Get your kicks on route ’40’
Date: 25th October – 2nd November 2012
Where: Cachi (Argentina) – Molinos – Angastaco – Cafayate – Tolombón – Amaicha – San José – Hualfin – Belén – Mendoza
Distance: 5914 to 6150 miles
Nevermind ‘Route 66’, this is the road if you’re in Argentina. Ruta 40 runs parallel to the Andes all the way down from top to bottom of the country. We joined the road in Cachi at km marker 4496. The countdown to Ushuaia, el ‘fin del mundo’ has begun! Pietro kept our pace up for the first half of the day, before leaving the dirt to ourselves as he took a detour to a lake. The promised downhill was rather more like a rollercoaster, and the route gave its fair share of kicks to our bum. Sore and tired, we rolled into Molinos and found the heavenly municipal campsite. Most of these campsites have BBQs all ready to go. This night Sarah found some nice slabs of beef in the carniceria and a local bottle of wine. Combined with a pasta salad, we both agreed life camping in Argentina was going to be quite good fun!
A tiring day in extreme heat took its toll as we pushed South. The scenery changed quite dramatically, from cacti to lush green river-banks to vineyards and fields full of purple flowers. By the time we reached the 1km sign to Angastaco we had stacks of anger inside us. Tired of the bumpy sandy road, we then reached the second 1km to go sign and somehow managed to keep it together to get into town. At the campsite, we paid £1 more to get a bed for the night. Another cycle tourer was in there, Miguel from Rosario is traveling down the whole of Ruta 40, whereas we’ll be detouring into Chile at Mendoza.
Later in the day Pietro turned up and quickly agreed to team up with Miguel for the road South. This suited us, as their speed was so much greater than ours.
That night an old man asked us the same question everyone asks:
‘¿De donde son?’ (where are you from)
‘Inglaterra’ (England) comes the reply for the umpteenth time.
Usually this is followed by ‘En bicicleta!?’ (you can guess)
We then have to explain that we took a plane to Mexico and then by bike, as you can´t easily ride a bicycle across an ocean.
Inevitably, this is followed by an even more disbelieving ‘Mexico!?’
This time, however once we explained we were from England, he just waved his hand and said ‘¿Oh, Las Malvinas, por que?’ (Oh, the Falklands, why?). He later found us in town and apologised, but it is worth noting that on the whole Argentina doesn´t seem to care that we´re from England and are really friendly. The ones who do, don´t bear any grudge, but just want to know why the UK still has them! We don´t know the Spanish for ‘oil and gas reserves’, but as soon as we know the word for penguins we´ll start using that!
The quebrada de las flechas (canyon of arrows) awaited us the next morning. A relaxed breakfast and we were on our way and immediately halted by a steep hill. Pushing so early in the day was a first for us, but we had no other choice. A second hill arrived, and this time we forced ourselves to ride up, mainly because there were tourists in cars hanging about taking photos. We didn’t want a photo in their album with the caption: ‘Look at the stupid cycle tourists, they have to push their bikes up most of these roads!’ Later in the day we were glad for car tourists as a couple who ran marathons stopped and gave us extra water and a banana, much needed at that stage. Finally we reached tarmac and spent a good half hour with a local beer and ice cream watching the ‘superclasico*’ in a bar in the plaza of San Carlos (*Boca Juniors Vs. River Plate football match). Refreshed, on tarmac, and with a tailwind, we flew into Cafayate just before the rain started. It poured for half an hour and when we left cover and cycled through town, the streets were a good 6” deep in water. One big river crossing! The rain and river did a good job of cleaning our bikes leaving us with little else to do but be late for dinner with Pietro and Miguel, which we managed in fine style.
We slept soundly that night and had a lovely lie-in the next morning. We heard rumour of a goat’s cheese farm nearby and just managed to get there before it closed at 1pm. So many goats, so little time, so after a short tour we settled down for some cheese tasting. We bought some spicy cheese and set off for the next item on the dinner list…a bodega (vineyard, winery). We chose Bodega Etchart for no other reason than it was free, and learnt all about the Cafayate wine region with its high altitude grapes and sandy soil. A little bit too much tasting and we wobbled onwards making it as far as the small village of Tolombón before dark clouds encourged us to stop. No sooner was the tent up then we were cowering inside with cycle helmets on as golf-ball sized hail-stones pummelled us. A brief reprieve allowed us to cook, but as we snuggled down to sleep a huge rain-storm hit. Now is probably a good time to talk about our tent…so basically, all the tent pegs have bent in half (and were replaced in Huaraz in Peru), the inner and outer zip both broke in the cold, dry, sandy atmosphere of Bolivia, and now in our first serious rainstorm for four months, we discovered that the tent leaks. Luckily after the zip failure we had already ordered an entirely new tent to be delivered by Stavros in Santiago. For more info and thoughts about other gear that has succeeded or failed, have a look at our gear page: click here
Still tired from our dirt excursions, the next day was short to Amaicha where found a campsite a step up from the others in that it had a swimming pool. Another BBQ (asado) of chicken and goat satisfied our carnal desires that seem to have only got stronger since entering Argentina. However, meat is not great on giving energy, and so we were happy to stop early again the next day just before a 65km of nothingness and enquire about the large ‘helado’ (ice cream) sign by the side of the road. Two takeaway coffee cups full of ice cream swiftly came out and were devoured, and at this point we noticed a bicycle sign on the wall. We asked if we could camp and were told that many other cycle tourers have asked the same question. Our kind hosts set us up on the patch of land opposite the shop with electric lights, a table and chairs. Perfect heaven (apart from the tarantula-type spider that invaded our space for ten minutes mid-afternoon).
A hearty breakfast inside us, a deadly snake avoided, and we turned the corner to find a hill and a headwind! A typical morning for the cycle tourer! We made slow progress up the hill, and reached the top early afternoon for a well-deserved downhill. Without warning the perfect asphalt turned into atrocious dirt, and we spent the next three hours fighting our way to Hualfin where we hoped to stay the night. The less said about the lady in the hostal in Hualfin, the better, ‘rude’ isn’t a strong enough word. Luckily the next day, having passed an implausible river valley which cut through the seemingly impossible mountain range we had confronted, we reached Belen and a warm host from warm showers. Antonio and his family make beautiful craft goods, especially ponchos, and provided us with the perfect haven to kick back and reflect on this leg of cycling.
We’re now in Mendoza after a 15-hour bus marathon, and ready to set off over the Andes to meet Stavros. High altitude and hairpins here we come!