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Mendoza, Argentina to Malargüe, Argentina

posted Sep 1, 2011, 10:39 AM by Paul Gareau   [ updated Sep 16, 2011, 5:57 AM ]
What's this? Another blog entry, and so soon? Hey, I'm as surprised as you are... This one is coming to you from Malargüe, Argentina, where I've taken three more days off. My last two days of riding were incredibly windy, and on the second to last day, I was forced to hitch for the last 12 miles/20km or so into town because the crosswind was making riding nearly impossible. Since I arrived, the weather has been beautiful and the wind has been non-existent - just my luck! Escaping the wind wasn't my only reason for stopping though; I've been working on another project which I'm calling "DisqusThis!", which makes it easy for people using Google Sites (like me) to add social networking to their site. It's something I probably should have done sooner for this site, but now that I have, and since I think it will be helpful for other people, I'm trying to make it as user-friendly as possible and maybe make a little money from it too. Also, since my trip will be ending soon, and I have to think about "real life" again, I'd like to have a few technical things to put on my resume during what will be around 3 years of unemployment. (Yikes!) I figure that if spending a few days on these projects will save me a few weeks (or more) of unemployment when I get back, it will be worth the effort. Also, I'm still on the trailing edge of winter, so more days off equals better riding down the road! 

Somehow my little side-trip to Easter Island from Mendoza led to over three weeks off. As I wrote in my last entry, I was sick (probably with the flu) for about 5 days after returning from Chile, then I wanted to see the town a bit before heading out. After that, the forecast showed that temperatures all through the area would be going up by about 10 degrees F, so I decided to leave on Monday with better weather. Also, Mendoza was maybe my favorite city of the trip so hanging out there for a few more days didn't bother me at all. 

I have no idea what happened to my legs during those three weeks, but I did a lot of walking during my last few days in Mendoza and my quads were quite sore from it. The soreness turned into something closer to burning about 30 miles into my first day back on the bike, but I had a good tailwind and I still managed to get about 65 miles in, arriving in San Carlos at a reasonable hour. Greg, who I toured with a little in Central America, had told me about a hotel in town where I should stay. After waiting for the owner to return, we talked for a bit and I brought my stuff up to a room, unfortunately forgetting to ask the price. When I finally asked, and learned it was 145 pesos/$36.25, I told him I'd have to camp instead. I wanted to get an early start the next day, and possibly arrive in San Rafael by that night, but since I usually pay a third of that, it wasn't going to happen. Camping cost 30 pesos/a bit under $8, which I still thought was ridiculous, but by that point it was too late to find another place. The only other place I had seen in town was closed, but appeared much more expensive, and amazingly, San Carlos has no municipal or gas station camping, which might be a first in Argentina.

I was on the road at around 10:30 the next day, which wasn't too much later than normal since daylight has been from a little past 8AM to a little past 7PM. I would have been on the road sooner if the woman at the hotel hadn't shown me the guestbook, which included entries from a huge number of other travelers, including the "Ribbon of Road" guy, whose website I had come across early in my planning for this trip. 

The scenery in the area was fantastic, with huge, completely snow covered mountains to my right and I was in a really great mood because of it. My legs definitely weren't up for an 85ish mile day though, especially with the late start, and I took a pretty long break at Pareditas, at the junction of route 40 (which deteriorates beyond that point), and route 143, which would take me to San Rafael. I still managed to get almost 60 miles in, which left just under 30 for my last day to San Rafael. 

After San Rafael there are two routes, one goes through the scenic Atuel Valley, and the other follows the road that will become route 40 again. The Atuel valley route is unpaved and has more climbing, but since it was the more scenic option, it was the way I wanted to go and I decided my legs needed a rest day before tackling it. San Rafael was nice enough, but seemed like a wannabe Mendoza, and Mendoza had the bar set pretty high. I did some shopping while I was there, and got a new tire and tube for my trailer, since the tire I bought in Peru was getting pretty thin and I had just had a flat between San Carlos and there.

It was surprisingly hard to get information about the Atuel Valley, but I found that it was quite a developed place, with a lot of "upscale" hotels and expensive camping. My biggest concern as always was where to find water, since there isn't much around after the first dam, but after the road climbed away from the canyon for a while, it descended and I got a great campsite in a flooded area with clean looking water that I filtered just to be safe. 

The next day I climbed out of the canyon and passed the town of Nihuil, which was just far enough off-route and with a just-big-enough-hill that I didn't head into the town. Luckily there were a few restaurants closer to the road a bit beyond town and I stopped at one for some empenadas and to buy some water. (I almost never pay for water, but they told me the tap water wasn't potable there). After that I had a great tailwind (from the South) and had a good preview of the mountains I'd be heading back into the next day. 

At the junction of the road to Nihuil and route 40/144 is a little place called "El Desvio", which has free water, some basic food and a simple restaurant. This is a great thing for cyclists, who like me, are always told "No hay nada!" (There is nothing!) when asking what's down the road. There's a guestbook for cyclists at El Desvio and I found entries from Matt, Phil and Manu, and Joe, which were cool to see. Phil and Manu wrote that they were close to reaching 32,000km for their trip (just under 20,000mi) and while they had done a few detours that I haven't, I would guess that I might be a little closer to 35,000km by this point because of my own detours, or just under 22,000mi. While I was reading the guestbook, I noticed the wind had shifted and was blowing the flags straight out in the direction I'd be going - great! I rushed out and got back on my bike, taking advantage of the tailwind for about 3 miles before it turned 180 degrees with the same force as before. Cyclists hate the wind in Argentina, and this is why.

But... The wind was nothing compared to the next day... It wasn't so bad in the morning, but got progressively worse throughout the day, until at the end I finally gave up and hitched the last 12 miles into town. The wind was more or less from the north, and I was heading west, so I had a very strong crosswind that was pushing me all over the road and making reasonable forward progress almost impossible. Before I gave up, it was so bad that I had to yell "Are you f'ing kidding me?!?!" to my invisible enemy. 

One of the guys in the car that drove me to town said the wind is from the temperature difference between the cold mountain air and the warming land farther east. It makes sense in theory, and is just like the on-shore and off-shore winds that sailors are familiar with, but didn't explain why the wind was coming from the north on this particular day.

It was almost as bad on my last day into Malargüe. There was one section of road with the same ferocious crosswind, but I could see from quite far away that the road turned south ahead, so I dealt with it, occasionally shouting more expletives at the wind, and laughing out loud about the ridiculousness of it. I finally reached the turn and with the wind to my back, increased my speed from maybe 3mph to about the mid 20s, occasionally being accelerated by another forceful gust. It was amazing how much my perception of the day changed, and cruising down the road almost effortlessly, I realized that there was a nice blue sky, with little fluffy clouds around, and for the time being, the wind and I were on good terms again.

When I got to Malargüe I realized that my laptop battery had died and it wasn't taking a charge from the cable, so I spent a few hours on the first day walking around town looking for a place that could fix it. I finally found a place, but the owner was leaving so I had to return later. When I got there and demonstrated the problem, there was no problem, and it was working perfectly again. I really hope that it was a one time "glitch" since this is my last good opportunity to get back to Mendoza if it needs service, and I don't know if I'll find any good places south of here.

So that's about it for now. I've been getting information about the road ahead, and other than having some concerns about the wind, I'm really excited about what's to come. I'm pretty happy with my timing now since the temperatures in the forecast are in the 50s and 60s and I still get to ride along the still-snow-covered Andes. I heard from one hotel I contacted that there is enough snow farther south that one of the roads I wanted to take has been closed, but hopefully by the time I get there it will have melted. 

I'm pretty tempted to go skiing, and one of the most famous ski resorts in Argentina is very close to here, but with transportation, rentals and lift tickets, a single day of skiing would cost over $100. I think I'll wait until Bariloche, where there is also skiing, but much cheaper.

Mendoza, Argentina to Malargüe, Argentina