New Tent Testing
Date: 26th December – 4nd January 2013
Where: San Martin de los Andes – Lago Faulkner camp – Lake camp – Exploding tyre camp – Los Coihues (Bariloche) – El Bolson – Los Coihues – Rio Villegas camp – Mallin
Distance: 6598 to 6814 miles
With a great weather forecast in front of us, but many late nights behind us, we left San Martin late on Boxing Day. It felt good to be back on the road again, particularly since it was our old friend Ruta 40. Geoff’s bike behaved impeccably in the dry weather despite the failed intervention of the San Martin bike shop to fix his gears. The sun was shining. New tyre levers were safely stowed in our bags (more on that later). We were now cycling the ‘Ruta de Los Siete Lagos’, roughly translated as the ‘Route of the Seven, Eight or maybe Nine Lakes’. Renowned as a fabulous route to cycle, the advent of tarmac has made it a fabulous route to drive too, resulting in one too many tourist cars for our liking. Tourist cars seem to rush as fast as they can to cram everything into a holiday, but spend far too much time trying to see the view at the same time, so they don’t see cyclists till they’ve almost run them off the road. Nevertheless, the scenery was indeed spectacular, either side of the road flowering lupins led to pines which led to rockiness and sometimes snow. On reaching Lago Faulkner we kicked back and enjoyed the view, before cooking up a fine meal followed by a scrummy postre of bananas and chocolate melted together on a roaring fire. Little did we know, but this would be the first of many continuous nights in our new tent.
Trundling off the next day, our comfort zone was crushed as the tarmac transformed into the remaining 30km of unpaved road left on the route. Combined with the crazy cars, the dust and dirt made for a very unfun morning, and early afternoon. We ate lunch clutching our food tightly to our bodies and leaning over to cover it everytime a car went past and showered us in dust. Eventually we reached tarmac, and as has been so often the way with this trip, stumbled upon good luck in the shape of a free maintained campsite overlooking a lake.
There followed a long day all along Lago Nahuel Huapi till at 6:30pm we realised that we weren’t going to make the small town we were aiming for and started searching for a place to camp. The pampa scenery was plain and difficult to hide in, but we scrambled up a small hill and found an ideal spot hidden from view. Having dragged the bikes up, Sarah complained that her rear wheel had been bumping a bit for the past few km’s. Five minutes later as Geoff prepared to look at the wheel, there was a loud BANG! Another burst tyre, thank goodness we had the tyre levers, and the spare that Geoff has been lugging on the back of his bike since Peru.
It wasn’t far to Bariloche on Geoff’s old tyre from the Cañon del Pato explosion in Peru, and luckily it held firm. On visiting the bike shop to buy new tyres, we casually asked for help with Geoff’s drivetrain, and were amazed to find the spare part we had been looking for (a new small chainring). We booked Geoff’s bike in to be seen the next day and left for the campsite out of town where we planned to stay. After a day of chill-out where we pushed our BBQ skills to the limit cooking lamb, and did not much else, it was New Year’s Eve. We somehow managed to co-ordinate getting the bus for 100km South and meeting a load of friends from the road for a big feast in El Bolson. It was a fun time, and good to be spending it with other people. Our rather tame fireworks added a bit of a bang to proceedings at midnight, and we even managed to Skype the UK at their New Year in the middle of it all too. We also established a bizarre link…Jorge (who we’ve met in Cusco, La Paz and San Martin) spent part of Nicaragua and Costa Rica cycling with a certain Nico Stavrakakis! Small world.
We caught the bus back to our bikes and Geoff’s seemed to be perfect. Fingers crossed, but we won’t know for sure until it is uphill in the rain! Should be plenty of that to come though on the Carreta Austral. After another day of rest to contemplate and ready ourselves, we set off for El Bolson, by bike this time. We were heading for a small spread-out village called Mallin where cycling friends were volunteering, to go hiking with them. Eventually we found the Bandavelo (Thomas and Damien), but along the way were hounded by horse-flies (the dreaded ‘tabanos’), which ironically are only prevalent when there is no rain. We hope they don’t give us more trouble on the route, as it is getting really tough mentally now. We’re ready to come home to a duvet and a good pint!