Argentina: The Central Patagonian Pampas

Route: Gobernador Costa – Rio Mayo – Perito Moreno – Gobernador Gregores

I stayed at the municipal campground in Gobernador Costa. I first inquired whether they had showers. “Sure”, the man who received the camping fee said, and he showed them to me. When I went for a shower, undressed …. no water of course. Still, the man didn’t lie, there were showers.
I dressed and went to his house. Only an older woman, probably his mother, was there. I explained the situation as best as I could.
She gave me the keys to another building, in the middle of the campground. There were showers as well, she said.
The woman didn’t lie. There were showers. But no water.
I gave up, washed my self at the little sink in the first building. As a little revenge, I washed my clothes under the sign which forbade you to wash your clothes, and hung them on the woman’s cloth line.

The real strong wind had eased down a bit the next day, but is was still blowing considerably good and, and from the northwest, so in my back.
Despite starting at noon time only (updating website in the Ypf gas station), I had my biggest day so far in South-America, 135 km.
Traveling this far, meant I traversed a whole latitude on the map in one day on the bike, namely from S44°02 to S.45.04. It must have happened before of course during my travels, but it’s the first time I’ve noticed it.
Traveling at this speed, the landscape which my guidebook describes as ‘boring’, is actually rather interesting. I’m crossing the ‘Pampa Apeleg’ here, flat land overgrown with tiny bushes and see to my right the Andes in the distance, some other hills closer by to the left.
At Los Tamariscos, about half way between Gobernador Costa and Rio May, you can get some extra water.
I pitched the tent in a gravel pit, which only slightly protected me from the wind.

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I continued to have a super strong tail wind for another 50 kilometer, till the junction for Comodoro Rivadavia and Rio Mayo. I wanted to go in the direction of the latter and descended towards the river. Great camping spots between trees here if you want. I just stopped to have lunch.
Climbing out of the river, I cycled for 30 centimeter. As I made an almost 180 degrees turn, I had that strong wind bang in the face now. Nothing to do than to push the bike out of the valley. Even more winds when I was out of it.
I looked down at the river, the trees, the gras in between ….. what the heck, I had a long day yesterday, and pushing against this wind is ridiculous. I went back down to look for a place for the tent. But that wasn’t even necessary. There’s an abandoned bungalow which I, after sweeping it out a bit, made mine for the night. When I heard the wind blowing in the trees and banging some loose metal part of the bungalow, I was pretty glad to be inside.

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‘Ceferino Namuncura’ another Argentinian Saint or something. They offer water bottles to him. Plenty of water bottles.
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Gauchito Gil is here as well of course.
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I guess hanging a clothes line equals claiming the property.
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Inside, the place was in decay, but I swept out my little corner of the place, so it was good for a night.

The wind blew severely all night. Only between 6 am and 8 am it was a bit quieter.
I aimed for an early start the next morning, as the wind tends to pick up during the day. I half succeeded, as I was on the road by 9 o’clock, which is early for me. Pushing the bike back out of the river valley, it slammed me in the face as what seemed double as hard as yesterday.
I made an attempt to cycle, but that was ridiculous. Before I could even swing my leg over the saddle, I was blown back already.
Incredible these winds.
I pushed the bike, walking in the gravel shoulder of the road. I ‘ve got to stay off the road, because with this wind, you here nothing coming from behind.
After half an hour pushing, the odo meter showed I made 1,56 kilometer progress.
After an hour of pushing my bike against this constant wind, I was 3,1 kilometer from the place I’d spend the night.
Two hours into this ordeal, I managed 6 kilometer. At least, my performance was consistent.

After 19 kilometer, there was a little bend in the road. I have been pushing my bike 6 hour to get here. I’ve been blown down twice. One time, before I even realized it, I was sitting on my left knee with my bike on top of me, the saddle poking in my liver or kidneys or whatever is in that region. It’s hard to get up when you’re half under your heavy bike, and the wind is doing everything to press it down further on you.

I started calculating. I’m always calculating something on the bike. Most of the time my progress in percentages. To the end of the day, in case I have something in mind, or to a goal a bit further in the future, Ushuaia f.e., or what percentage of the mountain I climbed, ….
Now it were footsteps. Against this storm and pushing this heavy bike, my steps surely weren’t bigger as 50 cm, so that’s 2000 steps per kilometer.
That means around 38.000 steps in these circumstances the last 19 kilometer.

After this bend in the road, it was another 32 kilometer to Rio Mayo, which took me almost another 4 hours.
This day is in the top 3 of my hardest cycling days. And it wasn’t even cold or wet, so you can imagine.
I checked in a hotel for two nights. After 18 days of cycling, a rest day was needed.

The wind was still blowing after the rest day. It turned a few degrees further to the west as well, which is bad news, given the direction I was going.
A little climb out of Rio Mayo, then it became flat. I started cycling in 8th gear, but soon had to shift down to 7, then to 6, the speed going down accordingly, well into single digits.
A small curve in the road, few degrees to the right. It meant only a few degrees more into the wind.
Shift down to 4th gear. Speed, around 7 or 8 km/h. But I wasn’t complaining. At least I could cycle and made reasonable progress. Further small bends in the road slowed me further down to 6 km/h, or sometimes back up to 12 km/h.
It’s not cold, but still I have to ride with a merino wool shirt and my soft shell. Sometimes sunny, sometimes cloudy. Apart from the wind, excellent conditions.
Only …. I hurt everywhere. My thighs and the bottom of my feet from pushing the pedals so hard, my arms and shoulders from pushing the bike so hard the day before yesterday, my back, from this constant pressure of the wind, and also from pushing the bike, my cracked up fingers from the dry wind and the sun (and bad blood circulation ?), also my lips are suffering from these windy conditions. Even my ass hurts, which normally never happens.

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In the afternoon, I’m passing the provincial border and leave the province of Chubut behind. I entered Santa Cruz, the southern most province of the Argentinian mainland (There’s of course still the island of Tierra Del Fuego south of that).
I’m riding in the ‘Pampa Verdun’ now.
I must say that after Gobernador Costa, Ruta 40 was quiet. The traffic thinned out even further south of the junction with Ruta 26.

This morning, I intended to ride 65 kilometer today, the half way point between Rio Mayo and Perito Moreno. There wasn’t anything in this wide pampa that would protect me a bit from the wind overnight, so I consulted my map. It showed a blue line, named ‘Canada El Puma’. The blue line suggested a river, but Canada suggest more like a valley, I guess. Probably it’s a thing that’s only flooded during heavy rains, butI hoped it would have trees in between which I would find shelter for camping. The only trees in this otherwise completely barren landscape.
But it wasn’t meant to be. The Canada was a valley, no water, no trees.
I went back up to where I came from. I saw a small dirt track going from the main road, along which I found a pretty good place, half sheltered from the wind.
A wind that died out after 10 pm. I should go cycle now !
But I missed too many nights of sleep in the past on my job, so my night rest is sacred now.

What does a typical day in the saddle look like for me:
07:00: Sunrise
07:00 – 8;30: Wake up slowly.
08:30: Release the air from my air mattress, forcing myself to get up.
08:30 – 11:00: Breakfast, relax, break up camp
11:00 – 17:30: Cycling (eating, make pictures, take a break, start looking for a camp spot)
18:00 – 20:30: finding a spot for the night, pitch the tent, make & eat diner, dishes
20:30: Sunset
20:30 – 22:00: reading book in tent
22:00 – 08:30: sleep

There are of course many other tasks I have to squeeze in this already tight schedule:
Maintenance of the bike and it’s bags, of my stove, my water filter and the tent (cleaning zippers), shopping for provisions, laundry, keeping website up-to-date, route planning, …

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This guy has a front yard of 10 km ! 🙂

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As a result of my long day out of Rio Mayo, I only have to cover 52 km the next day to Perito Moreno. The conditions haven’t changed and I’m still battling against side and head winds.
In the towns’ ‘Banco National’ I can finally get money from the ATM again. No other ATM south of Bariloche would give me anything (I didn’t try in El Bolson). The provincial banks don’t accept bank cards with a chip. All my cards, debet and credit have a chip of course. Even when you go inside the bank during opening hours, they can’t help you. The maximum amount you can take with your card is 2.000 Argentinian pesos. That’s a bit under 100 euro. The local bank charges you 107 pesos each time, so that’s 5,37% of the amount, apart from what your own bank might charge.

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This guy was still alive 30 seconds ago. He was crossing the road in a nice straight line. A car came from the other side, and it’s driver must have seen him. If not, I pointed it out to him. But he didn’t slow down the slightest little bit and just smashed his head off. These guys run pretty fast, so if he slowed down 3 seconds, he would be alive. All this ‘accidental’ road kill is already sad enough, but here they do it on purpose. Just like speeding at centimeters from cyclists, while there’s no traffic coming from the other side. They just do it for fun.
And after almost 3.000 kilometer here, I noticed these drivers actually do know how to veer around an obstacle. If there’s a pothole in the road, they can do it. I even noticed the concept of ‘anticipation’ isn’t completely alien to them. When there’s a pothole in their lane, and a car coming from the other side, they slow down a bit, so they can then go around the pothole. But not so for cyclists or animals. Their suspension is more important. Fuckers.
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Look at the letters on the door of this church…

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I stayed the night at the camping municipal in Perito Moreno.
Terrible affair. There’s a loud engine somewhere out of the campground running very loud all night. Camping in these little towns is always a very loud and stressful affair. But camping spots aren’t easy to find is this windy pampa, therefore my choice.

The next settlement, south of Perito Moreno is Bajo Caracoles, 130 kilometer away. Too far to do it in one day. After about 50 kilometer, the road starts to climb a little bit more, and I enter a beautiful area with colorful hills. There’s also an exit towards ‘Cueva de los Manos’ a cave full of paintings of hands. It’s a Unesco thing, but I ‘m not really interested of old paintings of hands. What would be interesting, is the ripio track to the cave, but I decide against it. If I ‘lose’ a day here, I’ll get into problems with my provisions.
There are many opportunities to wild camp in these colorful hills (jumping fences required). Also at Rio Pinturas wild camping is possible (but not as good as in the hills). It was still early afternoon so I decided to carry on a bit
Wrong decision of course.
At the next river, Rio Ecker is an estancia where you could camp, but no wild camping opportunities. Eventually, I pitch the tent 35 km before Bajo Caracoles, just of the road.

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Weird skies

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The landscape continues to be interesting, south of Perito Moreno.
The Rio Blanco carves it’s way through an impressive, wide valley. I’m sure many days of the year, cycling would be impossible here due to the strong westerly winds. But I’m lucky today, there is some head wind of course, but nothing too terrible and I make good progress. With ten minutes to spare, I arrive just before the siesta in Bajo Caracoles. Only to discover I hurried so much without reason.
There’s no shop here !
There’s just a gas station with a hotel and it’s bar sells some cookies, pasta and cans of tuna if you like.
I decide to take lunch. An expensive meal, where I got a big bone, with some white fat attached to it. After a bit of searching, I found a little piece of meat on it as well. I also had a carrot, a piece of corn, a potato and a steamed onion (??). Not much for the next stretch, which has no services and no villages for the next 230 kilometer.
When I leave the settlement two hours later, the wind has picked up considerably, but after climbing out of the valley, I had it in my back.

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Ruta 40 is still a nice and quiet road here. Almost all trucks passing me are Chilean. I guess they provide Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales, two Chilean cities in the deep south that can only be reached by road via Argentina. The Chileans often drive these beautiful old American trucks, Kenworths, Peterbilts, Freightliners, Mack…
They always give me a lot of space as well.

Wildlife: What do I see along the road in this part of the world.
Well, often armadillos, lots of guanaco’s, nandu’s (Patagonian ostriches). That’s about it.
Oh, flamingo’s are here as well. I’m surprised to see them in this cold region.
The temperature during the day is between 12 and 14 degrees, but once the wind picks up from the west, it brings a cold chill from the Andes and it feels much colder. The nights are still very cold, but it hasn’t frozen lately.

30 kilometer after Bajo Caracoles, I saw some abandoned buildings at the left of the road. It used to be the ‘Hotel El Olnie’. As the sun was out, I wanted to ride a bit longer, but such a nice opportunity to spend the night out of the wind, without pitching the tent … I couldn’t let it pass.
As I couldn’t buy any bread at Bajo Caracoles, I now had some time and a good place to make and bake some myself.

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Even hooks to hang my clothes 🙂

I’d checked the internet back in Bajo Caracoles and knew it was going to rain today.
Not only rain, I was battling against the wind, always from the west/southwest, coming diagonally against me, battering me from the right. After 7,5 kilometer it started raining. Temperatures dropped instantly from 7 to 2 degrees Celsius. Soon I had it all, a mixture of rain, snow, hail. And wind. A pity I didn’t have a bit of sun as well. My progress was slow, and although I was all ‘Gore-Texed’ up, I was shivering.
Since years I carry a special balaclava for extreme temperatures with me. Today I used it for the first time ever. Nice and warm, but with this weather, your nose is running all the time, with only one way for the snot to go, inside the balaclava.
After 30 kilometer I took shelter in one of the drainage pipes under the road. They ‘re about 1,5 meter high and 1,5 meter wide.
The ice cold wind was blowing through it as well, and I put on more clothes. In many blogs I saw cyclists had spent the night in one of these pipes under the road, but I hoped I wouldn’t have to do that. After 1,5 hour in the pipe, the rain stopped and I continued my road, but only for a couple of kilometers, when the sky became black again, and I saw it raining a bit further in front of me.
Another pipe under the road.
I guess it’s my turn today to spent the night in such a thing. I laid out my plastic tarp, to protect my mattress and sleeping bag a bit from the mud and dust, put on more clothes and made a basic pasta. I don’t understand what’s happening, but it seems like I physically can’t cope with the cold anymore. Two degrees isn’t exactly tropical, but I was perfectly able to ride in colder temperatures in the past.
Now I lay with a pair of thin socks, a pair of thick merino wool socks and a pair of Sealskinz neoprene socks, merino wool long underpants, my regular long pants, 2 merino wool long sleeved shirts, a fleece, a down jacket and a woolen hat in my 850 cuin down sleeping bag, comfort rated – 14 degrees Celsius. Ok, apart from the little bare part of my face, I wasn’t cold, but what will I do when it gets really cold ??
Also the physical problems don’t improve. Both my thumbs have open wounds since six weeks. The other fingers heal sometimes for a few days, so the cracks aren’t that deep. Everything I do hurts: opening my Ortlieb bags, stuffing my sleeping bag in it’s compression sack; even just touching the screen of my e-reader hurts.
It’s not my most cozy night, in a windy pipe under the road, but better then having my tent blown to pieces on this barren pampas.
No wind protection to be found. I’m on the ‘Pampa del Asador’ now. Pampas, all with a different name, but they all look the same.

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Try to imagine the winds blowing here.  Now multiply it by x …
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I know the helmet looks funny, but the hood would just blow off without it.

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NOT the nicest place to spent a night, but the only option in this open lands without any wind cover for the tent.

In the morning, I’m glad no water flew through my pipe. I’m early (for me) on the road, by 9:30 am. I’ve got to make some progress after yesterday’s short day. That wind still blowing diagonally from the right in my face.
But I have nice perspectives.
45 kilometer further down the road, ruta 40 makes a 90 degrees curve to the east, so I will have that wind nicely in my back.
I’m pushing and pushing the pedals and make actually acceptable progress. I’m counting down the kilometers. 30 km to go, 25 km to go, 22,5 km to go, I’m half way, ….
Then 4 kilometer before the bend in the road at Las Horquetas …. can you believe it ??
The wind made a turn and is now blowing in my face a bit from the left side. I’ll have it right back in my face after the road makes that turn to the east.
Unbelievable !

Push, push, push.
Las Horquetas. All guide books mention it’s nothing more but an abandoned hotel. It was a bit my goal for yesterday. But they are renovating the place, so you could spend the night there now, and I guess even get a meal.
I push on. I have to, if I want to make it to the next town with provisions tomorrow. And although I have the wind, against, it’s not too bad. I compare everything now to that dat I had to push towards Rio Mayo. As long as I can actually sit on the bike and push, it’s ok.

And how nice when the little plan you have in your head works out. On my map, I saw a bridge over the Rio Chico, 67 km before Gobernador Gregores and hoped there would be some trees and a place to pitch the tent. It even had some grass 🙂
And while I was pushing all day to stay ahead of rain showers that seems to be a few kilometer behind me, even the sun came out late afternoon. A much, much nicer end of the day then yesterday. Ooh, how happy I am to be in my tent. It still beats abandoned hotels, and sure beats drainage pipes.

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This camping spot was so beautiful and quiet, and I had sufficient food, so I took a rest day here at the borders of the Rio Chico. The weather was brilliant. Apart from reading in the sun, I did a lot of laundry, cleaned my bike, brushed the zippers of the tent (yes, that’s necessary). In the evening I had two big owls next to my tent. This is also one of the advantages of traveling alone. You’re silent at your camping spot, so the wild life shows itself.

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The ride to Gobernador Gregores goes through interesting landscape. First I travelled on a high plateau in a long bend along the Rio Chico, with fantastic views to the river and the many, many curves it makes here. Further on towards Gobernador Gregores I’m suddenly in a desert like landscape.
I was in a good mood today. For the first time since Neuquen province, about 2.000 km back, I could wear my hat again. Talk about arriving in town in style hehe.

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Nandu’s. They are very shy and hard to photograph.

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Gobernador Gregores has a ‘La Anonima’ supermarket, and that’s the only reason to visit this place. The camping municipal charges four times the price of other camping municipals. The camp ground is lighted better then a football stadium and like in every other Argentinian town, folks are driving around, and around, and around in cars without exhaust pipes all night long, without a brake. Add shouting people and barking dogs to that and it makes me wonder …. who likes to be in places like this ???
Tomorrow, I’ll be back ‘in the wild’.
(PS: There are good wild camping possibilities before you enter town at the left side of the road. Better use them).

At 10 pm, just as I was about to go to sleep, a guy with a big backpack and a guitar arrives at the campground. Damn, he’s coming towards me.
I don’t like backpackers with guitars.
Already meters away, his hand is stretched out towards mine, ready to great me, big smile on his face.
“The face of the fools”, I think to myself.
He introduces himself and I instantly forget his name.
“Musica ?”, he asks.
“No, gracias”, I say.
These guys really always think they are the one thing missing with there stupid tjingle-tjangle on their cheap guitar. As if the whole world is waiting for them to arrive and start ‘playing and singing’.
“I go to bed now”, I tell him.
It’s of course no coincidence he arrives just after 10 pm. Typical for these guys, sneaking in camp grounds ‘for free’, …
He doesn’t have a tent and slept in a very bad quality sleeping bag on a piece of cardboard against the toilet wall. He hasn’t moved yet in the last 1,5 hour when I write this the next morning.
I wonder whether he survived the cold night and if I should check on him.
I decide against it.
He could’ve b(r)ought a tent instead of a guitar.

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Gobernador Gregores

 

Argentina: Ruta 40 Avoidance

Route: Corcovado – Rio Pico – Gobernador Costa

Leaving Corcovado on ripio road 44, I finally feel very happy in Argentina. It’s a much, much more interesting (and challenging) option as the paved main road Ruta 40.
This is what I’m here for. A rough gravel road, no traffic, and mountains to the left and right. The range directly to the left is bathing in the sun, but snow and wet snow is being dumped on the Andean peaks to my right.
I’m in between.

The wind blowing from the north west brings some sparkles of wetness towards me, but never much. The weather is improving during the day.

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Looks rather wet up the mountain
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No wifi, good !

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The first 20 kilometer are relatively easy and I start to think the two locals who warned me the road is difficult and steep exaggerated a bit.
But then comes the pass.
A Lance Armstrong podcast and Lady Gaga’s ‘The Fame’ and ‘The Fame Monster’ albums later, I reach the top.
I pushed my bike 80% of the climb. Nothing to be ashamed about. Pushing a heavy, fully loaded touring bike up this steep hill, the road consisting of big lose stones….. think not many people are up to cycling it all the way.
But it’s beautiful here !
Desolate landscape, not a sole in sight.
Only 2 cars passed me after Corcovado. That’s still 50% too much, but I can live with that 😉

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I camped near the Lago Guacho (yes Guacho, not gaucho), which was a bit further from road 44 as anticipated and made me plough through some snow fields, slush, mud and ankle deep water pools and had me made my bike lift over fallen trees.
I saw some old foot prints in the snow of only one other soul who’s been here after winter. It’s going to be a cold, but definitely quiet night.

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Lago Guacho

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Next day, my progress wasn’t slowed down by a hard climb, but by the quality of the ripio road. Stones as big as fists thrown in loose sand. My bike is bumping uncontrollably from left to right, all over the road, gusting wind helping a hand sometimes.
Once I leave the large Lago Vintter behind, it’s blowing straight in my back, but still my speed mostly is about 7 or 8 km/hr on the bumpy, surface. I had to work real hard all day in order to have he next village, Rio Pico in reach the next day before siesta time.

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The big stones, making progress slow, and torturing the bike and bags. My stove, my laptop, everything is torn apart by the bumps all day.

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Today, zero cars passed me.
I saw nobody ! 😀
And I had a brilliant camping spot in a grassy field, nicely protected from the wind.
Some snow in the morning, but the sun came out soon enough, dried the tent and I as back on the road by 10:30 am.

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I estimated I ‘d need 2 days to cycle down towards Governador Costa, back at ruta 40, but I had such a formidable tail wind, I arrived there at 15:00 hrs, having started north of Rio Pico, wow !!.
With such favorable conditions, I should have continued, but the supermarket’s siesta only finishes at 17:30, and I need to buy more provisions for the long stretch south into the big nothingness.

Argentina: Parque Nacional Los Alerces

Route: El Bolson – Cholila – Trevelin

South of El Bolson is a national park I was really looking forward to ride through, the ‘Parque Nacional Los Alerces’.
Alerces are trees, upto 4000 years old and the oldest living creatures on this planet.
WWO 1 just happened recently for them.
Christoffel Columbus you say ?
7/8 of these trees life time happened before he discovered America.
Julius Ceasar or Jesus Christ ?
These trees lived half of their life before that.
Than, 20th century. An idiot with a chain saw comes along. One minute later, the tree is gone.
4000 years it’s standing there, we mow it away in a blink of an eye.
Progress and $$$.
So the few that are left are now protected in a national park.
Lets hope they don’t fall victim to pollution if it isn’t for the chain saw.

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Along the ripio road before actually entering the National Park.

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I was riding till early evening in order to reach the first camp ground at the park entrance.

I camped two nights in the national park on designated camp grounds. Both nights I had mouses in my tent. I never had that before, and now two nights in a row. The park must be infested with them. But is is a very beautiful ride.
What a shame preparations seem to be under way to pave the road through the park.

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My first day in the park, the day starting with a nice blue sky and even warm temperatures.

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Around noon time, the clouds rolled in, but no rain.

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A cloudy afternoon or ….
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a sunny morning 🙂

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I met another Argentinian biker in the park who took me to the top of a spectacular waterfall.
He explained me all the fallen trees in the park weren’t caused by storms but by the exceptional heavy snow load they had to endure last winter.

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Outside the southern end of the park, on the way to Trevelin.

Argentina: The Lake Region

Route: Aluminé – Junin de los Andes – Villa La Angostura – Bariloche – El Bolson

Having entered Argentina’s ‘Lake Region’, I headed down to the first lake within reach. One of the smaller ones, ‘Lago Ruca Choroi’, at the end of a 30 km dead end road, west of Aluminé. It’s a ripio road, but too my disappointment much busier then expected. There are small Mapuche settlements at regular intervals, and I have the impression they all drive up and down to Aluminé this evening. As I’m getting deeper into the Andes, temperatures drop quickly and my progress is slower as expected. After sunset I enter Parque Nacional Lanin (named after the volcano Lanin), which covers the northern half of the lake region. I pitch the tent next to the lake, near some trees for wind cover (which would turn out to be a bad decision). During my second night at the lake, it snowed. Well, first it rained during the day, then wet snow, then snow. In the morning, all this frozen icy wet snow started to drop from the branches on my tent in pretty big and heavy chunks. No damage, but I packed my stuff quicker then usual that morning.
The road back to Aluminé was a muddy affair.

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What difference a night of snow can make 🙂

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After Rahue, I took ripio road 23 riding south along the river, a nice and quiet option. I wanted to visit some other lakes at the end of some dead end roads further west, but the weather wasn’t really inviting.

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Ruta 23, with the Rio Aluminé to the right

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THIS is the kind of roads I like ! 🙂

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This turned out to be an excellent camping spot. Wind was blowing hard that night, but there was a hill with some forest back to where I took this picture from which sheltered me perfectly.

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The next ‘town’, Junin de los Andes lays just above the 40th latitude.
All was fine till there.
South of Junin de los Andes, having crossed the 40th latitude, it immediately became clear why the area south of that is famous as the ‘roaring forties’ among sailors.
I got into a true Patagonian storm as I hadn’t experienced before.
Riding a bike ?
Forget it !
Pushing a touring bike ?
Well, I could do one, two, three steps.
Stop.
Recover (Holding the brakes to avoid being blown back).
One, two, three steps….

It starting raining, which soon became wet snow.
Passing cars sprayed it all over you.
Good rain gear or not, I got cold.
Push, one, two, three.
Stop.
Recover.

I can hardly hold the bike, so much wind.
Then a pick-up truck stopped and offered me a ride.
I gratefully accepted.
This was way too extreme and dangerous along this relatively busy road (I rejoined ruta 40 just north of Junin).
No places to pitch the tent and wait it out.
A shame I missed part of the region, but so be it.

The bad weather lasted for four days. I sat it out in a hostel in ‘Villa La Angostura’.
Chocolate shops, pizza restaurants and outdoor stores. That about sums it up as for as Villa La Angostura is concerned.
The outdoor stores are of the sort where you can buy shoes and jackets. Don’t think a decent tent or multi fuel stove is on offer.

I’m now in Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi and am riding the northern shore of the lake Nahuel Huapi, with it’s 557 km2 the biggest lake in Northern Patagonia. The snow line is only 30 / 40 meter above the road.
Ruta 40 is still busy, and I’m here at the beginning of October, as low as low season can go. I don’t want to imagine what this route is like in high season, and can’t understand why so much cyclists rave about it.
Yes, the scenery is great, but the cycling not really with the speeding, continuous stream of traffic. You’ve got a car passing you every 15 seconds or so, often a stream of multiple cars. When I was lucky, there were intervals of 45 seconds between cars.

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San Carlos de Bariloche. It seems to be the most famous tourist town in this region. It’s much, much bigger as I expected. Much bigger as shown on both the maps I carry. I don’t like the place. Guide books that rave about the towns architecture haven’t visited the place in decades I guess. The air is thicker with heavy diesel fumes as it is in Bangkok.

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I meet up with Sebastian, a German cyclist and we make a nice day ride, known as the ‘circuito chico’ here along the southern shore of the lake (nice but ooh…. that traffic 😦 ).
After the famous Llao Llao hotel, we visit a few beautiful view points and return to Bariloche passing what they call here Colonia Suiza and Moreno lake, named after Perito Moreno.
Now, this guy must have done something right, having a lake, a mountain, a town, a national park and the most famous glacier in the southern hemisphere named after him.
There’s a museum about him in Bariloche where you can find it out.

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Joske Vermeulen

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The Llao Llao hotel
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The desire to be “The Switzerland of Argentina” takes at times extremes and sad proportions…

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Together with Sebastian, I leave Bariloche. The scenery is again amazing.
We’re riding along several lakes, Lago Gutiérrez, Lago Mascardi, Lago Guillelmo, …

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In Argentininan Castellano Spanish, this means keep one point five centimeter distance of cyclists.

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Sebastian

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Argentinian cyclist heading north

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Sebastian

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Sebastian has an address to stay with somebody in El Bolson. As I didn’t like that town either (busy streets, stinking diesel fumes), I left town immediately after buying provisions.
While for a mysterious reason, Ruta 40 was more or less ok between Bariloche and El Bolson, south of El Bolson, all hell was loose again.
Since the beginning of this trip, I’m keeping a spreadsheet, classifying the countries drivers’ abilities from A to E, so from very good being ‘A’ to very bad, being ‘E’.
I never expected I’d have to add category ‘F’ to it, but I feel I might have to.
As I’m such a nice guy I won’t do it.
For now.

My gps showed a small ripio route just west of ruta 40 to El Hoyo. Closer to the mountain, no traffic, cycling was great again.
South of El Hoyo and back on ruta 40, I met an experienced Argentinian cyclist, Patricia who recommended me to camp next to Lago Epuyén, a bit further south.
Daylight was running out and I didn’t make it that far, but found a really nice spot right next to the Rio Epuyén.


Still cold nights.

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One of the many stars along Argentina’s roads, indicating somebody died here in traffic. It doesn’t seem to leave a big impression to the drivers.

Argentina: PN Laguna Blanca and Sierra de Catan Lil

Route: Zapala – Laguna Blanca – Rahué – Aluminé

The hotel, where I planned a rest day in Zapala, was a sad and expensive story, so I left after one night.

My first kilometers on the famous Ruta 40.
Even a smooth, separate bike line for a few kilometer. Way to go ! 🙂
Already after 10 kilometer I left the RN 40 and turned right towards my second National Parc, Laguna Blanca.

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The best bicycle lane in Argentina !

The tent space at Laguna Blanca sucks. It’s close to the road, on a rocky & gravel surface. Almost impossible to put a stake in the ground and to pitch a tunnel tent. The weather cleared out late afternoon, so I could enjoy good view and a nice sunset over Cerro Cachil.

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Blue sky, crystal blue lake, a snowy mountain and the shadow of a happy man.

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And then, finally ….. I’m in the mountains. Today I’m crossing the ‘Sierra de Catan Lil’, a range in front of the Andes. Whole morning I have more amazing views over the Cerro Cachil, with 2.839 meters the (I think) highest peak of this sierra.
Contrary to the weather forecast, the sun is shining brilliantly and …. I have a strong tail wind wooooooow 🙂 I take a hundred pictures this day.
When I look right, it seems like I’m in a completely other world as when I look left.
Snowy mountains on my right side, on my left side some sort of hilly, Mongolian like steppe. Some volcanos thrown in in between.
I find a beautiful spot to pitch the tent right next to the Rio Catan Lil. A worthy place to rest my head after such a beautiful day.

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This region is inhabited by the Mapuche’s. These are the people that stopped the progress of the Incas a bit further north from here.

The next day in the Sierra de Catan Lil, the sun is still out, and the tail wind even stronger.
There are three passes to cross, between the National Park and the crossing with road 23 at Rahue. On top of the last on, the road is ripio here, I have my first real view of the Andes.
A mount Fuji look alike volcano, named ‘Volcan Lanin’, 3.776 meter high. Further to the right, a bit further away, a perfect cone; completely covered in snow from top to bottom. Smoke coming from the top. Probably the volcano ‘Villarica’ in Chile ?

Just after the junction in Rahue, I pitch the tent again next to a river, Rio Aluminé this time.
While temperatures are still ok during the day, it’s chilly at the windy passes. At night, the temperatures go below zero. -3°, -4° C.

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Een bijschrift invoeren

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Rio Aluminé

Argentina: Biking Petróleros Country

Route: Casa de Piedra – 25 de Mayo – Rincón de Los Sauces – Añelo – Zapala

Immediately after turning my handle bars 180 degrees on that dam in the Rio Colorado, I’m on a 100 km long ripio (loose stones) road now, without traffic.
And soon without fences ! 🙂
But alas, the pleasure wasn’t to last.
Halfway down the road to ’25 De Mayo’ I see the first oil rigs. I’m entering an area where they drill a lot for oil. It seems they don’t have pipelines and everything has to be transported by trucks. By taking the little road via Penas Blancas I was hoping to find tranquility again.
In vain.

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This petrol area in northern Patagonia is much larger as expected. The ripio road is much worse as expected too (washboard).

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Nice white cotton gloves to protect my fingers from cracking up further due to sun & dryness.

In Penas Blancas I’m lucky to stay the night in a school. It feels like paradise after such a hard day on the road. Got a shower, milk and even diner from the friendly boy who invited me. Next day, when the kids arrive I’ve got to explain them a bit about the bike of course. Hopefully a little seed is planted and a next generation of Argentinian bike tourers will show up in a couple of years.

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The kid who arranged a night at the school for me and his mom.
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Somebody offered a tv to the Gauchito.
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The green catita’s are gone. Here, I’ve got this kind of parrots.
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Nobody seems to like my hat, but I like it, so I wear it.

After a quiet night wild camping on the Patagonian steppe, I soon hit the paved road towards Rincon de los Sauces, the capital of the ‘petróleros’. The road is quiet here and on my left side I can admire all the time the volcano Auca Mahuida which lays here in the Patagonian flat lands like some Argentinian Mont Ventoux.

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Auca Mahuida
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He’s got a nice hat as well.

And the suddenly ….. wow, I mean WOW !!
Another huge snowcapped volcano in front of me in the distance. It’s Mount Tromen.
A volcano left of me, one in front, Roxette’s fabulous song ‘Cinnamon Street’ in my ears …. “Spring time is here and the air is so dry and sweet – I walk in a cloud, the smell of cinnamon bread”
Life is good.
It’s even better when I’m invited to stay the night indoors in Rincon de los Sauces with Walter and his friendly family. Again a shower, and throw a beer and some pizza on top of it.
Yep, life sure is good.

Next morning, looking at Tromen in all it’s glory, I wanna go there.
I really, really want to go there.
But I’ve got to control myself. Keep some interesting stuff for when I’m on the way up again.

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Volcano Tromen in the back, civilasation in the front.
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Auca Mahuida

The yellow road on my map, from Rincon to Añelo was to be a quiet one in my imagination.
But then reality kicks in. It’s doable until I reach the junction with RP7.
A whole lot of petroleum activity here. Luckily, these petróleros all drive very considerate, not too fast and give you ample space when they pass. The trucks likewise. And all with a lot of greetings. Very friendly folks.
One pick-up truck stops a bit further down the road to give me a big bottle of cool water.
The next day, another guy stops and gives me two power bars.

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More shrines for the Gauchito on the little pass between Rincon de los Sauces and Añelo.

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Much of the water, lakes and rivers, is salt here.

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The tiny road number 1 between Añelo and Zapala appeared to be a busy ripio road, so I chose the paved option towards Cutral Co, where I would hit the Route National 22.
A red road on the map 😦
The last days I made some extra kilometers so I could ride it on a Sunday, hoping that would be a bit quieter. Leaving Cutral Co, I notice a sign that the maximum speed on this road is 80 km/hr.
They all go 180.
It’s been a while since I drove a car and maybe I don’t recall very well, but is it such a hard effort to move that steering wheel ,just slightly, a few centimeters to the left when you pass a cyclist ?
They all have to cover distances of hundreds of kilometer on this road, but don’t imagine they can ‘loose’ a hand full of seconds by slowing down for you ?
Braking isn’t even required, just release the gas a little bit before you’re passing me, just at the exact moment that truck is coming from the other side.
Oh no, wait, that’s called anticipation.
Anticipation requires some brain function, but it seems like about every driver here is a brain death idiot.
Oh yeah, just like in the Buddhist countries, where they hang the Buddha at the rear view mirror for protection and then start driving like mad men, over here they stop to offer to Gauchito Gil, pray for protection and safety, step in their car, turn on the engine, switch of the brain and GO !
I can’t figure out how it is possible, that difference like day and night how the petroleros behave on the road, and then … the rest.
I think they’re not only offering empty beer cans and wine bottles (they make sure to empty that first) in those shrines, but leave their brains behind there as well.

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A nice wild camp spot in a dry river bed, very well sheltered from the wind on the road towards Cutral Co.
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A sky on FIRE and the outlines of the Sierra de Catan Lil in the distance.

These drivers weren’t my only problem that day.
This wind.
No, this storm. Brutal !
Imagine riding in a windtunnel.
For 70 km.
With hills to tackle in between.
Completely wasted from the wind and gaga from the traffic, I arrived in Zapala.
Average speed for the day: 9,08 km/hr.

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Make a guess which way I was going?

Argentina: Buenos Aires and La Pampa provincia

Route: Mercedes – Navarro – 25 de Mayo – Saladillo – Guamini – Macachin – General Acha – Casa de Piedra

South-America.  Argentina.  Buenos Aires.
The past year, while I enjoyed cycling in Europe very, very much, mentally I was quiet often at this side of the planet already. A 14 hour flight, the longest direct flight from Amsterdam Airport, was all that separated me from this new continent. Not being a town guy, I decided to stay three days in the city nevertheless.
I didn’t like it. But that’s no problem. I’m not here for the city. Not any city for that matter.

What I do want, is to discover the country, the nature, the plains of the Pampa, the Andean mountains, the glacier lakes. Getting to know the country that produced celebrities like Che Guevara, Juan Manuel Fangio, Gabriela Sabatini, Guillermo Vilas, Jorge Luis Borges and certainly the most famous of them all, Diego Armando Maradona.

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Plaza 25 de Mayo

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I got a police escort on my first day in town 🙂

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A big uncertainty for me was ‘how to leave Buenos Aires’. That huge metropolis, with it’s 12 million people more populated than the country I was born in, a city sprawling out to the west over 60 km. Cycling out of town was plan C only.
I’ve cycled out of big cities before; Bangkok, Saigon.
That was ok.
These were Southeast Asian towns, were I felt comfortable. Buenos Aires didn’t give me that feeling the few days I was there. So, the only viable options were train or bus.
The train was plan A, but according to the first information I found, trains were only running twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays, leaving Buenos Aires in the evening and arriving at my destination at night. I heard horror stories how my bike would have to go in a freight wagon, and I could only hope everything would still be there on arrival.
Plan B was the bus. I went to Retiro bus station in town, but with my limited knowledge of the Spanish language couldn’t succeed in getting a deal. ‘Bike on bus’ seemed a problem.

Luckily I found Once train station. Over there, trains leave every 10 minutes and, with a stop over in Merlo or Moreno, you can go as far as Lobos or Mercedes, both about 100 km west of the center of Buenos Aires. For 12 pesos (0,60 euro, the bike is free), you can roll your bike on a modern train.
Changing trains in Moreno was a bit of a hassle, as I had to change platforms (stairs vs heavy bike), but all in all, this seems to be the ideal way to leave the big town.

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Modern train from Buenos Aires to Moreno.
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A bit more rustique train from Moreno to Mercedes.

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My destination was the terminus of the train, the little town of ‘Mercedes’. This sounded like a great place to start my trip. Moreover, Mercedes was the place where I would meet Cycling Cindy for a bit of a pre-trip chat. We spent a couple of nights camping in soggy fields, exchanging travel experiences and just a lot of chit chat. And I learned baking my own bread !
Cindy, having covered Patagonia in winter (!) will continue on her own itinerary , while I go south from here, chasing spring to the deep south.

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Leaving Mercedes via little sandy roads was immediately a big succes. Zero traffic, the first taste of ‘the pampas’, blue skies and mild temperatures. The rain of the past days however left some parts of these sandy roads completely flooded. A few times I had to take my shoes off and wade through the mud. Finding a camping spot appeared surprisingly difficult. All land is fenced off, and all gates are locked with a chain. The first day, I have to jump a fence and load all my bags and bike over it. But a good place to rest my head always is important.

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After 30 km’s or so on the busy Provincial Road 41, I’m more than happy to be on the sand road, direction ’25 de Mayo’, another small town. Dates are important in Argentina and many villages and streets carry the name of important historical dates.
The road is bumpy, the sand sometimes is too loose to bike and at other times to sticky to get through, but again, everything beats traffic.

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After two more beautiful wild camps, I approach 25 de Mayo while it rains. The last 10 km on the sand road took me almost 2 hours, so the only sound option was to take a left turn on PR 51, down to Saladillo. Fierce head winds slowed me down to 8 or 9 km/hr.
If a truck came from the other side, it almost brought me to a stand still.
When a truck comes from behind while there’s upcoming traffic (almost all the time on these busy roads), I HAVE to dive into to side of the road. It’s that or being run over by the truck. They will NOT slow down.
I arrive completely exhausted from wind and traffic in Saladillo and end up in a hotel.
Not exactly where I wanted to be (not the hotel & not the town).

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Next day brings more rain. But hey, I’ve got excellent rain gear and it’s a Sunday, probably the best day to be out on the busy National Road 205.
After 8 km, I take a break in the last gas station of the town. It’s freezing cold, the wind is even fiercer as yesterday. I can hardly keep my bike up at times. If a truck comes by, it’s even harder to stay on the bike. But after a coffee, I ‘m heading out again.
For 3,5 km.
Then I stop at the side of the road.
If this isn’t plain ridiculous, it sure is plain stupid. It’s way too dangerous; the narrow sealed road with it’s fast traffic, trucks, rain and strong winds.
There’s nothing between this place and the next town, San Carlos De Bolivar, 150 kilometer away.
I turn back to the gas station and decide to try to get a lift to S.C. De Bolivar. A very, very wise decision. This gas station doesn’t see a lot of customers on a Sunday. While I sit there, the weather deteriorated even more, into a thunder storm with hail.
The electricity goes down.
At 16:00 hrs, there’s finally a truck stopping that’s going to S.C. De Bolivar and that has some space for me and my bike.

I’m very, very lucky. It’s a Scania with a nose, one of the nicest trucks ever made, and it’s driver, Martin proved to be a super nice guy.
Soon it was decided I would join him to Guamini, a place about 300 km west of Saladillo. The road between S.C. De Bolivar and Guamini was just as narrow, busy and dangerous as the one to S.C. De Bolivar.
All land left and right from the road is flooded. For hundreds of kilometer.
There’s a reason this region is called ‘La Pampa Humeda’.

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My ride further west, ab brilliant Scania with a nose.
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How the roads looks from a truck. You can imagine a cyclist has nowhere to go when there’s traffic coming from the opposite side, and these guys won’t slow down…
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Martin, my friendly driver to the west 🙂

It’s past 20:00 hrs when we arrive at the roundabout in Guamini. I say goodbye to Martin and cycle into the little town to the camping municipal.

From Guamini, I still had to cycle abt. 23 km on the busy RN 33, but then I turned west on the RP 60, a quiet road connecting RN 33 & RN 35.

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Guamini police station
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Guamini
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The map of Argentina, projected on Europe.  Same distance as going from the North Cape to the Greek coast.

The size of things here is incredible. This provincial road between two national roads covers 170 km. Barely a few centimeters on my map, while this is probably the same distance as going from the north of Belgium all the way south to the French border.

It’s along this RP 60 I’m leaving Buenos Aires province (with it’s 300.000 km2 it’s 10 times bigger then Belgium) and enter La Pampa province. Having the first 500 cycling kilometer under my belt, what are the things that strike me in this country ?

  • Still a lot of very, very old cars driving around. Magnificent !
  • Dacia cars are being sold as Renault here, so you have Renault Logan, Renault Duster, ….
  • They have big VW and Ford trucks we never see in Europe.
  • The VW Polo is called ‘VW Gol’ here, while the Golf remains Golf. So they have a Gol and a Golf.
  • Almost every small town has it’s Chinese supermarket.
  • The canned tuna is grinded into a spongy mess that looks like cat food.
  • Every night, there’s a giant nest with a dozen green parrots (called ‘catita in Spanish) right above my tent.
  • Fences. Argentinians sure like their fences. Typically, they’re about 140 cm high and consist of seven (!) wires at a 20 cm interval. No idea why they need seven wires, but that must be millions of kilometer of steel wire in the country. Literally ALL land is fenced off.
  • A lot of birds on the pampa. I saw a group of flamingo’s already.

I have to rethink my route as well. At home, I’d had put some time in making a nice route south all via small sandy roads. But as they’re all flooded, I’m already much further to the west as planned.

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Baking my own bread in the morning.

For the cyclists going this way. The little town of Quehué has a brilliant, brand new gas station with good wifi and clean showers. It might even be a good place to camp. If not, further on towards General Acha, about 10 k before you hit the RN 152, there’s a paved road going to the right. At the end (abt. 1 km), there’s a laguna with a camping municipal where I was, this time of the year, the only guest.

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After buying provisions for a couple of days in General Acha, I cycled on to my first national park in the country.
I also left the ‘Pampa Humeda’ for the ‘Pampa Secca’.
It rained.
For three days.
Some wind, but not too bad for Patagonia.
I’m cycling through flat land with nothing but scrub. The grey sky, rain, wind and temperatures of about 8 degrees aren’t helping to cheer up the place.
Two days after General Acha, I reach ‘Parque National Lihué Calel’.

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Parque National Lihué Calel:
(= Sierra de la Vida / Range of Life)
The puma is a native cat here. I assumed encounters with it would be more theoretical then it would happen for real, but the rangers seem to take their puma’s serious here.
You get an explanation on how to avoid encounters, what to do in case you meet one, and how to respond in case you get attacked (fight back, just like you do with grizzlies 🙂 ).
On my first rest day in the park, the rain continued till about 3 pm. Then suddenly, lying in my tent, … is that for real, a ray of sunlight ?
Yup, I head out immediately and start the hike up the Cerro de la Sociedad Cientifica Argentina.
(What a name for a mountain… In the park, they just call it ‘Cerro Alto’).
It’s too late and too windy to go all the way to the top, but I get some magnificent views of the landscape already.

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Some of the birds visiting me at my tent in the National Park.
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Catita.

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On my second restday, after doing some laundry, I hike up to the ‘Valle de las Pinturas’, a 12,5 km round trip. A nice and easy hike on which I got to see my first guanaco’s. At the end of the trail are a few rock paintings of circa 1300 years old.

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On the third rest day, after some more laundry job, I finish what I started on my first day here. You can’t call the hike up Cerro de la Sociedad Cientifica Argentina ‘mountaineering’, but it gets a bit technical at some stages.
In the afternoon, I made a new route, driving straight west towards the Andes via the little town of Zapala. That way, I can go down from there, visiting the Argentinian ‘Lake Region’ in October i.o. next February (busiest tourist season).

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Patagonian winds:
Everybody has heard of them.
Everybody imagines them in their own way (it sure can’t be that bad, right).
And then you have to ride it…..
My day from a wild camp in the middle of nowhere to Casa de Piedra was the toughest so far in Argentina. I was pushing and pushing, but unable to get the speedometer out of the single digits. Wind gusts must have blown me of the road about 25 times that day. I had to make it to Casa de Piedra, as I wouldn’t have enough water for another night at wild camp.
It took me over 8 hours to cover 80 km.
Pure madness, but the can of beer in the evening and the rest day the day after were only sweeter.
The unsettling this is, I know it can still be much, much worse here.

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After this long ordeal, another rest day was needed. Unfortunately there seems to be no wifi at Casa de Piedra. I’m further investigating my route options from here. Going (north) west from here along the ‘Embalsa Casa de Piedra’, then west to the Andes or going south south towards General Roca and then through the middle of the Patagonian lands towards Esquel. The route going directly west to the Andes, then via the Lake Region to Esquel seems to be 500 kilometer longer.
Going all the way down to Ushuaia, then back up, that would mean more then 5.000 kilometer before I arrive at Vill’O Higgins to start the famous Carreterra Austral’. But sure, riding the mountainous lake region just after winter will give me spectacular snowy landscapes, and there won’t be many other tourists. That way, I could stay on the Chilean side om my way up again, so I could visit the Lake Region over there as well.
Yes, that surely is the nicest option.

Waking up the next morning, I’m not so sure about making the detour via the Lakes Region.
Sure, the pass I will have to take to get there will still be full of snow, maybe camping will be difficult if there’s still snow everywhere, do I really need to see all the lakes both in Argentina and Chili ?
And then that distance…
Psychologically, having that below 5.000 km before reaching the Carreterra Austral also means something.

Yes, it is decided. I’m going to follow my original plan and cycle in a direct line, through the middle of nowhere to Esquel. A shorter option through very desolate country, rarely visited by other tourists. That will be very interesting.

During breakfast, I ‘m studying my maps a bit more, and new doubts are slipping into my mind.
The deserted Patagonian lands.
Or the Lake Region ?
It will be so beautiful and quiet there now.

After a shower, I hop on my bike.
Left turn is Lake route, right turn, over the huge dam, is the direct route through Patagonia.

I turn right.
It’s the shortest route and will give me the chance to visit some rarely visited places. And as I like to be out of Ushuaia before Christmas, it will give me less ‘time pressure’.
Happy to have made that decision, I put my bike on the side of the road when I’m about two kilometer on the bridge to make a picture of the lake.

Then I turn the bike 180 degrees and ride back where I came from, past my camping place and the gas station, taking a left turn on towards 25 de Mayo and the Lakes Region.
What was I thinking ?
Shorter routes ?
Ha ! I don’t have any time pressure.
My flight home is going in a couple of days and I never intended to take that anyway.
No, Let’s go to the lakes !

Gauchito Gil:
Everywhere along Argentina’s roads, you’ll find little red shrines. A bit like they have in Southeast-Asia. Here, you’ll find a little statue of a gaucho inside, ‘Gauchito Gil’. The shrines are always surrounded by red flags, old cd’s and water bottles. Drivers make offerings of cigarettes, wine, sun glasses, engine part, helmets, etc….
The Gauchito would ensure safety on the road and could help in other difficult circumstances. Some pics of the shrines and the Gauchito himself below (click to enlarge).