunch was a matter of ordering something we know, pollo and papas. (Chicken and Fries.) I was so thirsty that I got another liter of the cold Pomelo.
Our Hotel choice, San Martin, is basic. Marcello, the owner, sits near the door and greets visitors. He is full of suggestions but could only speak English so most went over our heads.
Our toilette is one of those all in one deals where you straddle the toilet when you shower. The showerhead is gone so it’s just a spout of water but it felt good. Not hot so Cat suffered a bit but she said that it was better than camping. Unfortunately we flooded the room and some of the carpet outside the door.
Marcello pointed out the Internet Shop location and we walked in the hot afternoon sun only to find that all the machines were in use. The guy took our names and put us on a waiting list. He suggested coming back in an hour. The ACA Office and Service Station is a long walk on hot streets. We got there only to find that it was closed. Back to Internet and the noise of the games and thick smoky air. Amazing how many kids smoke here.
Restaurants here don’t open until 10:00 PM. We thought about the wait then asked if we could cook pasta in the little kitchen of the Hotel. They allowed and we had pasta in the room. Ate it directly from the pot, sitting on the bed, while we watched a movie.
December 10, 2004
The Circus in San Jose de Jachal
The Charlie Connection
Breakfast was coffee and toast. We didn’t even have bananas to supplement it. As we sipped a couple of guys came in and sat across from us. They spoke English, we couldn’t resist saying hello, which started a conversation and friendship. Jim and Jason are Geologists from Australia. We told them of meeting the young guy in Mendoza who has friends prospecting via satellite imaging. Almost in unison they said, “You must be talking about Charlie”! Remember when we met his Grandmother Marguerite then had wine and cheese with them? Another of those SMALL WORLD CONNECTIONS!
I checked out there motorcycles and GPS Systems. Jim said that they use the GPS often, when they park the pickup and head out on the bikes. He says that it would be embarrassing to loose your truck when you’re miles from nowhere. They’re great guys, we had fun doing a little video and taking pics. Jason even contributed “You Must Be Crazy” in Guinea Pigeon language.
Must Be Crazy", Pigeon Guinea
We walked back to ACA and bought the map of Salta Provencia. Did we mention that the Circus is in town? It’s just down the street from the Station. I remembered days as a boy when my brother and I would work like dogs for the Clyde Beatty Circus just to get a free ticket. The work was tough, dirty and great fun. We got to meet the performers as they helped hoist the Big Top. Cat can’t remember ever going to one, we decided that we must go.
I hit the computer and journal pages, Cat went back to Internet then picked up Chicken and Fries on the way back. We ate in the breakfast room and watched a movie about the struggles of a gay man who was married and had a family before he finally gave in to his desires. Quite a mess for him and the family.
I went back to the journal pages, Cat watched movies all afternoon. All stores are closed for siesta from 1:00 to 5:30 PM. While we were at ACA we asked the little restaurant across the street if we could dine at 8:00 so we could get to the Circus. They agreed.
I finished the journal entries at 7:00 and went to the Internet to e-mail the pages to Wally. The place was deserted, the server was down, no wonder.
We took sidewalk seats at 8:30 and watched the comings and goings as most of the town prepared for a night at the Circus. Very good salad and steak with papas fritas but they didn’t hit the table until 9:00 PM.
The Circus only starts selling tickets at 8:30. We got in line at 9:30 and were finally in our seats at 10:00. The show that was to start at 10:00 became a hand clapping, whistling, shouting and complaining feat until 11:00 then the clowns hit the center ring of the Big Top. Kids love clowns, adults do, too. They speak in an internationally known language that filled the Big Top with laughter. Funny, the audience is divided into classes. Our cheap seats are white, the next step up are red. A sign threatens expulsion if you move fro white to red. Most of the white seats are full, the red empty?
They had some trapeze acts that were pretty good. I particularly wanted to see the motorcycle in the big ball but we gave in to heavy eyelids at midnight.
December 11, 2004
Jachal to Campsite 399Km
Breakfast, we were a little disappointed, Jim was there and told us that Charlie wouldn’t be in until this evening. We’d hoped to see him and close the link on this unique, small world scenario. Jason was sleeping off the night of dancing at the Disco. We had a quiet breakfast then I walked to the Internet Shop and sent the completed version of our Esquel to Mendoza journal pages.
Café con Leche To Go
Loaded and out front, I tried to chat with Marcello but lost to language problems. What a nice guy, he was saying something about coffee but I just had to shrug and say, “No Comprende”! He looked perplexed then walked away, down the sidewalk. I got the bikes ready while Cat paid the bill. Marcello came back with a big can of Nestles Instant Café con Leche and handed it to me. What a nice gesture, he had been trying to say that we could take coffee with us. As much as we appreciated his kindness we had to graciously say no. He understood when I showed him that we had no room for the big can in our Bolsas. (Bags) He smiled, shook my hand and walked away again, to return it for a refund.
It was 10:00 AM by the time we hit the road. We were both full of Circus fatigue. Back to the ACA Station then left past the Big Top and onto the open road. There’s a crossroad and a choice to make, no signs. We asked and a young guy pointed straight ahead. We rode but began to question the route. Another ask and again, the same answer but we were still dubious? Then a man on bicycle coming toward us gave a precise answer, ahead to the fork where the big Gaucho Estatue stands then to the dereche, the right and onto the Ripio. (Dirt Road)
We knew of the dirt road and the pass, Cuesta de Huaco. We didn’t know that it would be so tough to ride and such a hot day. It became a push to the top, a photo of the ever-expanding view below and a pouring of water on our heads and down our shirts as a cool down.
A cautious downhill and it was time for lunch. Two huge eucalyptus trees at a tiny finca provided shade. Eating our sandwiches under the gaze of the farm workers, we tried to talk with them but they just smiled, waved and went about their work. They live in an adobe hut and seem proud of their little patch of earth. It seems to provide the necessities of life for them.
Onward, an imposing mountain ahead began to worry us. It looked like it would be a tough climb. Below, a dam held back water that forms a small lake in this very dry place. Then the sign indicating a tunnel brought relief and the shade inside was a relief from the hot sun. We have been pushing almost as much as we’ve ridden.
On an uphill push a car pulled over above us, the guy got out and took a picture of our effort. Klaus and Katja are from Germany on a 3-week vacation. Horace, the other fellow in the car, got out and sat in the shade of a bush on an empty plastic bottle. He, Horace the Hitchhiker, is from Bolivia. Klaus and Katja had picked him up and somehow helped him cross the border without papers? He has been unemployed an is here to find work. We began to think that his only possession was the bottle he sat on? It made us wonder what cycling in Bolivia will be? We’ve heard that the country is a lot poorer than Argentina. Hope we haven’t been spoiled here?
Klaus warned us that we had 3 Ks more of loose dirt and rock and up, up, up. He was right, it was a tough push then, Mirador de Huaco. The panorama was even better than Klaus and Katja had described. The hills of green, red and gold and below, in the bottom of the canyon, Rio de Huaco, shining in the bright sun.
Though the ride down was treacherous, we did ride. The loose dirt, rocks and big drop off to the left kept us hugging the uphill side of the road. At the bridge we leaned the bikes on a tree, took off our cycling jerseys and dipped them in the cool refreshing water. Just sitting there with the wet shirts on our heads and cool water dripping down our foreheads and backs. So refreshing that we had a hard time pulling away, getting on the bikes and heading out into the hot sun, again.
Tired and thirsting for a cold drink, we pulled into the Huaco Political Checkpoint. The guard waved us through but we stopped and asked if there was a Kiosk ahead. He indicated that we could find one about 2 Ks off to the right, toward Huaco. Hating to add extra mileage we talked then decided that we’d better find cold drinks and more water. As we rode we talked about just staying here if there is a Hosteria. The little Pueblo is noted for having a Flour Mill built before the turn of the 20th Century. The Kiosk was closed, we went on toward town then saw a sign for Bebidas, drinks. It was a meat shop but they had soft drinks and cold water.
We took a seat under a tree and sipped a liter of ice cold Pepsi. The young boy there, Franco, told us that there is no Hosteria or any place to stay in Huaco. We took his word rather than riding the additional 5 Ks to find out.
Turning back, we rounded the corner at the Checkpoint, the Guard waved and we rejoiced as we hit the asphalto. We’d decided to ride another 20 Ks or so then find a campsite. The road was a long slow up lined with workers chopping back the brush. A crew with a backhoe and dozer were clearing and widening the shoulder. One of the guys ran out to us and offered agua. (Water) What nice people but then, this is an almost inhospitable environment where people look out for other people.
There is nothing that even looks like a place to campout here. The bushes are low, any trees stand a long way off the road. It is really hot and we are weakening. At last, the worst possible place to camp was the best we could do. A tree at the edge of a dry wash and a path cut by the dozer led us to the embankment. Sitting, reviewing our options, we decided that rain was improbable so we began unloading and pitching the tent on a place under the tree with the least rocks.
We were absolutely exhausted. It was hard work getting our campsite set and cooking rice to combine with our left over chicken. The food was good and brought energy back. The wine was fine and dulled the pain in our legs and backs.
Our tent is visible to traffic coming from the north for a few seconds but there is little or no traffic. The oppressive heat hung heavily in the evening air. This would be the first time we’ve slept without the rain fly. Dinner was delicious, the night sky was clear and it began to cool. A thousand stars stared down on us as we drifted off to sleep.
Sunday, December 12, 2004
Campsite 399 Km to Villa Union
Easy to get up early when the sun starts peaking into the open top tent at 5:30 AM. We had cereal pulled down the camp, loaded the bags and were on the road at record early time, 8:20.The wind has picked up but it’s going with us. The road is flat with small rolly pollies.
Both still tired and weak, we pedaled non-stop 36 Ks to Guandacol in just 2 hours. Well, Guandacol is off the road to the left but there is a YPF Service Station that has limited food, soft drinks and Popsicles. We pulled in and I ate 4 Popsicles while we waited for our Ham, Egg and Cheese sandwiches. Then we drank 3 liters of Gatorade and wolfed them down. A fresh round of cool mineral water in our bottles and we hit the road toward Villa Union.
Out the door and off to the right, the helpful wind now became unfriendly. It was hot and into our faces and the road took a turn for the up. I began to experience an exaggerated heart rate. Uncomfortable, I found a small tree, lay both bikes down on their sides and we huddled in the shade. I lay back on the ground and relaxed for more than half an hour. Feeling less fatigued, we set off up and into the heat, again.
La Chilca is a blivet on our maps. As we passed the City sign we could only see two houses, one was boarded up, the other a typical adobe. We pulled down, under a tree and next to a little stream of water coming from a pipe. I got the bikes propped up as a fellow, Palacio, came out to greet us. He led Cat back across the highway and showed her what he called good water. Cat went first while I stood guard. She did the jersey off, water-soaking thing again then came back. I almost hated to leave the shade but Cat assured me that the water was cool and worth it. She was right. I had to sort of lay on the ground and lower myself into the hole but the gusher of water was cool and refreshing.
Back in the shade, Palacio assured us that we were at he Paso, the highpoint and it would be down from here to Villa Union. He was almost right, we did have a few little ups but the 10 k coast down was almost as refreshing as the water pipe cool down.
There’s a stand of trees and an ACA Station at the bottom of the hill. Villa Union lies 3 Ks to the left. We pulled in and had soft drinks then talked with some fellow travelers. Ruben and Hugo are brothers, Tomas and Grace, husband and wife. They’re all from Buenos Aires, driving 4WDs and heading out cross-country into the Parque National Talampaya and Valle de Luna. They’ve been traveling together for several years. Tomas and Grace speak English, he said that he learned his from the Irish Brothers at Catholic School.
The first Hotel we tried had no place to keep the bikes. They wanted us to leave them in the courtyard. It was 4:00 PM by the time we found Hotel Central. Nice room and we could take the bike in but, the bad news, all rooms are upstairs. I felt too tired to push them up or to unload and carry all the bags. The Clerk was anxious to have us for 2 days, he volunteered to carry and we let him.
The room is pretty small for the 2 of us and 2 bikes. The bath is another all in one and water goes in every direction and floods the floor but the good news, the air conditioning works great! Cat shivered through a cold to cool shower, I got it hot because they finally turned the heater on at 6:30 PM.
What is described as the best restaurant in town opens at 8:00. Their wine supply lacked blanco (white). The owner went shopping for Chardonnay, we ordered, chicken for Cat and Chivito for me. Geez I love those little goats. The wine was warm but they iced it, the food was great and the people working there, gracious.
We met a couple, the only other patrons, Juan and Maria. They too are driving through the National Parks and live in Bs As. She’s a Nurse and speaks English, he’s a retired Pharmacist. Between the food and friends it became the perfect end to a tough day.
December 13, 2004
A Day in Villa Union
Brother Bob’s 59th BD
Hotel Central is cheap partly because they don’t offer Desayuno (Breakfast). There is a little place down the street so we walked. The lady was less than cordial, the place was full of flies and the coffee was the kind that is made with a teabag full of coffee. We asked for another bag to strengthen it but she told us that she had no more? The best of the morning was when Juan and Maria came in. We chatted with them while the lady served them the same weak coffee with bags she said she didn’t have?
Olivier, Another French Cyclist
Back at the Hotel, there was an unattended bike loaded with bags sitting out front. I stood guard over it while Cat went inside searching for the rider. The Clerk pointed to a door, Cat knocked and Olivier opened the door. He had come in late last night. He’s from France and cycling alone. His route has brought him down the same corridor we are moving northward on. He started in Ecuador, through Peru and Bolivia and will ride to Ushuaia. He knew of Ruta Cuarenta and told us that he has decided to ride Ruta Tres. A good move since he has limited time. He is going to go over into Chile then down and back in to Argentina at Bariloche. He speaks great English and we three enjoyed the conversation so much that we began to worry about time. He seems to go, no matter time or distance. He loves his tent and camping. We were worried about the heat and the climb. Parting was slow and almost emotional. It’s so good to talk with those who understand the pains and joys of cycle touring.
I worked on pictures while Cat went on a frustrating visit to the Correo (Post Office). Her attempt to mail CDs home was thwarted by the lack of an Aduana. The guy called regional center but no one there could tell him how to so he refused. The Boss was out to lunch. This, like most other Postal systems in the world, is a great deal like our own beloved US Postal Service.
A 2 Peso taxi ride to the YPF Service Station and hamburgers for lunch. We really wanted to check on whether we could get breakfast here, tomorrow. The burgers were okay and yes, they open at 7:30 AM. So, we’ll cycle out here, eat then leave in the morning.
I continued my posting of pictures, Cat washed our dirty pots, pans and water bottles. We just lounged around, lay on the bed watching TV and dozed a little as the afternoon past.
Dinner back at our favorite Restaurant, the only one we know of, La Palmera, for dinner. Great steaks, potatoes and veggies. They even had a cold bottle of the local Chardonnay for us.
The square is across from La Palmera and the Tourist Office is on the other side. We walked over and talked with the girl but she had little info for us. They are a travel company and she only wanted to sell us a tour.
Early to bed, dreams of dirt roads and hot weather or should we say, nightmares?
December 14, 2004
Villa Union to Cuesta de Miranda
Up early, bags packed and I took the bikes down the steep stairs, one at a time. The air is crisp and fresh but we know that it won’t last. A nice ride to the YPF and a little disappointment. The girl yesterday told us that they’d have eggs. They had neither she nor eggs so our breakfast was yogurt, bananas and media lunas with good strong coffee. A refill of our plastic bottle using 3 half-liter bottles of Gatorade. We’ve begun doing this for ease of carrying as compared to the small glass bottles. We topped off our water and were out the door by 9:00 AM.
Back the 3 Ks to Ruta 40 then left and into an uphill pull for 25 Kilometers then the asphalto crumbled and we were on dirt, again. In a little cluster of houses we stopped and asked about a Kiosk. The young kids pointed to a house. A girl answered the door and nodded affirmatively, disappeared and returned with a 2-liter bottle of Orange Drink. Sitting on a cement walkway in the shade we drank and watched the chickens try to scratch out a living. Cat asked and then we wet our jerseys down with a hose they were using to fill a big barrel. Cooled down and full of Orange Drink, Cat called the young girl over and handed her the half bottle that remained. The girl was all smiles.
Onward, upward and pushing as much or more than cycling on the dirt and rock. The landscape here is beautiful, the cactus huge. We have saguaro cactus in Arizona, these must be a larger cousin. And, the colors, mostly red rocks accented with swatches of greens, yellows and browns.
Lunch in the shade of a couple of large eucalyptus trees, facing a tiny cornfield. A couple of cars passed and honked as we ate. A yellow jacket flew up then around Cat’s face. That caused a real dance and desire to get moving.
The Lonely Planet says that there are 800 curves in this road, we believe them. We were almost sorry that we missed El Valle de la Luna but these rock formations are as spectacular as any we’ve seen. The pictures should speak for themselves but it’s hard to get the feeling of immense grandeur from small photos.
Another stop for drinks at Los Palacinos, a tiny Pueblo. The place is called Felipe’s and Felipe himself sold us the sodas then let us hose down out front. We thought he told us that we still have 9 kilometers to go. More struggling and a lot more pushing for 3 hours. This was 9 Ks from Felipe’s and it we now got his meaning. This is where the road really gets steep, we could see it clinging to the cliffs above then disappearing into a cut at the summit.
I felt that we should camp somewhere nearby and make the final assault in the morning.
Give Up Cat was so anxious to get to the top that her vote was to press on. I pointed out the fact that there would be no turning back once we start and no place to stop and camp. After a little soul searching we decided to check a tree up the road for a potential campsite. It took a little work to get the bikes down, off the road and into the gully. After we made it we sat and rested our weary bodies.
Setting up required scooping the horse manure and rocks away. Getting the tent up was a very slow process. Though we’re behind a tree, we’re still really close to the road. We can see the cut above us at the top of the hill from camp. Not only tired but now stiff and sore, we are both glad that we can sit, drink a glass of wine and relax.
Cat’s famous Pasta with Soup Mix for dinner, which tasted great and filled a real void left by all the exertion. It was warm, we again slept without the rain fly. A sky full of stars and 2 tired cyclists. Sleep came easily.
December 15, 2004
Cuesta de Miranda to Chilecito
Down and Dirty
An early wake up but we moved in slow motion. Breakfast cereal then folding up the campsite took a lot of energy. As we struggled a caravan of 4WD vehicles came roaring past. They were spaced about a quarter kilometer apart, probably due to the visibility problem their dust created. It still hung heavily in the air when we finally got the bikes onto the road and loaded.
The ride up was steep but we were able to cycle most of it. Cars and trucks honk as they pass through the cut, we could see why. It’s a blind corner and we were a little disappointed to see more up when we rounded it. A long sweeping upward curve then we crested Cuesta de Miranda. The sign is missing some numbers but it’s clear that we’re at 2020 meters. (6,666 feet) There are a couple of little shrines and an old house. Cat said, “Sort of anticlimactic”!
The view does go on forever but it too is sort of less than spectacular. Yesterday’s scenery may have spoiled us? The left side of the road was a sheer drop off, often. Riding down steep, clutching the brakes, we were pleasantly surprised to hit asphalto in just 9 kilometers.
A quick stop at a small kiosk, the nice lady had only soft drinks. She served us then turned on the TV and sat eating and praying. We chugged down the drinks and got back to business. The asphalto is in good shape and the downhill delicious. We were in Nonogasto, about 30 Ks, in just an hour and a half.
A stop at the YPF for soft drinks and Popsicles. There were a couple of guys there with backpacks. Juan and Juan have been trekking in the mountains and are hitchhiking back to Buenos Aires. The taller Juan is planning a hitchhiking trip around the world with his girlfriend. He has even put together a web site dedicated to Hitchhiking in Argentina. Check it out at www.AutoStopArgentina.com.ar.
The ride to Chilecito is a pretty good uphill but we had a wonderful wind at our backs and the riding was fairly easy if with our worn out bodies. The Tourist Office is just before a bridge and the City. They were very helpful. One of the Hotel looked great but is out of town. We decided on the ACA, which is near the Plaza and has very low prices according to the girls.
They didn’t have a room, we almost panicked then the nice clerk told us that we’d have to wait until 5:00 PM when a gal here on business would vacate. He had us pull the bikes into the lobby and leave them next to his desk. We went right into the restaurant and had lunch, we were starving by now.
A walk to the Internet Shop and the joy of messages from you, our reading friends filled the time. Back at 5:00, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the room was ready for us. Necessary bags off, we locked the bikes to a concrete room divider next to the desk and carried the bags up. Sorry, no CNN or BBC but they do have Air Conditioning and the already low rate of 48 Pesos was discounted to 32 due to our membership in AAA. Wow, that’s just $10.66. No wonder we love this Argentina!
Another wonderful thing, they start serving La Cena (dinner) at 8:00 PM. A little time for lounging and a glass of wine then down to dinner. Steak, potatoes and steamed veggies, great and priced at the same value as the room.
Though the AC is a noisy one, it didn’t take long for 2 tired road warriors to get to sleep.
December 16, 2004
A Day of Rest in Chilecito
Stephanie La Rae’s Birthday
The included breakfast is typical buffet style. As we ate a young couple across from us asked where we’re from. They, Raul and Nancy, are following a Car Show. He has a Renault that he shows in competition. They have a car full of trophies to prove that the car is a winner. Cat thinks that Nancy, who is cute and built, probably wears a thong and distracts the Judges? Raul used to race motorcycles until he went endo, you can see the scar on his knee if you look closely enough.
We walked to Internet then Cat went on to shop for lunch things and a few other essentials while I answered your messages. Thanks again for keeping us in mind.
Back at our ACA I worked the journal pages while Cat washed the pots, pans and water bottles, again. Then she took another frustrating trip to the Correo. Again, they didn’t know how to get the package of CDs to an Aduana so we’ll have to carry them onward with us.
Dinner down, again. The Pasta we chose to carb up on wasn’t as tasty as the steaks but then, when is it?
This evening we repacked the bags and prepared to hit the road, again.
December 17, 2004
Chilecito to Famatina
When we asked the guys told us that they could prepare ham and eggs to supplement the buffet. However when we tried to order Ramon, our friendly waiter told us that there was no Chef this morning. I jokingly told him that I could cook eggs and he accepted the challenge. The kitchen stove was hot and there’s a big pan of grease on the back burner. Ramon had already put too much grease in the small skillet and I broke 3 of the eggs before deciding that it was too crowded and greasy. So, a struggle with the three and I broke two of the yokes. Pouring off half the grease, part of one of the yokes went back into the big pot. Oh well, they do have a screen to pull big pieces back out with. The 3rd egg was a masterpiece.
As we began to push out a group of people headed into a meeting stopped and wanted to know what we were up to? They are journalists, here for a conference. A couple of them, from TV La Rioja began talking with us and ended up shooting an interview. Javier who speaks a few words of English worked hard to help but we struggled trying to speak enough Spanish to make sense. It was fun, who knows if they will ever get it on the air?
With the bikes outside, we did a little TV work of our own, you can see it on the little video here. Richardo, the Desk Clerk is also a cyclist. He has a really nice bike but was intrigued with ours. I convinced him to take Cat’s for a ride.
Through town then a wonderful 10 Kilometer down hill in stark desert. At the bottom of the swooping hill we started up and it was up the rest of the day. A climb from 1074 meters (3545 feet) to 1580 (5215 feet) at Famatina. Luckily, the ride is only 36 kilometers total. It was hot and slow but the flora began to change, from desert brown to green grass and leafy trees.
It was 2:00 PM when we pulled up at the Hosteria Famatina. A nice little place with a restaurant. Lunch, sandwiches and soft drinks then we checked in. The girl insisted on seeing our Passports. That’s rare so I questioned her as to why? Her story was a sad one but we understood her motive for collecting names and numbers. Just 2 years ago a 25-yea- old girl from Australia, cycling alone here, disappeared and was never seen or heard from again. Her family came and stayed here. They and the authorities searched far and wide without ever turning up a trace. If she hadn’t had the girls Passport number and correct name they wouldn’t have been able to locate her family.
They gave us a double room and we were able to keep the bikes in the adjoining with a door directly into ours. This really helps get in and out quickly, without having to unload bags.
Surprise, they do have an Internet Café here. It was full of young boys playing noisy games. The guys at the Foosball Table were in a very spirited game that created yelps and cheers. We just checked in but couldn’t answer our e-mails so we quickly and got out of there.
The walk to the Super Market was long and uphill. It’s still pretty hot even at this altitude. A bottle of wine and we circled back past the ACA Station searching for a map of Provincia Salta, to no avail.
Dinner at the Hosteria, Pizza and Ravioli with chicken. The food was cold and only fair but the owners, Nicholas and Oliva are really nice people. We were the only customers, it was early to eat and early to bed. There is no TV in the room. We did watch the news in Spanish. I tried my best to get the International News, Cat gave up and headed for bed. I followed shortly, still wondering what I’d seen?
December 18, 2004
Famatina to Pituil
Up early, packed then breakfast, the bread and water standard. A picture with Nicholas and Oliva and we pedaled away at 8:20 AM. The same hill we walked up to the Market was the beginning of a 20 K up. Pole, pole, as our Swahili pals would say.
The road runs along a river or creek. We can hear it rushing and gurgling but it is invisible to us. It does leave a wide swath of green, trees, grass and farms. The hills and mountains are barren.
At the summit it’s a steep, rush toward the desert below. The canyon is narrow, the result of another river. We pulled up under a tree and ate the sandwiches that Nicholas had packaged up for us.
The road levels a bit but continues down to the base of a mountain then takes a turn to the left. It’s hot! We wheeled into the Pueblo Pithuil (Pit-Wheel) at 2:30 PM. (We’ve begun calling the place “Pituie”.) Hot and dry, we found a little market and, amazingly, they had Gatorade. We guzzled 2 bottles sitting on the steps under the watchful eye of the woman shopkeeper and all others who came and went.
Onward and just a short way down the street a guy sitting inside a large, open window looked out when we pulled up. The place was well furnished and looked big enough to be a Bed & Breakfast. He sort of laughed when we asked and made it clear that this beautiful, casa grande es para mi familia. He did give us some good news though, there’s a Pension. He called it Lina’s then pointed and gave us directions.
A cruise around 2 sides of the Plaza then another stop to ask directions. The Policia were as specific and Spanish speaking as the Familia fellow. We took the turn he suggested and were soon back out of town. Backtracking, we asked another young guy. He pointed down the street and said, “Casa blanca”. The only white house we found was great looking and had a Directo TV dish on the roof. Hopes were dashed, the woman with babe in arms who answered the door pointed across the street. It wasn’t white, more a dirty brown, but it was shelter. A group of young people had walked up and entered as we talked with the gal across the street. Cat stayed with the bikes while I walked across and knocked.
A young girl, Yamila, answered looked me up and down then said, “Un momento para la Seniora” and disappeared back inside. La Seniora opened the door and did the same up and down look then said something that sounded like no rooms. She looked across the street at Cat in the sun and asked something. I responded, “Mi Esposa” then she shook her finger and sort of scolded me. She waved to Cat and waved for her to cross the street. Then, she had us push the bikes around the side of her house and leave them there. Then she indicated that we should sit and she’d fix a room for us.
She disappeared, Yamila’s stare drifted back and forth from us to the blaring little black and white TV. We had no idea what was going on then la Senora, Magdalina, came back and invited us to take a look at the room that she’d cleaned for us. It was small and dark, the falling apart toilet was adjacent, it did have a shower. After a short discussion we decided that it was this or the tent and this won out, just barely. Magdalina got the point across that everyone calls her Lina then again said something about later, en las tardes? (The afternoon)
The shower hangs over the toilet, so to speak. The good news, it was cool and wet. The room takes the afternoon sun directly on the window side and it is HOT. After the refreshing splash we just lay back and understood the joy of “Siesta”. Too hot to close the door, we were enjoyed visits from both of Lina’s dogs and Yamila. They all just stood and stared. We did attempt to have a conversation with Yamila.
We dug out the bottle of wine on board and I took it to Lina. She let us keep it in the freezer. At 6:00 PM I went inside to retrieve it and found myself in the middle of a healing prayer. One of the guys who is staying here had his hand on Lina’s head. They both had their eyes closed and he was spewing Spanish, asking for descanso (rest) and bien salud (good health) for Lina. Yamila was sitting watching and smiling. Apparently she thought it was a funny show? When the session ended the Rev. turned, smiled at me and said “Adios”, picked up a backpack and exited with 2 other fellows.
It was so hot in the room that we sat on the patio, under a grapevine arbor, and sipped. The friendlier of the two dogs lay under our feet. Another woman, Rosa, came in and sort of helped Lina by sweeping a little and doing dishes. It turns out that she’s Yamila’s mother. Perhaps Lina watches Yamila during the day while Rosa works?
Rosa got the point across that we could move into the main house now that the others had gone. So, now we understood why the wait, while Lina cleaned the usually unused room and her comments about another room mas tardes (later). We didn’t want our 81 year old hostess to have to re-do the sheets etc. so we told Rosa that we would just stay in the annex room.
Tired of the heat, we decided to take a walk back into town, see if we can scare up a little food. As we locked the door Lina again made the suggestion that we change rooms. She had already changed the sheets and when we stepped inside the room it was at least 20 degrees cooler than our little hot box. Okay, we’re moving. It didn’t take long to shuffle the bags into our new home. There’s even a screen on the window and it’s in the shade of another grape arbor. The evening breeze was beginning to cool things even more. This was definitely a good move on our part, bless you Lina.
It’s tres cuadras (three blocks) back to the Plaza. It’s still muy calor (very hot) in the sun. We began a quest for Gatorade that ended because it was too hot and too far to walk all the way back to the little store we’d stopped at on the way into town. A banner hanging across the street at the Plaza marked the start of a run. Now, just before sundown runner were taking their marks. We got a photo of the women and young kids then walked in the shade to the only food in town.
Sitting on the narrow porch of the Restaurant we ordered then watched the progress of the racers. The men galloped off in the final rays of the day. They thundered back across the finish line in record time. As we ate a woman, Adry, approached and told us that she works at a Hospedaje (small hotel) in Famatina and had seen us ride past this morning. Nice gal but again, the language problem.
While we talked two young girls ran up carrying a huge trophy. One of them had won her age group’s race. The other is Adry’s daughter. They took a table next to us and began a pretty big beer drinking celebration.
Though the specialty of the house is Milannesa, the pounded, floured and fried steak, they did accommodate us with Lomo, actually Porterhouse steaks. They were thin cut but tender and juicy. It almost felt like we were part of the celebration, people all stopped and said hello as they past. Adry told them our story or at least what she understood of it. Interesting, 4 boys rode up on bikes then did the pedal stand that most cyclists do here. I mention it because it’s the way most cyclists leave their bikes at curbside. They push the left side pedal around to the back and lean the bike on it. Sometimes there are so many bikes lined up that parking cars have trouble getting in and out of their doors.
The walk back to Pension Lina was moonlit and cool. The room was pleasant, we were very happy with the change. Almost a bonus, the bathroom just across the hall is much nicer than the one outside, too.
Sunday, December 19, 2004
Pituil to Salicas
Awe geez, my watch stopped during the night. We’re lost, no idea what time it is. The juice and yogurt from Lina’s nevara (refrigerator). Lina doesn’t do breakfast. She did offer tea but has no coffee.
Lina offered a little insight into her life as we ate. She’s been here more than 60 of her 81 years. Never married, no children, she and her brother ran the place until he went away? Probably died but she was vague and then again there’s that language thing.
Exited Pension Lina at 8:30 AM. The road is fairly flat but the wind kicked up from the northeast. It slowed progress but cooled the air. We missed the turn to San Blas, the sign only said, “Policia”? Cat caught a feeling that we should turn, I pressed onward to a little store. The woman there confirmed Cats premonition but told us that there is no Hosteria there. She pointed on down the road and said, “Tres mas kilometers a Salicas”. So, on we went.
It was now very hot. The sun was burning our back, through our jerseys. This road is lined with small Pueblos. Salicas is just another, a strip of homes, small stores and a café or two. We stopped at the Service Station, they have a fairly large market but it’s closed on Sunday. When we asked about the Hosteria the guy pointed across the parking lot.
By now it’s 2:00 PM and we’re hot, tired and hungry. The nice girl showed us to our room and allowed us to take the bikes in. Why not? The place is really minimal. Another all in one bathroom and Cat feels like they forgot to clean it. In fact during her fact-finding inspection she came across a pair of used men’s underwear in the closet. There is no screen on the window and only a ceiling fan but, it is fairly cool with the window open. We figure that bugs can’t live in heat this intense. They must have to hibernate in the shade, too.
Lunch in our sweaty cloths. Pretty good sandwiches and a couple of other Argentineans to watch as they watched TV. One fellow eating and drinking a beer was struggling, he’s had a stroke and has to do everything with just his left hand. They were glued to a sort of soap opera.
The shower, though not the cleanest was cool and refreshing. We lay back and relaxed for a while then went back to the restaurant. It was all ours, in fact the girls working there came out and said they were closing. “Can we stay here”? “Si, si”. After we discovered that they had Directo TV it was an afternoon of CNN News. Oh, we had the girls get us a cold liter of Guilmes Beer before they departed.
Tired of over and over again news we decided to walk down the street and look for a nice bottle of wine to have with dinner. They do have a huge selection of beer, here but no wine. It is so scorching hot that we thought it would cook our brains. Nobody in town has Vino Blanco? All requests led to one store, a kind of warehouse looking place. The guy had box wine then dug deep and found a bottle of sparkling white wine. Cat objected but I bought. I’ve wanted to try it, anyway. He had some pretty bad looking bananas, too. At time to pay the price we thought he quoted for the bubbly wine went up. Cat really wanted to forget it but I persisted.
Back in our private dining room we found a movie and sat in the dark hall. The staff said they’d be back at 6:30 PM. A cleanup guy started sweeping and hosing the porch then a few other locals drifted in. When the girls did return we relinquished the TV to the growing, Football hungry crowd.
Another little lounge around in the room then back out to dinner at 8:00 PM. The crowd was still engulfed in the game. Dinner, chicken and rice was good and a good bargain, too. 6 Pesos each, about $2.00, better than Denny’s? The bubbly wine was at least okay but we won’t have to buy any more, unless in another pinch.
The little store down the street has opened, we walked to see if they have Gatorade. No luck but as we returned a dog came running out, snarling and showing his teeth. I kicked out and caught him right in the toothy snarl. He stopped in his tracks then whined and whimpered his way back into his yard. I immediately felt terrible and called to him. He tucked his tail between his legs and came slinking back toward us. I petted and apologized but warned him not to scare people again. Cat pointed out that he didn’t get it, he only speaks Spanish.
Cool air and the noise of the night from the street came through the shutters. The evening air being sucked in by the fan felt so good that we left window open and dropped off, dreaming of getting to Belen tomorrow.
December 20, 2004
Salicas to Belen
Breakfast was bad. A cup of milk with little or no coffee in it. Hard, crusty bread and, they had no butter or jam. The morning shift person, a woman as wide as she was tall, was having a bad day or maybe a bad life. When we asked about watching Diarios, the News on CNN she unplugged the TV and shook her head. The Cat caught her in a mistake? She had confused our bill with that of someone else or just tried to get a little extra? She did remember to make a couple of Ham & Cheese sandwiches.
I loaded the bags and rolled the bikes out while Cat checked the store next door. It had opened at 8:00 AM. She almost had to fight her way in, the crowd of locals had missed them yesterday as me much as we had. And, good news, they had a bottle of nice white for the bags and enough Gatorade to fill our 1-½ liter bottle. We were set to go.
The local news last night had shown clouds and rain today. We hoped they were right about the clouds. We have a long ride today and baking in the hot sun won’t make it any easier. So, more good news this morning, a fairly thick cloud cover. We set off under it at 9:00.
At 3 Ks out we joined Ruta 60 for about 10 Ks then off to the right back onto Ruta 40 and up a long slow pull. It would have been a killer in yesterday’s heat but the clouds saved us a lot of sweat. The road leveled then began a series of little ups and downs. We were making good time. Time to eat our sandwich? The only way we know is if we’re hungry and we were. We miss the watch.
Our clouds sort of came and went and the heat did, too. Then, along the base of the mountains off to the left, we got into dark heavy clouds that threatened rain. They really cooled things then the wind took a turn for the good. We really flew into Londres, a tiny Pueblo at the crossroad to an Inca Ruin.
The corner market was open and had cold Pomelo in a big bottle. The nice lady handed plastic chairs through the open window, we sat in the shade and enjoyed.
Cat is anxious to get moving, we still have 15 Ks ahead of us and it looks like it could be hilly.
Onward, if you ever cycle this way, let it be known that it’s all downhill from Londres to Belen. We rolled in to Belen at 4:30 PM, 8 hours on the road and almost 100 Ks under our wheels.
A cruise around the Plaza and we found that we were in the middle of Belen’s 323rd birthday celebration. A few asks and we were in front of the Hotel Samai. The place is simple but nice. Our room even has a real bathroom with tub and shower. We did have to lock the bikes in an open courtyard area but they’re just outside our window.
After a refreshing shower we walked to the Supermarket. Bananas and wine, what else is there? The Plaza is decorated and the bandstand set for the Policia Band. After a little time to relax and sip a glass of wine we walked back. The band was just starting to play. The crowd had filled the empty chairs and it was standing room only. After a couple of tunes we went on to a restaurant that the Hotel owner had recommended. The allure was that they open at 8:00.
Yes, the door was open but after the guy seated us he disappeared. Our landlord came in with his white poodle and took what must be his regular table. When the waiter returned with menus we were disappointed by the lack of a good white wine. I disappointed him by taking a walk back to the Super Market and getting a bottle of Latitud 33. Dinner was so-so at best but the wine was fine. I had some very tasty short ribs but they were unchewable. Cat had chicken. The cost, an astounding 21 Pesos, $7.00 US. What a bargain!
A sub-titled movie then sleep.
December 21, 2004
Belen and Tim and Tim
One of the fan blades is out of balance causing a noise. Cat had a problem with it, I was so tired that I missed the end of the movie and the noise. Breakfast is coffee and milk, too much milk. We found the coffee and supplemented while the girl was out. Crunchy bread, too.
Off to the Internet, we found 171 messages waiting. Wally has filed our latest journal pages. We ran down and reviewed then I went back to our room and our computer. Cat spent 3 hours there, reading and answering. She picked up empanadas and we ate in the room. They’re great, she got them from the restaurant where we’ll eat tonight.
Drizzling rain really cooled the afternoon air. There was a herd of Llama across the street earlier. We didn’t have the camera then and when we came out for dinner they had gone home. Darn!
Parrilla El Unico was as great as Lonely Planet had said it would be. A couple of guys there, Tim and Tim, father and son, from New York. Well, Tim Jr. lives there among other places but he’s of soon to join the Merchant Marines. Tim Sr. lived in Spain for several years, among other places and has now moved, lock stock and barrel, to a tiny Pueblo in the mountains near La Cumbre, the village where we froze out on our bus tour. He’s building a home but wants to begin developing housing throughout Argentina. In the past he was a Stock Analyst turned Stock Broker. His advise, sell all US Stock, take your money out and put it in Swiss Banks then get down here and buy property. I think he’s got something there!
The food was even better than the tasty empanadas. Our conversation with the 2 Tims was great, too. Cat had looked at the menu when she bought the Empanandas and asked if they had Latitud 33 Chardonnay. The owner/waiter came out beaming when we ordered, he’d gone shopping and had a cold bottle for us. All in all a wonderful evening.
All the good tings have given Cat a sweet tooth. She had 3 scoops of various flavors of ice cream as thick and rich as Italy’s Gelato!
Cat again had a tough time with the fan noise, I ignored it and slept, hard.
December 22, 2004
Belen to Hualfin
52 Kilometers on Ripio, 9 in truck
Up and pretty much ready to go, Tim and Tim joined us for breakfast. Tim Sr. and I talked for quite a while. Cat was anxious to hit the road so she got the water and final packing done. Tim is building a home in a tiny Pueblo, San Javier Yacanto. It’s in the hills, near La Cumbre, remember the little place where we were so cold that we only stayed 1 day? Well, that’s the nearest town so that tells you where San Javier stands population wise. He talks of using hay bales and other interesting materials. He also suggested that now may be a good time to move money out of the good ole USA? He’s done so and also, coming from an Investment background, he suggests sell all stock, too. What to buy, he says that Real Estate here, in Argentina, is a very good bet. I think he may be right.
A wave goodbye to Tim and Tim then we were off, into a beautiful morning. The asphalto was little ups and downs along a riverbed but it ended all too soon. Cat “Popped a Squat” behind the guardrail and finished just before Tim and Tim pulled up. They wished us well and promised to stay in touch then drove on, onto the dirt and disappeared in a cloud of dust.
We’d come to what we thought was just a river crossing. Of course we knew that we’d be riding dirt today but not this soon? Not just Ripio (dirt) but loose rock and washboard, too. Cat called it “Up, down, rock and roll”. We crossed two little rivers then hit hills, real big hills. Now Cat says were doing the “Slip and Slide”, I would hit the top of the hill then lay my bike down and help push her to the top.
This has been a very physical day. It’s now 5:30 and we still have about 9 Km to go. At the rate we’re crawling long we can’t make it to Hualfin before dark. A farm truck pulled over when I waved. Luebino had a cab full of friends and family but took us in the back. We struggled to get the bikes up then we crawled in with them and were off in another cloud of dust. He and his crew lifted the bikes off the truck in front of the Hosteria. It’s a rough looking place but looks better than a tent.
There’s a little store/café on the corner, we stepped in and found cold Gatorade. Sipping, we asked in sign language if there were other places to stay and the Lady shook her head, no. So, back to the questionable looking place and a big let down, they don’t have a room. At first we couldn’t believe it then didn’t understand? They apparently only have a couple of rooms and they’re booked. The guy was very nice. As we began to discuss our fate he suggested that we could camp out back. Again we asked if there was some other place to stay and he said, “Casa Familia”. He indicated that it was a few quadras (blocks) from here and that we should wait.
The waiting drug on. Asking again, he did the “point a finger to the palm of his down turned hand”. An indication that we should continue to wait, “No Problema”. Then, a girl walked up to the locked door of the tiny tourist office across the street. Our friend called out to her, she came across and explained that we can stay in a family home. Our friend loaned her his bicycle and she led us almost a kilometer down dirt roads, even across our third water crossing of the day. Another little neighborhood of homes and businesses. We told her that it would be too far to walk back for dinner and she pointed to a Restaurant as we past.
The Family, Sergio and Louisa are friendly in a quiet sort of way. She had us pull the bikes right into her home then through a door into the garage. The house is really a nice home. It’s decorated for Christmas and the furnishings are modern. The bedroom is a double bed and small table. The bath is all tile and beautiful. Sergio told us that he had to start a fire to heat the water. He wasn’t kidding, we watched out the window as he stacked wood under the heater and lit the fire. He smiled his big friendly smile and told us, “Trente minutes”. I slipped across the street and bought wine, a box of white. We sat at the little table, counted our blessings and sipped until he knocked to tell us the water was hot.
After eating dirt and dust all day the shower felt wonderful. It was already 9:00 PM when we walked over for dinner. Pretty simple Restaurante, salad, chicken and French fries. Hunger made simple taste very good. The nice girl even told us that she’d be here and fix us breakfast, ham and eggs, in the morning.
Sergio and Louisa were sitting out front talking with a neighbor. After a short conversation hampered by language we went in and hit the comfortable bed. It was 11:00 PM and we were completely fatigued.
December 23, 2004
Hualfin to Santa Maria
49 Grueling Ks on Ripio, 62 in Ramon’s Truck
Eggs and lunch meat ham, as promised. Even some pretty good toast. Sergio and Louisa stood in the yard as we pushed the bikes back through the living room. We were saying our goodbyes and approaching the kiss on the cheek when we realized that we hadn’t paid them. Cuanto, how much? They looked at each other then Sergio said, “20 Pesos”. What a bargain. What nice people. He managed an Apartment building for 30 years in Buenos Aires and is retired, now. She was the Mom, they have 2 children and a pride and joy, Granddaughter.
Back to the Ripio, the ups and the downs. Hoping for better road, we found the route even more difficult. Deeper dirt, more loose rock and hills, bigger and steeper. A Kioske at a crossroads then we sat in a bus stop in the shade and drank a whole bottle of Fanta Lemon with the sandwiches we had the restaurant pack for us. Cat’s spirits sunk when she asked the guy in the Kioske how far it was to the Asphalto. “Vente” (20) he replied. When she moaned he said, “Quince, o Vente, mas o menos”. (15 or 20, more or less) So, is it that he doesn’t really know or he just felt bad and tried to make it seem closer?
Our ACA map shows the asphalto starting near here? When we hit the spot there was a sign, a falling down sign cautioning of roadwork ahead. The map was printed back when they had plans, back before they ran out of money to pave the road. So, we pushed and struggled onward.
It was now 5:30 PM. We sat down and began planning to camp when a pickup pulled up. He was escorting a wide load. Cat asked him about the pavement. Rapid Spanish but he made it clear that we had just a short way to go. She asked if we could ride with him. He hemmed and hawed then said, “Si”. Ramon is a huge guy, he almost single handedly muscled the bikes into the pickup bed.
The Wide Load passed, honked and waved, as we secured the bikes. Our map was correct, it was just 5 Ks to asphalto, we’d completed the hard work. The wide Load pulled over, Ramon let us know that it would be a few minutes while they checked the tires. They’re hauling huge parts to a digging machine used in mining. The truck and trailer has 400 wheels. They had to crawl under and tap each tire to make sure none were flat.
As they tapped out a tune on the tires we talked. There are no trees here, not even a bush big enough to set our tent behind and nothing to slow the howling wind. No privacy, no security, no shelter. So, we decided to ask Ramon if we cold ride on, into Punto de Balasto, a small Pueblo where someone had told us that we’d find a place to camp, under the water tank? Of course he said, “Si”.
Approaching Balasto the road had washed out and we had to drive through the dirt and rock left behind. We were leading the wide load so Ramon pulled up and waited, to make sure they could pass through the narrow two-rut road. He offered us apples, I was shaky from hunger, what a treat. A guy, Marcello, was working on a guitar across the street. I walked over and he led me inside to see his other work. An artist, he really refurbishes old instruments. A labor of love with the hope of making a few Pesos.
Surveying the situation, we could see a small Kioske but no water tank? Tired from 2 days of extreme exertion and weak from hunger, we held a quick conference and decided to ask Ramon if we could stay on board into Santa Maria. Of course his answer was, “Si”. He even knew the Hotel and drove us through the streets of town, right up to the door. And, again, he muscled the bikes off with just a little help from tired and hungry me.
The Hotel is fairly stark and we are the only guests. They have just re-opened after 2 years. Jaquel and Jorge are Managers, and very accommodating. No problem keeping the bikes in the room except that the hallway is too narrow to turn into the doorway. After trying every combination of pushing and lifting we gave up. They offered us a 2 room suite at the end of the hallway but the price was almost double. Then, Jaquel led me to a room at the very back of the property. There were a few old tables and chairs there and little more. She opened the door, asked if it was okay then handed me the key. After off loading our clothing bags and the computer I pushed them back, one at a time, and locked them in.
The kitchen here is still closed so, after quick, warm and refreshing showers we were off to the Plaza in search of food. Not much to choose from, we walked past the place on the corner twice but failing to find anything, we finally went in and sat. It was now 9:30 PM.
Mediocre food tasted like a banquet. A young guy nearby, Brian, is walking, hitchhiking, or bussing around northern Argentina. He’s a University student from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We talked for a few minutes, he was finished eating and anxious for sleep. He’s headed south so we filled him in on the vast, uninhabited dirt road that lies ahead.
It was 10:30 by the time we got back to the Santa Maria Inn. We’ll take tomorrow off but want to see Quilmes, the remaining ruins of a once great Indigenous Nation. Jaquel has found a guide who’ll pick us up in the morning. Also, since most Restaurants will close tomorrow afternoon for Christmas Eve she invited us to have dinner here, with their families.
It’s difficult to explain how fatigued we are. The best description is, quickly to bed and quickly to sleep.
Memories of Another Santa Maria Inn
After returning from my 2- year sojourn, World Bicycle Voyage, back in 1990, I took a consulting position with a developer friend, Martin V. “Bud” Smith. He was a local legend in Ventura County, a self made Multi-Millionaire and a hero to me. During his childhood he spent time with an Aunt in Santa Maria, California. He had a love of the place and a nose for opportunity. Like this place, the old Santa Maria Inn had been closed for several years. It was a candidate for destruction until Bud stepped in. He saw historical value and economic potential. It’s not easy to convince local governments to allow building. The old Hotel had little value, it was too small for a profitable venture and it needed a lot of work. Bud was able to convince the City that he could preserve the old hotel only if allowed to add a new, 5-story annex, they reluctantly agreed.
Part of my work for Bud was to explore the housing market in Santa Maria, he had purchase a 1,000 acre ranch there, several years ago. What seemed a bargain then was now locked into a growth moratorium due to the lack of a sufficient sewer system. Sort of an excuse to halt building. Surveying the market took time and several trips. I stayed in the Inn. Bud preserved the best of the Historic old buildings but added luxury and comfort in the new. Santa Maria is on the edge of a growing wine region. Bud added a Wine Cellar and promoted Wine County Tours.
Being there was a great experience at a difficult time in my life. And I grew to love the place. We were unable to convince the City of Santa Maria to Annex Bud’s 1,000 Acres and the County of Santa Barbara flatly refused to allow development. Not such a great experience for Bud!
December 24, 2004
A Visit to The Quilmes Ruins
Sleep so deep that when you awake you feel drugged. We drug ourselves out of the comfortable bed at 8:30 AM and took another shower. The breakfast was typical except, after asking, they made wonderful, fresh squeezed orange juice. The coffee is thick, rich, espresso with frothy milk.
Still groggy, stiff and sore, we were on the verge of canning the trip to the ruins when Jaquel brought Nancy in and introduced her. Our request for an English speaking guide proved impossible but Nancy does know a little and a lot about Quilmes. It was like at first sight. So, we hustled to the room, gathered cameras and water and were off to the ruins.
We’ve seen pictures of Caasa, a Hotel and Casino here that has wonderful architectural lines. Nancy took us there first for a photo shoot then we were off to Quilmes.
There are 2 routes to Quilmes, Ruta 40 and another that is 16 Ks longer. Ruta 40 has a stretch of Ripio 12 kilometers long. Nancy decided to take us out to Quilmes on it then loop back the other way. The road out is lined with small Pueblos full of interesting looking native peoples. When we hit the dirt we made an instant decision that we’d cycle the other route and take on the extra distance rather than the rocks and sand.
The day was bright, sunny and hot. Quilmes lies tucked into the mountains. The ruins have been extensively reconstructed. A modern Hotel lies at the base and it’s a long, hot climb to the upper levels. Once there excitement and the need to feel and discover the place replaced fatigue. Nancy used every bit of her English and sign language skills to help us understand the culture and history of this special place and it’s people.
A Sad Time in History
Quilmes existed for more than 1,000 years. Over the Centuries the Quilmes peoples withstood attacks of the Incas, even assimilated some of the Inca peoples and into their society. Much of the architecture came from the Inca’s, too. However, they were no match for the Spaniards. In their quest for Gold an Silver, they conquered and deported the remaining Quilmes people to a sight near Buenos Aires in 1667. Fewer than 300 of the 2,000 who started the forced march survived. (Quite a similar story to that of my Grandfathers tribe, the Cherokee who were forced off their land in Georgia and marched to Oklahoma, Indian Territory.) The only lasting memory beyond these ruins is Quilmes Beer. It has nothing to do with the people but is a constant reminder of them.
Nancy drove back on the upper loop. The paved road climbs to the Pueblo of Amaicha del Valle then a long decent back to Santa Maria. The more we dropped down the more convinced we became that riding up, in head wind, would be worse than cycling the 12 Ks of dirt. By the time we reached the bottom of the hill and looked back up our minds were made up.
Nancy and her family operate a natural Camping Area near the bottom of the hill. She took us there to see it and meet her family. Edgardo, her husband and Axel, Alan and Lihuen, their 3 boys, live here and run the place through the Tourist Season. They have just began the task of opening the pool and preparing for guests. We sat in the shade, shared a Quilmes Beer and did our best to communicate with them. What a very nice family. Edgardo and the boys love mountain biking and take several trips each year. Nancy stays busy with her Guide Business. She took us out to get pictures of some mountains we’d seen on the way in yesterday then dropped us at the door of a restaurant. It was now 3:30 PM and we were starving.
A trip to the Internet Shop consumed the remainder of the afternoon. We did get a little rest then prepared for dinner. Jaquel gave us the bad news, Christmas Eve Dinner will be served at about 10:00 PM so we continued to rest and watched a movie. Then when we went to the dining hall we found an empty room. The waiter gave us another round of bad news, “Dinner will be served at 11:00”? He did bring snacks and wine then sat our Pollo Naranja (Orange Chicken) in front of us a little before 11:00. The room was still empty.
Our food was gone and we were having dessert when the family began to arrive. After a photo with them, they tuned to their celebration and we returned to our bed. Fatigue is still deeply rooted in our muscles. The heat and walk up the hill, though interesting and enlightening, did little for them.
It was Christmas Day by the time we got into bed and tuned out the lights. Fireworks crackled and popped at midnight. We saw some flashed through the window but they did little to keep sleep away from our tired bodies.
December 25, 2004
Santa Maria to Cafayate
Well, it’s Merry Christmas for most but for us WorldRiders it’s just another day of cycling. We had our coffee and Jaquel arranged for scrambled eggs to supplement. The juice was even better with them. Though we’d decided on the dirt last night we were still in a quandary this morning. I brought the bikes around, then went back to the parking room for a photo. Some artist had drawn cartoons on the wall, good work and I felt like you, the World, should see them.
Loaded and ready to roll, we stepped out into the already warm sunlight and knowing it would only get hotter, we opted for the dirt. Off through the quiet City streets, we found the turn, crossed the bridge and were back on the now infamous Ruta Cuarenta. Funny the villages we motored through yesterday took on a more up close and personal feeling as we pedaled. The locals were partying or perhaps still partying from the festivities of last night. We witnessed a scuffle between a couple of them who had a hard time standing up much less punching at each other. Many stood roadside, in the shade and wished us “Feliz Navidad”, as we passed. Children were playing with new toys so we assumed that Papa Noel had made the round here too.
There were shade trees lining the route that kept the temp down, some. After a nice mid 20 Ks ride we hit the dirt. Though riding in it was challenging we were being chased by a slight tail wind and it was flat. We were able to ride most of the way.
At about 1:00 PM, our best guess since my watch has again given out, we stopped in the shade of one and ate the sandwiches Jaquel had prepared for us.
At the Pueblo Tolombon we took a turn uphill and into rain. A drizzle at first then big drops. It cooled the air and wet us completely. We continued to ride without jackets but did move our wallets and the address book from our rear pockets into the handlebar bags. The road rounded a bend then began a series of ups and downs. At last, with 8 Ks to go we found the downhill run we’d been hoping for. Then, almost like a Christmas Miracle, the road became lined with vineyards and the sun chased the clouds and rain away.
Nancy had recommended a place, Hotel Las Sauces. We circled the Plaza then asked and were directed just 2 blocks down the street and around the corner. Rom the exterior we began to think that Nancy had led us astray. The place has an unfinished look, its prepared for a second floor but has only the steel bars pointing up toward the bright blue sky. Cat checked, they had a room. It’s slightly more than we’ve been paying but nice. The girl led me around to the room where the water heaters and visiting bicycles reside. Then, she helped me push and lift them up the 3 stairs. E have a new home for the next 2 days.
When we circled the Plaza a young guy hosing down the sidewalk in front of a Wine Restaurant told us that they open at 5:00 PM. After very refreshing showers we walked back there. It was now 7:00 but a different young guy told us that they only have a menu limited to sandwiches tonight. Not exactly a Christmas meal but we took a seat and asked for a bottle of Vino Blanco Seco. He came back with a half bottle and a price that was completely unpalatable. We walked.
A complete circuit of the Plaza and several disappointments then we settled on the corner Restaurant we’d passed on 3 times. They did have a nice steak and salad and a bottle of reasonable wine, we ordered. The fellow seated next to us, Jean-Marie, is from Belgium. So, we enjoyed a pretty good Christmas dinner and a very good Christmas conversation.
Sunday, December 26, 2004
A Relaxing Day in Cafayate
The Day of the Huge Tsunami
As we dressed we got a knock on the door. I opened it and a slightly embarrassed gal said, “Forgive me, I have the wrong room”. “Hey, you speak English”, I said. She explained that she lives in Buenos Aires and works with an Insurance firm from the US.
We’d just settled in to a slightly expanded breakfast that included yogurt and cereals, when the gal who’d knocked on our door visitor and 3 others came in. They all seemed to be speaking English as well as some other language. Interesting, we already knew that our earlier visitor Cristina is from Argentina. The others have a Scandinavian look. Hans, Sir Merite and Sigmund are from Norway and here for the wedding of Sigmund’s son to Cristina’s daughter, last week. Now they’re touring Argentina. The kids are along but staying in a Hostel that suites their lifestyle better. So, a slightly better breakfast accented by conversation, in English, with nice people.
There’s an Internet Café on the corner where we spent a couple of hours reading and writing. A small restaurant nearby is cooking Chicken and Sausages curbside on a half barrel barbeque. We couldn’t pass the smell so we ordered some. Cat shopped for the other provisions needed for lunch then picked up our meat. We had a feast and the girl at the Hotel even set a table for us under a tree in the garden. Wonderful!
Cat re-worked the bags then headed off for the Internet Café. I took my place at our keyboard. Our plan to visit some of the wineries dissipated as we relaxed. We’re still trying to regain strength and shake off fatigue. So, we rested for the rest of the afternoon.
Baco, a great looking restaurant, had caught our eye as we walked yesterday. They were closed save for the staff who were having Christmas dinner. It is nicely decorated and the menu is full of good things. The early diners surrounding us were all foreigners and most spoke English. A family, Helen, David and children, Mi’ Dhean and Conner are from Ireland. On our left, a couple, Sergio and Bianca, from Italy heard us talking, saw our shirts and began to ask questions. He’s an Architect, she teaches Geography and Yoga. In fact, she travels to India every year to learn more of the art. Rally interesting people. Then, as we were leaving, Carlos, Maria and young son Nicolas from Venezuela, who’d overheard some of our conversations introduced themselves. Nico held his arms out and ended up in mine. Maria was born here in Salta, they’re visiting her family. Carlos owns a restaurant in Caracas and also sells Real Estate there. They invited us to stop and visit, have a good meal with them when we get to their neighborhood. What a wonderful evening full of wonderful new friends.
Sergio and Bianca told us of an Ice Cream Store around the corner that has Wine Sorbet. Of course we had to try it. The guys there were characters, they insisted that we try both their red and white. It has a taste reminiscent of Wine Margaritas. Not bad, not great.
8c011 Wine Ice Cream?
December 27, 2004
Cafayate to Alemania
Pat & Cat’s 7th Anniversary
Yes, though we’ve been together for 11 years, it was just 7 years ago today that we married. What started out to be a small group of family ended up being a full-blown party for more than 120 or our closest friends, associates and family. Tucked between Christmas and New Years to accommodate daughter, Stephanie and her family who lived in Georgia, we had a wedding on boats and Cajun Party that went on into the wee hours. Unforgettable.
Today is bound to have some unforgettable elements and it’s our 3rd anniversary on the road. The group of Argentinean/Norwegian wedding guests were all there at breakfast again this morning. Sergio and Bianca are also staying here and came by but had to hurry back to Baco, he left his jacket there last night. The others wanted pictures, we loaded up then stood in front of a huge Christmas tree. There were 4 gals sitting on the patio watching. They asked where we were going then told us in that wonderful accent special only to them, that they’re from France. Too bad we didn’t talk yesterday when we saw them sitting in lawn chairs.
Cycling through the streets of Cafayate was confusing. They’re all one way and we wanted to stop at the ACA Station to see if they had a map of Salta and Jujuy Provencias. So, we entered a one way the wrong way. At the station a character in Gaucho clothing scolded us for our wrong way entry. Oh, and they did have a map that had both Salta and Jujuy Provencias.
Mother Nature, the Artist!
Leaving town, we coasted down wind for a ways then took a turn to the left and into the Quebrada de Cafayate. There is a sudden change, from vineyards to sand dunes then, the canyon. This Quebrada or Canyon is one of several that have been carved over eons by the storm driven waters from the Andes. Though there are several other colors the predominant is red. There are huge formations sculpted by the waters with names like Los Castillos, (The Castles) Las Ventanas, (The Windows) El Obelisco, (The Obelisk) Garganta del Diablo (Throat of the Devil, remember the water fall of the same name at Iguazu?) even one called El Sapo (The Toad). Hope the pictures give you a good feeling for a fantastic place.
Continuing down river and out of the canyon we came upon a man leading a Vicuna, the wooly cousin of the Llama. He posed for a photo then ambled off into the brush with his prize animal. A great end to a wonderful passage through the canyon that water and time have sculpted. Thank you, Mother Nature!
There is a long slow pull up to a dot on the map called Santa Barbara. Hoping against hope that we would, we found what appeared to be a store or café. The building we hoped to find, Posta Santa Barbara, was boarded up. The next little building looked open. As we pulled up a woman came to the porch and told us that they had no food or water to sell. Perplexed, we pressed but she maintained her “No” attitude.
Closed Santa Barbara and a Dog Chase
Okay, no cold drinks but we did have the sandwiches our Hotel had prepared. A little shade and two really good sandwiches but only water to drink. Then, as we began down a shallow hill a pack of dogs raced, yelping and snarling toward us. The Gaucho yelled and a;; but 2 pulled up. The remaining mongrels continued pursuit. We pedaled hard and were moving fast but they were, too. Then Cat yelled out, “Use your water bottle”. How could I have forgotten that old trick? I pulled it our and pointed then pulled the trigger, well I squeezed hard and sent a stream of water right into the lead dogs face. He pulled to a stop, perplexed no doubt. We don’t know how many other cyclists he’s chased but this was his first shot in the face. The other monster stopped, too. A tough team stopped cold by a cool stream of water.
A German Ghost Town
Our hopes for finding a place to stay in a place called La Vina faded at the same rate our strength did. Too late and too tired to go the additional 15 Ks, we pulled off at a place called Alemania. Almost a ghost town, it came to be because of the Hanover Railway. We have no way of knowing how long ago it was a profitable venture but it has long ago fallen into complete disrepair. The tracks from Salta ended here but we know not why the came here. The name, Alemania, means Germany in both Spanish and French.
Own off the highway and across a time warped bridge and into the twilight zone. The first guy we spoke with pointed when we asked for Coca Cola. We followed his finger then had to ask again. This time a man and woman both pointed to a falling down shack. We parked the bikes and walked to the fence. A big guy sitting on the porch got up and ambled across the cluttered yard toward us. He has jailhouse tattoos on both of his big muscular arms. Yes, he had soft drinks, when he pulled the top off his Styrofoam cooler we saw a 2 liter Coca Cola. I pointed to it but he shook his head and said something like “Nests”, ours. He yelled out and a toothless woman and a little girl emerged from the shack with a Lemon Lime drink. So, we had a cool, not cold drink. He had a big block of melting ice in his cooler, he picked up a sledge hammer and threatened it. I let him know that cool was fine, we didn’t need the ice.
When we asked about camping he and the woman pointed down the dirt path. At first we thought they meant we had to go back to the highway. No, he pointed toward some trees. We pushed down the path to an open area with trees and chose a spot in the shade of a big one. It took a little work to clear the horse and cow manure but the spot was level and rock free. We were home for he night. There were people down near the little creek, three curious boys wandered over and watched as we set the tent. Then, a group of women and kids walked past and up, onto the old Railway trestle. Neighbors? No, they all loaded up in a pickup and drove past, waving and telling us goodbye. So, we had the campground to ourselves except for the heard of cattle that came by and 3 horses that ran down the dirt road. 3 boys with lassoes chased them. Once they roped one the other 2 followed. The boys looked long and hard at us then waved and said, “Hola”.
I pulled two large stones over and we sat outside and cooked for the first time. The evening air is pleasant. The evening cool and the Pasta and wine, fine.
in the Jungle
We crawled into the tent and just settled in when a truck pulled down the road and stopped. It was full of workmen who jumped out and began pounding on something. They worked by the light of the truck until we got used to the noise and fell asleep. I did hear them drive away later but was too tired to raise my head and watch.
What a day, an Anniversary we’ll never forget.
December 28, 2004
Alemania to Cerrillos
Up early, we think. It’s hard to tell, without a watch. The cows joined us as we ate our cereal. One came right into the campsite and watched with those huge brown eyes as we folded the tent. Like the dogs, this is probably the first time she’s seen people load a bicycle down like this before.
Back across the rickety old bridge, out onto the highway and up a very steep little pull. The bonus at the top, a van full of Tourist, sort of urging us on. A French couple came up and talked with us as we caught our breath. They have cycled in France and it felt like seeing us may have inspired them to go at it again. Cat was anxious to find food, she rolled on, I followed.
Colonel Moldes is a long main street where we found a Restaurate and pulled the bikes up on the curb. Empanadas, they have 4 kinds, we ordered 2 of each. We’d just finished and were sipping our colas when our Italian friends, Sergio and Bianca honked and pulled up. They joined us, sipped water and had a couple of empanadas while we talked. They had mentioned a cycling trip, they rode through Europe, from Germany to the Czech Republic, 500 kilometers. So, we spent 30 minutes talking about our lives and the fun things we’ve seen and done. They are a wonderful couple, we made promises to see each other again, in California and Italy. Then, they hurried off and we pedaled on.
From here on, we struggled. It got hotter, we tired. At one point we pulled up and dipped our heads in a little waterfall. The fields are green with tobacco, one of the main crops here. The hills too are green. It’s been a long time since we’ve been in a jungle like atmosphere. The road undulates which added to our fatigue. Evening was closing in and it was obvious that we as much as we wanted it we wouldn’t be sleeping in Salta tonight.
Riding along almost on automatic we a van pulled up and the woman in the drivers seat called out to us. Veronica or Oni as she’s called and husband Florencio have 5 kids on board. Two of theirs, and 3 extras. The reason they pulled up, he is a bicycle racer. They live in Buenos Aires but are here visiting her family for The Holidays. After a halting chat due to language we got a picture of us with the clan then we cycled onward. They sat for a while then pulled up again and Oni handed me a piece of paper. She had written their phone number down and invited us to call if we needed anything. More than just a cyclist connection, this is the same kind of hospitality we’ve experienced all over Argentina.
Cerrillos is just 17 Ks short of target but we’ve really had it. Hoping for a nice place to stay we stopped and asked a Policeman, Caesar. He shook his head and asked us to follow him to a Casa Familia. As it his brothers place? Would we get lucky and find a great place like Segio an Louisa’s? We needed a place of our own with the freedom that goes with it. Pressing him, he finally indicated that we follow and he kicked the starter on his Motorcycle.
He sped away then realized he’d left us in his dust and slowed. The Hotel, the only one in town is called “The Pussy-Cat”, swear to God. It’s really a party place. There’s a large swimming pool for daytime parties and a banquet room for the night time parties. The music blares so loud that we could barely hear Deborah, the hostess. She showed us the room, we were almost sorry that we hadn’t taken Caesar’s Casa Familia ideal more seriously. Awe well, he’s gone and we’re here, now. The room has a twin and double bed and is adjacent to the woman’s toilet. Oh no, we have to share the bath with the partiers? No, Deborah locked the outside door and opened a connecting door from the room. One of the bikes would be in the room with us the other will rest in the toilet. We were home, like it or not.
I went poolside and asked Deborah for a bottle of cold mineral water. They had none but she pointed down the street to a store. I had taken my shoes off and pointed to my bare feet. She used that hand and finger gesture and told me that they’d get some. Aside from the party room and pool they have only 6 rooms, Lord knows what goes on in them but they don’t act like they have many overnight guests?
I sat on the grass and drank more than half the 1½ liter bottle while Cat tried to get a shower. It’s an instant hot water system at the showerhead. The spray is fine, hot and uncomfortable. The room is hot, another request of Deborah and we had an oscillating fan stirring the air around. She also told us that the only good food nearby is the Shell Station down the street.
They had wine, steak and potatoes noisette. (We called them Tator Tots.) All in all, pretty good.
The party was in full swing, the celebration of a Baptism. Music blaring didn’t bother us. The bed had a dozen or more half dead bugs laying on the spread. They were still wiggling but Deborah or the other gal had sprayed. We were so tired that none of that mattered, we slept.
December 29, 2004
Cerrillos to Salta
Awoke to more bugs in the bed. We didn’t have any new bug bites so we considered ourselves lucky. Cat took it in stride. Coffee and toast by the pool, not bad. The Pussy-Cat is falling apart at the seems. The tile pool deck is coming up in sections. It’s probably at highest and best use right now based on the economy here and the cost to rehab. Geez, there we go talking Real Estate, again.
The ride is almost all down hill in cool morning air. As we neared Salta the traffic thickened, we even found a sidewalk to ride on for part of the way. The scenery is broken down industrial buildings and small falling down houses. We were getting a pretty bad first impression then got into one way streets and bumper to bumper cars. There are lots of other daring bicycles and motorcycles sharing the shoulder. It was a tough ride. At a stoplight I pulled past a car and hit his side view mirror. He wasn’t upset, it had been hit before and was held in place with duct tape.
The sign led us to believe that it was the Tourist Office. The girl, Mariela, who had hoped to sell us a tour became helpful and friendly. She gave us a Salta City map and pointed out several nice hotels. Her suggestion matched that of our Lonely Planet. We did circle the wonderful square once and consider another but it was fully booked. So, we rode to the Provincial Plaza, the businessmen’s choice according to the guide book, and checked in. The room is quite nice and they have CNN in English. It’s just 2 blocks from the square and in a nice neighborhood. A marked improvement over last nights lodging.
Showers then a walk toward the square and lunch, ham and cheese at a sidewalk café. A stroll around the Plaza and down the Pedestrian Street where we found a map of Bolivia then, back to the room. We’re both so tired that we just lay back, relaxed and watched the latest news. When that became boring we studied the map of Bolivia. The big bad news there was the number of kilometers that are yellow. Yellow means ripio and there at least 350 Ks of yellow between us and La Paz.
Dinner down, and as usual, we were the only ones there. However, that didn’t change as the evening wore on. I stuck with steak, Cat had Pasta.
We were back in bed staring at the TV by 10:00 PM. We’ve seen reports in Spanish about a Tsunami but it’s so big that coverage even preempted Larry. The numbers tonight are hovering around 80,000 dead. A huge undersea earthquake set it off. It has affected 12 countries throughout Indonesia and the Indian Ocean. It’s even touched the shores of Africa. Could this be the Big One?
December 30, 2004
R&R in Salta
Total news of the Tsunami, the dearth toll is constantly on the rise. They say it was a 9.0 and almost everyone near the coast of within thousands of miles is affected.
Breakfast sort of the usual with a little extra. After we gathered our dirty cloths and walked toward a Lavanderia. I dropped off at a Bike Shop to see about having the bikes tuned and the chains changed out. Funny a huge place, I had to wait in line to talk to a clerk only to find that they only sell bikes and parts but don’t work on them? Cat was more successful, our things will be clean and fresh later today.
The square is really wonderful whether in at night or during the day. The flocks of pigeons reminded us of Rome. The Cathedral Salta displays it’s stunning exterior and invites a visit. The marble flooring on the steps, porch and inside form an optical illusion, as though they’re stacked. You almost want to lift your foot and step up.
More laying around the room, more Tsunami bad news. I did some work on the journal. We walked back to the square and lunched curbside. It felt as nice as many places we’ve visited in Europe.
Dinner at a place that Cat ferreted out, La Posta. A Parrilla with flare. The food, service and wine were great and inexpensive as usual. Walking back, we came upon a foursome of adventurers, Carlos, Edilson, Rafael & Eduardo. They’re here from Brazil and their van is loaded down with their toys. Mountain Bikes, Surf Boards and Kayaks. They were fun to talk with. Full of stories about how people who’ve never been there think Brazil is full of wild animals, poor people and thieves. Isn’t that the way it always is? Carlos said that one person even told him they were afraid of Elephants and Tigers. He told them that they had the wrong continent.
Larry King was back tonight but the show was a continuation of Tsunami coverage. That was okay with us because we were too tired to stay up.
December 31, 2004
New Years Eve in Salta
Breakfast then Cat set off on a quest for a Post Office with an Aduana (Customs Officer). The regular Correo turned her down yesterday afternoon. I worked on downloading pictures of Patagonia for our friend, Professor Harley at UC Berkeley.
Cat’s walk was through a pretty seedy neighborhood but not in vain. The Aduana was there and they accepted the package of CDs we’re sending home but he told her that if the guys yesterday had known their jobs they could have accepted it. So like our own Postal Service. Cat did find a Pharmacy that had refills of our needed drugs, too.
I struggled with the pictures captions for Harley. These photos, if selected, will appear in an upcoming text for his Latin American Studies Classes. Cat came back in at 11:45 AM, grabbed the CD and notes and ran to the Correo. She made it just under the wire.
The streets are beginning to fill up with New Years Eve revelers. Cat found empanadas and we picnicked in the room. She also discovered another Restaurant, El Patriarche and led us back there for dinner. I had pork, she trout with veggies. All delicious and all wonderfully affordable.
We were back in the room before the real celebrators began celebrating. After a Tsunami update we watched a movie or at least most of a movie before falling asleep. I woke up at 2:30 AM, removed Cat’s glasses and turned the TV off. Another big New Years celebration for us, our third on the road. Remember last year we were in Cotonou, Benin, Africa and in 2003 it was Marbella, Spain. What a life.
January 1, 2005
New Years Day in Salta
Voices on the street, a few all night partiers still living it up. Firecrackers, horns honking, and we woke up to a New Year. We are the only guests in the breakfast room. The waiter must have partied pretty hearty last night. He was real quiet and we had to almost drag him out of the back to get coffee. Monica, the girl at the front desk admitted that she didn’t go to bed at all last night. Awe, youth is a wondrous thing.
After a little preparation for tomorrows ride we walked. The streets are empty, few souls are stirring. These Argentineans are real partiers. We’d headed for lunch out but found most of the Restaurants closed. Hotel Salta is at the corner of the plaza. A nice looking building with sidewalk and inside seating. There are a few folks drinking or having lunch. Most are tourists.
The New Year afternoon was spent repacking by Cat and typing by Pat.
Restaurante La Poste was so good that we were drawn back. Wonderful Argentinean steak. We’re gonna to miss it!
Back to our home, our TV then, sleep.
Sunday, January 2, 2005
Salta to Jujuy
Jujuy, we remember how Maxine and Xandra, our pals in Buenos Aires, looked perplexed when we told them that our route would take us to Jujuy. Then we pointed to the map and they laughed. Okay, we missed on the pronunciation. Remember, in Spanish the J is a whisper like an H in English. So, they laughed when we said, Jew-Jew-eee and we snickered when they smiled and said, in unison, Hoo-Hoo-eee.
Breakfast, bikes loaded and down the elevator, a picture with the staff and we were out the door, into a New cycling Year. The best news of this New Year, the usually hectic Salta City streets were empty of traffic. Without too much difficulty we found Ruta 9 and headed up, out of town.
At the traffic circle we had to detour to the right. Soon we were on dirt and rock. AS we left the city the asphalto returned for us. Then, a long slow pull up on a narrow road. The landscape is hills, green hills and jungle growth along the road. It’s so different from what we’ve been in for so long. Birds and insects sang out as we passed. We even picked up a local cyclist, Manuel. He passed us, headed up, then swung back and rode with us. He held his hand out with a baggie full of leaves and offered us Coca leaves. We thought about it but decided to go on without. We’re really not in altitude yet and the stuff is sort of habit forming. All the locals seem to have a cheek full of it.
I had an attack of the African Guff Guff, leaned against a road post and, whoosh. A car came by, almost caught me with my pants down. The climb has begun to level out. The roadside is all green and trees, even Pampas Grass growing out, sideways. Around a corner we met three guys taking a panoramic pic. I asked if we could help and get them all in the picture. Roberto is the Dad and Father-in-Law. We think that Estaban is the Son and Gerardo, the Son-in-Law. The kids, Sebastian and Emilia belong, one to each. Roberto, an Engineer, studied at UC Orange, in Orange, California. He apologized about his English but the two years he spent there were in the early 1960s. I apologized for my Spanish, having studied it for 2 years in High School but then that was almost 50 years ago.
Onward, upward then as the green turned to pine tree forest we hit the top and started a fast dissent. Shade from a tree and lunch next to a family having a picnic. They had a barbecue going, the grill was covered with meat and sausage. The cook and Dad offered us sausage, we thanked him but stuck with our sandwich.
Jujuy is smaller and less hectic than Salta was. Traffic on one way streets but rideable.
Hen we pulled up at a Hotel there was a celebration in front of the Church across the street. Kids dancing to a powerful drum beat and flute music. This would be the first of many Enero Tilcarenos. Cat checked the Hotel room while I watched the dancing. The room was less than good, we decided to move on up the street. The clerk stood and told Cat as we re-mounted, “All hotels are the same, here”.
Mpeg 8o018 Enero Tilcarenos
He was wrong and we were glad that we rode up the 4 quadras (blocks) to the Jujuy Palace Hotel. Even the driveway was an improvement over the other place. The Bellman helped us get the bikes into a garage in the back then carried some of the bags in for us.
It was 8:00 PM, we were sweaty, dirty and tired. The shower felt great, we jumped into regular cloths and went down for dinner. The waiter tried to explain that they had a limited menu. A family seated behind us, the only other people in the restaurant, struck up a conversation. The girl, half of a couple, spoke some English. The big guy seated with them talked to the waiter then sort of took over the conversation. They aren’t actually open, they have had 3 busy days and are sort of supplies. He led us to salads and pasta. Both were good. He’s the Patron, the young guy is his Nephew, working and learning the business. Lucky for us that they were here.
Dinner, then we took our tired bodies up and fell into bed. No CNN, a few channels with sub-titled movies but we couldn’t even keep our eyes open. A hard ride, a big day and another step toward Bolivia. Pride in our hearts, we drifted off.
January 3, 2005
Bikes to the Repair Shop
Fatigue kept us abed until 8:00 AM. Breakfast is the usual juice, coffee and bread. The Waiter, Herman, is an indigenous guy. Small of stature, his service is great and he knows enough English to have simple conversation. His voice is as small as he. As we ate the bananas we had on board he said, “Good for potassium, muy importante”!
A couple seated near by speaking English stopped and said hello as they exited. They’re from Lake Arrowhead, California. He is originally from Buenos Aires. They were in a hurry, we didn’t get to know them but did enjoy the “English Moment”.
After the usual struggle, from shop to shop, we found Mario, the Bicycle Technician. Funny, stores that sell bikes rarely work on them, here? Mario has a crowed, cluttered little corner shop. His daughter, Daniela run Pucara Bicicleteria. Mario assured us that the bikes would be safe and asked us to leave them until tomorrow afternoon. He had pictures of his son, racing mountain bikes and touring in Bolivia. During our conversational struggle we discovered that we were both born in 1939. A couple of good ole guys.
The Greek Restaurant drew us in for lunch. The place was packed but we got a window seat. No wonder, the food was great. Cat and the waiter questioned my ordering an entree and Macaroni ‘n’ Cheese. Between us, Cat and I ate every bit of both our plates and the Macaroni.
Cat sat at the Computer in the Lobby, another nice thing about this place, and did e-mails. I sat at our keyboard and worked on the final keystrokes of this Mendoza to Jujuy leg of our journal.
Dinner out, we walked and looked but passed on 2 places then ended up at a place called Chung King. Cat had seen it in the Lonely Planet so we weren’t surprised that they have no Chinese food. More great steak. So much that we took half of it back for tomorrow’s lunch.
A subtitled movie and sleep. We’re still very tired.
A Few Often Asked Questions
The e-mails we receive are often full of interesting questions. So here are a few answers.
Q. Are you still riding the same bicycles you started out on? A. Yes, we’ve replaced tires, tubes, spokes and wheels but they’re still the same bikes.
Q. Why don’t you camp more often? A. We didn’t set off on a shoestring budget. We enjoyed a very nice lifestyle before WorldRiders2 and still want to enjoy it. Camping is time consuming and difficult. Camping can also isolate and we enjoy meeting interesting people. Part of our journey is to discover whether you can cycle around the world and find pleasant places to stay.
Q. Do you work on the bicycles? A. Neither of us is very mechanical. You may find it interesting that we have found competent bicycle mechanics in every corner of the world.
Q. Have you been threatened or afraid for your safety? A. We’ve had a few close calls, you may recall the robbery in Morocco, the Knocks on the door that kept us up all night there, too. Two stolen computers. Unsuccessful Pick Pockets in Dakar and a very successful one in Lilongwe, Malawi. However, we believe that 98% of all the people in the world are GOOD PEOPLE!
Q. Are you on any special diet? A. The old “See Food Diet”, we see food, we eat it! Some places allow us opulent meals, others we have to scrape up the same scraps that lots of locals do every day.
Q. What’s your favorite WINE? A. Any old white and dry in a storm.
We hope you’ll keep reading as we ride, sending e-mails and asking questions.
Thanks, Pat & Cat