We had been hearing about the winds of Argentina for the entire trip. A lot of the stories of 200 km/hr gusts, riders getting blown off their bikes, etc., came from the southern Patagonia region, so we were not expecting the north to be much of a problem. Well, it turns out that all of Argentina is windy. Its just a breezy country.
Our first couple days from the border of Bolivia at La Quiaca we had a nice tail wind that pushed us along the Altiplano at a rapid pace. But as we started to drop down to the lower elevations the wind shifted to southerly and made things quite a bit more difficult. The terrain started to lift up around us in waves of multicolored rock layers as we descended to the desert. Its always a drag when the wind forces you to pedal even when going downhill, but the beauty of the surrounding landscape made it enjoyable enough.
We met a handful of bike tourers in the northern Jujuy region. Just outside of Humahuaca we met two French dudes who let us in on the secret of Fruttigrans, the best cookies in Argentina. When we arrived to Humahuaca we ran into a British family of four who had been riding from Cancun and were in their final country, ending in Buenos Aires. Joanna from Scotland and Stephanie from Quebec had connected with them, making a group of six, the biggest bike team we had seen since our Colombia-Ecuador crew when we had the South Africans on board. We wanted to camp with them but still had to get food in town, so ended up splitting after a good conversation at the bus stop on the highway.
The next day Lukas decided to get an early start to beat the heat, but the rest of us were a bit too lazy to make wise decisions like that. He ended up beating more than just the heat, around mid morning a gnarly headwind picked up that whooped our butts, and we had to end up camping in Volcan, whereas Lukas had made it all the way to San Salvador de Jujuy on his easy morning ride without the wind. So we were split up. But we found a great park dedicated to Tupac Amaru and Che Guevara that had free camping so things worked out alright. The next morning a crew of local kids had a bread making business going in the communal oven of the park so we got fresh pan for breakfast.
We dropped deep into the valley toward San Salvador and met up with Lukas in the morning. Despite having crossed the Tropic of Capricorn the day before, we seemed to be getting into hotter climates as we went further south. We were no longer in the Tropics, but we were also no longer in the Altiplano. Thus it was a real warm one by the time we all met up in the capital of Jujuy, and we decided to relax for the rest of the day and sample our first bottles of Argentinean wine in the plaza. They were the first of many.
After a solid introduction to the juice of the vineyards, we went on a mission to find Halloween costumes. It was October 30th, so we were at the end of our deadline. Luckily we ended up running into a costume shop and scored some decent equipment for the most important holiday of the year. How is it that you always think of cool ideas for costumes in April, but come October they have all slipped from memory? Anyways, we were prepared so that’s all that matters.
Halloween started out with an early departure from Jujuy. Right off the bat we got split up into two groups of two. We ended up taking two different routes to Salta, and didn’t find each other until we made it to the city. Max and Lukas took the main highway, the flat and direct route around the mountains. But Kanaan and Andrew found the scenic route, a less traveled road that went up into the mountains and then dropped down to Salta. It started with a bike path to a lake swim, and then broke off onto a skinny road just barely wide enough for two small cars to pass each other that wound up into a beautiful green forest with some great shade and cool wildlife. The descent down the back side landed us at another lake, where we met up with a group of six other bike tourers. Two were the girls we had met a few days ago with the English family, two were local Salta biker friends of the girls and had come to escort the crew into town, and the other two were European tourers, Tomas from Germany and Mattias from Holland. We had met Tomas in Cusco a month earlier, and found out that he had been the one to put our business card on the wall at the Casa de Ciclistas in La Paz, Bolivia. Mystery solved.
As a group of eight, we rode into Salta in our Halloween costumes (the other 6 bikers didn’t get the memo), all downhill through a beautiful river landscape. The local guides gave us the tour of the city as we entered, turning heads with our huge group of wild things. Max and Lukas met us at the central plaza, and the four of us went on a mission to find a cheap hostel before meeting up with the bike crew for dinner and beers. Bowling and dancing completed the night after some awesome pizza. It turns out that no one in Argentina actually celebrates Halloween, its more of an American thing. So we were the only ones in costumes that night, but we did not let that small detail slow us down.
We elected to stay another night in Salta, and spent the day doing errands and enjoying the first rain storm of Argentina. While delivering laundry to the cleaners, Kanaan got into a long conversation with the attendant, and he ended up inviting the crew to have a steak lunch the next day in the upstairs loft of the laundry mat. Cool people in Salta. That night we went to Tomas and Mattias’ hostel for a barbeque, and while we were there we received a message from our South African friend Mark, whom we had traveled with through Colombia and Ecuador. He had just landed in Salta. Within an hour we were reunited with one of our best biker buddies, after nearly three months of separation. The stoke was high.
The next day we checked out of the hostel and went to lunch with German, the laundry mat attendant. A filling, authentic Argentinean-made lunch of steak, salad, rice and wine combined with hours of interesting conversation to convince us that we didn’t actually feel like biking that day. We elected to stay one more night, and moved into Mark’s hostel for their chorizo party that they were throwing that night. We chowed down and went out for another night on the town with the bicycle traveler friends. Our numbers were impressive, with about 12 different bike tourers partying together. When we met locals and told our stories, it became much easier to convince them that what we were doing really isn’t that unique. Generally that’s a much tougher task.
The next day we left with our group of five ATripSouthers and got a little lost trying to get out of the city. By the time we arrived at the lake Dique Cabra Corral, we had lost Lukas. The four of us went to the bridge that we had seen pictures of and watched a group of 60 university physics students do the pendulum swing offered by a local tour group. We spent the night there by the bridge and were glad to see Lukas arrive the next morning after he had slept down on the beach of the lake just five kilometers back.
We watched a few tourists do the bungee jump off the bridge that morning, and after seeing it we knew that we had to do it. We each rolled a die for first jump, and Andy won the rights to guinea pig. 33 meters isn’t very big by bungee jump standards, but the head dip in the lake was a pretty awesome bonus that made it well worth it. Taking the plunge is quite the commitment, definitely scary at first but an excellent adrenaline (and head) rush. Mark and Lukas went last and stepped it up a notch by dropping in switch, falling backwards. Kanaan got those addictive pleasure juices flowing from the jump and had to fulfill the desires by hopping off the bridge without a bungee cord. He said that the bloody bum was worth the drop, but didn’t want to do it again.
That night we rode to a town called La Viña and celebrated Lukas’ last day with us over beers at the gas station (Thank you Stutzer!), followed by Monday Night Football. Lukas, like a few of his predecessors on ATripSouth, was summoned away by his girlfriend, who wanted to travel Central America with him. We had a blast traveling with Stutzer, and were sad to see him go, but at least we had Mark with us to soften the blow. Adventures with Stutzer are always a blast and we definitely look forward to the next.
The first day without Lukas was an incredibly gorgeous 100 km to Cafayate. We followed a river valley through a provincial park, with beautiful flora sprouting out from impressive walls of sedimentary layers stacked into mountains. “The Mushroom”, “The Frog”, “The Devil’s Throat” and “The Amphitheater” were among the named sites to visit along the road. We thoroughly enjoyed exploring and climbing around, and were blessed by a tailwind to help us make it to Cafayate before the sunset.
In Cafayate we met up with Tomas and Mattias again and had dinner with them. Cafayate is a tourist destination as it grows some of the finest wines in Argentina. The town is surrounded by bodegas, and definitely is on the wealthier side of the towns we visited, due to the wine money. We camped outside of a bodega and then made our way out of town after some bike repairs and a slow breakfast. We stopped at a smaller scale bodega on the way out and did a wine tasting. A bottle of malbec joined us for the lunch break, and helped us stick together for a fun day of riding and playing word games with Mark. We ended up in Santa Maria that evening and camped down by the river with no water in it (a common scene in Argentina).
We had heard about a “solar observatory” in the area, so spent the next morning asking around. When we called to see about checking it out, they said that they were booked for the evening, but had space the next day. So we opted to stay in Santa Maria for the day, chilling in the park and publishing the Bolivia blog.
The next day we rode north to go to the observatory, and stopped halfway there to check out a “Museo Pachamama”. It was more of an art gallery than a museum, designed, built, and ran by the artist who filled the rooms with his work. But it was certainly impressive, with some amazing architecture, beautiful pieces, and cool exhibits on local geology and archaeology. Then we almost made a 14 km detour to go swim in the lake, but luckily asked about it first and found out that there was no water in the lake. But we made it to the observatory with ample time to relax in the breezy shade (and sneak showers from the bathroom) before the presentation started. Our guide to the galaxy was great, despite not speaking English. He gave an awesome interactive lesson about astronomy and showed us some cool stuff. We watched the sunset up close, looked through a telescope at the surface of the moon and its craters, saw the phases of Venus, and checked out a couple nebuli. Though the telescope was not quite as powerful as we had expected, it was still the most powerful telescope we had ever looked through, and so was pretty miraculous nonetheless.
The day after our night with the telescope, Mark had to leave us to go catch his flight back to South Africa out of Buenos Aires. Mark pedaled away into the mountains and we turned back toward Santa Maria to keep working south on the Ruta 40. We found a gorgeous, though very buggy campsite in the desert and enjoyed the green landscape by the river when we weren’t hiding in our tents from flies.
The next morning was incredibly windy from the south. We tried riding against it for a while, but the open flat environment gave very few opportunities for sheltered breaks, and so we gave up and hitchhiked to the next town. Andrew caught a ride with some Swiss RV travelers, while Max and Kanaan hid behind a small shack as the wind blasted through. Five hours later they caught a ride but ended up getting dropped off one town too far. It took a full 24 hours to meet up again with Andrew, with lots of hitchhiking attempts and “have you seen?” questions. Here’s a deeper description of that day: Kanaan’s Juneau Empire article
We met up in the town of Belen in the evening and shared the separate stories of the past two days. After camping in the river bed, we stocked up at one of the best grocery stores we’ve found and then took off for another desert run. The hot and straight beat us down for about 80 km and a few hours and so we gladly stopped in the first town we came across and took hose showers in the park.
The next two days kept bringing the heat and headwinds. We finally got into some good terrain as we climbed up into a town called Agua Blanca. On a hunt for 100% puro honey of the bees, Kanaan stumbled upon a small wine bodega called Casa India, where the four employees were in the labeling phase of the bottling process. They invited Kanaan to try the varieties and of course it ended in the purchase of a bottle of the Torrontes. The other side of the hill up to Agua Blanca ended up being a beautiful, 15+ km descent into a valley of big granite boulders. A long push against a solid headwind up the other side put us in another gorgeous geologic park, followed by the town of Sanagasta, where we were happy to take a much needed lunch break. But even in the shade of the sidewalk awning, the heat was punishing. So we made a move for the lake, Dique de Los Sauces, and were so content to take a swim on a hot day and relax in the breezy shade.
Halfway through a nap in the hammock by the lake, Kanaan was awoken by a man named Hugo in a red car who had pulled up to see what the deal with the bikers was. He promptly invited the crew to spend the night at his house; apparently he had hosted two French bike tourers ten years ago and had been hoping to meet more travelers ever since. After running around town on the motorcycle picking up friends and groceries, we had a late night (1AM) dinner of chorizo, buñuelos, salad, and the Casa India wine from Agua Blanca with Hugo and his family. It was great to connect with a local family in La Rioja, and accept the generosity offered by people that had little to give but tons of love and laughter.
We ended up relaxing for a day at Hugo’s house, hanging out with his kids and grandkids and cats and grandcats. Some necessary laundry and a break from heat exposure were pretty helpful after so many days in the sun. The day of hiding in the shade ended with a pizza making party, in which three of the four pizzas survived from oven to mouth. The tuna pizza got dropped on its way out and stayed down there for the kittens to chow on.
We took off the next day in a peculiar dusty/foggy haze and made our way through the flats and straights to Patquia. We opted for the scenic route from there, heading towards the western roads that skirt a couple provincial parks. At the end of another long, straight, flat and hot section the terrain finally started to rise from the ground in bands of vertical walls.
We took another long, straight, flat and hot road to Ischigualasto Provincial Park, where there is the more easily pronounced Valle de la Luna. Fortuitously, that night the moon was full and the park was offering moonlit night tours. However, as we tried to enter the park we were informed that all visitors can only drive around the 40km loop with a guide and guides don’t ride bicycles. We were completely devastated by this discovery and had to console ourselves by using the park’s free internet while contemplating our next move. Thankfully, an entrepreneurial janitor solved our dilemma by offering to chauffer us on the night tour, for a small fee. After looking through a big telescope at the surface of the moon a week before, it was pretty awesome to be walking in the lunar light through craters and towers that appeared to have been formed by meteors. For a moment we thought that perhaps we were walking the big cheese, with the light of a full earth illuminating the land.
Once again the adjectives long, straight, flat and hot could not be used enough to describe the following days. Apart from scrub brush and desert there isn’t much in this region of Argentina and most days we would only pass through a few towns with many kilometers in between. There was a constant haze from all the blown dust and we were grateful for the night of rain that settled the dust and refreshed everything. The few small creeks trickling down from the mountains of the Valle Fertil were awesome breaks from the heat, we made sure to swim in whatever we could find.
About 200km north of Mendoza we were relaxing at a roadside tienda, getting ready to settle in for the night, when a well traveled SUV pulled up complete with a filled roofrack and European plates. Inside were two waving travelers. We gave the usual wave, an automatic motion that has become muscle memory as we do it multiple times every day with all the honkers and whistlers that pass us on the road. But then we did a double take. The passengers of this vehicle looked familiar. All too familiar. It was those damn Spaniards. Excited hugs and high fives and what-the-heck-are-you-doing-heres ensued. It was our fourth time seeing these fools on this trip, after our first meeting in El Salvador, the second in Panama, another in Colombia, and now in the middle of the desert in Argentina, Rafa and Noelia had found us again.
We celebrated with a barbeque asado as they showed us some of the videos they had made on their travels. These guys have an awesome project going with the website unmilliondeelephantes.com, where they travel around doing tours and activities for free by making short videos for the operators. Check it out for an inspiring technique of how to work and travel at the same time. Super cool people. Their website
The next two days we pushed through our last section of hot, flat, straight, dry, windy desert and finally made it to Mendoza. What a relief to be at the end of that part of the journey. We saw some awesome places, met some great people, and obviously had a cool experience, but it was nice to be done with the desert. And Mendoza was the light at the end of the tunnel. We already knew that our buddy Miles was studying on exchange there, but about a week before we arrived we found out that another friend, Ashley, had rented an apartment for a month with his friend Shane. They invited us to crash at their place and it ended up being the perfect spot to stay for our vacation in Mendoza.
Right in the middle of the city, we had access to all the amenities of downtown life just a few blocks away. Ashley and Shane were all about just relaxing and not being too ambitious in their plans, which was perfect for us because we just wanted to chill out. We fell into the Argentinean lifestyle, which matches the climate of the region, but is definitely a different way of being. The idea is to be active during the most comfortable time of day, which is in the middle of the night, because of the intense heat of the day. So we would generally sleep and chill out in the apartment all day, and then go out at night and live it up in the city. We found some great activities to partake in. There’s way to much to write about so we’ll sum it up: a semi-pro futbol game with intense fans, an international cultural fair with amazing food from all over the world, a hot springs water park with cliffs and rivers, all-you-can-eat buffets, all-you-can-drink wine research, and of course, Thanksgiving dinner with real Americans. Shane and Ashley also found a legitimate American diner called Fidelitos World Famous where we feasted on the best burgers of the trip. Our week in Mendoza with Miles, Ashley, and Shane was exactly what we needed. Some good times celebrating with Alaskan homies, in a comfortable place to relax and recharge the batteries. Thanks for the good times!
One of the first things we found out when we connected with Miles was that he was going to a Manu Chao concert in Cordoba that weekend. It was perfect timing, because we had plans to go visit our biker friends that we rode with in Baja, who live in the province of Cordoba. And of course we weren’t going to pass up the chance to see the the Latin American superstar playing live in Argentina. So the night before the concert we loaded a bus and rode for 10 hours to Cordoba.
We spent the day wandering around the city and ended up finding a park that had a public outdoor swimming pool. In the heat of November we were just looking for shade, but a place to submerge in water was even better. After getting our feet, hands and heads checked for fungi, they decided we weren’t as dirty as we looked, and let us in. Luckily Miles brought the frisbee so we had plenty to play with there. And the views weren’t so bad either.
We then connected with Miles’ friends from school, Carlo from Tijuana and Marione from France. A drawing of straws put Kanaan and the new friends on a bus for Cosquin, the town hosting the concert, while Miles, Max and Andrew went to the other side of town to hook up with Miles’ local friend ,Toya, that he had met while studying in Cuba. After a maze of navigation through the greater Cordoba metropolitan area we all found eachother at the front entrance of the venue.
The show was absolutely all-time. So much energy in that amphitheater it felt like the whole place was about to erupt. Manu and the band totally tore it up and we did our best to reciprocate the good vibrations. We danced hard and non-stop, as Juneau kids are known to do sometimes. Way too much fun was had, and for some of us it was the best live musical event we had ever attended. At the end of the performance, we regrouped at Toya’s car, where we realized that there weren’t enough seats for all of us to get back to her house. The three ATripSouthers decided to make the sacrifice, since we were going to visit our friends in Alta Gracia the next day anyways, and so we broke off from the crew and went down to the river to sleep for a few hours.
The next day we awoke to a beautiful body of water, and after taking a quick dip, and getting pooped on by a bird (just Kanaan), we boarded a bus for Alta Gracia. We wandered around town for a while before our buddy Tatan found us and brought us back to his house. Again we were graced with an awesome spot to chill out through the heat of the days. Tatan’s place in Alta Gracia is beautiful, right next to a public park with a creek and plenty of great green space and shady trees to relax under. Nick joined us the next day after returning from a wedding party, and we spent the next couple days kicking back, laughing at eachother, telling stories from our different experiences in the same places, eating well, sleeping well, and hanging out at the rivers and creeks. They hosted two different asado feasts for us, and taught us all about Argentinean culture. The best beef we have eaten in Argentina was brought to the table, cooked just how they like it. We were also coached in the rules of drinking mate, and they did their best to correct our horrible Spanish accents. In exchange, we taught them how to play wine pong and promised to give them the full Alaskan experience when they come north to visit us.
After the final all night asado, which ended in some bare back horse mounting, we walked down to the bus stop with the first light of the day and returned to Mendoza. Arriving just before sunset, we collected our bikes from Miles’ exchange family home and made our way to the hostel that we had partied at the week before with Ashley and Shane. Our friend Facundo was working and lined us up with a room.
Max was originally thinking of coming to the coast of Chile with us before he departed to Santiago to finish the trip early. However, in Mendoza he decided that he would rather get there sooner, so the next day was the end of our reign as a threesome. Kanaan and Andy took off for Valparaiso, and Max went for the capital. Just before leaving the supermarket in Mendoza, Kanaan and Andy met a funky dude named Dave from Canada, who was so stoked on us that he invited us to stay at his house when we arrived in Vina del Mar. Pumped to have a true destination to look forward to, we evacuated Mendoza via Ruta 52, motivated to climb over the mountain range, known as the Andes, and get to the other side.
Ruta 52 turned out to be a bit more intense than we had expected. We had heard that it was paved, but after Villavicencia it turned into a huge series of long winding gravel switchbacks. We were so glad to finally be riding real terrain and not just hot, flat, straight desert, and the scenary was incredible, climbing up through the national reserve, but the riding was difficult. A few sections were sandy, loose dirt which didn’t help much either. At the highest point of the road, we got a great clear view of Aconcagua, the biggest mountain in the Americas. Unfortunately from there it was all downhill to Uspallata, mostly bouncy dirt road, often washboard style. All of our hard work gaining elevation was essentially wiped out going down the other side, and our hands went numb in the process from all the brake squeezing and rattling. There was almost no traffic, and the views were spectacular, but it may not be the most recommendable route to Uspallata.
When we arrived in Uspallata, Kanaan luckily remembered to use the dare that Andy owed him, before it expired at the Chilean border. A child’s birthday party was going down at a roadside house, and they had a bouncy house for the kids to play in. Next thing those kids knew there was a hairy shirtless dude in spandex jumping around with them. They sensed an attack and countered with force, taking him down and pig piling him, pinned in the corner of the floppy floor. We recieved chorizo sandwiches from the parents as our payment for the entertainment at the party. In America the payment would have probably been a call to the police! “There’s a hairy, dirty guy wearing only spandex shorts jumping around with my children!”
After a siesta outside the minimarket, we left Uspallata with a nice firm tailwind and rocketed into the valley toward the Rio Mendoza. A dip in the tributary convinced us that it was time to call it a day, so we went to sleep there with plans to send it to Chile in the manana. But that night the wind shifted and we woke up to a fierce headwind coming down the valley. Of course, its Argentina.
The day was a slow one, pushing up long hills against the wind into the heights of the Andes. It was physically enduring, but the mountains were gorgeous, and kept us motivated with beautiful sights of colors and formations around every corner. At one point we looked up and saw the glorious Aconcagua towering above us. Ruta 7 may not be the highest pass in the Andes, but riding through the pass that touches the tallest mountain in the world’s longest range was pretty epic feeling. Along with our newly purchased mate gord, bombilla, and yerba set up, the big mountain gave us that final push that we needed to get up the last 900 meter rise over 14 kilometers of road for the summit of the pass. Arriving in Las Cuevas just after sunset, the cold windy air at 3600 meters elevation ushered us into the tents, which we parked in a nice abandoned building for wind shelter. Five kilometers or so from the border, we slept deeply in the cool alpine night, satisfied with our Northern Argentina experience and ready for the next phase of the trip to begin our 15th and final country.