A Tale of Two Winds

Date: 3rd November – 12th November 2012

Where: Mendoza – Lujan – Potrerillos – Uspallata – Punta de Vacas – Chilean Immigration Office (Chile) – Los Andes – Santiago

Distance: 6150 to 6322 miles

Mendoza proved to be a lovely stop-over point, and we’re glad to be returning with Stavros in a few weeks to appreciate it fully. Ancient irrrigation flowing down each street, has made it one of the most verdant cities we’ve visited since Ecuador. The only thing of note we did here was to find a good ‘parrilada’ (grill) and stuff ourselves full of every type of meat we could find.

Meat cravings sated, we left Mendoza all too soon, dawdling through its tree-lined streets, and eventually ending up in a small town on the outskirts called Lujan. We were excited to be on our way back to the mountains…‘Once more unto the Andes, my friends!’

The Tailwind

The thing about a tailwind is that you very rarely notice that you have it. Suddenly you feel like all this cycling has paid off, your muscles feel strong, as you whizz along, and in no time you’re relaxing at a peaceful campsite. The day to Potrerillos followed this pattern. An uphill you hardly noticed, and then an unexpected downhill that swept us down to a beautiful blue reservoir and the small town on its shore. Whilst looking for a campsite we were confused to hear shouts from the side of the road: ‘Over here, it’s still hot!’ (In Spanish of course). We trundled over and met Juan Carlos, and his mother Beba. It was her Birthday and our Luckyday. They’d had a huge BBQ and cooked far more meat than they could possibly eat, and it was up to us to help reduce the deficit. In addition, they had a cold beer left over. A cyclist’s dream if ever there was one!

The next day, after retracing our tracks and climbing up the steps to the main road, the wind continued to push us onwards. One or two tunnels gave us no trouble, but reminded us of the big one at the border with Chile we would have to negotiate later. Early enough to find a carniceria and leña (firewood) and have another asado, we arrived in Uspallata municipal campsite, and slept soundly that night.

Argentina = Grill (we didn’t eat here…a little beyond our budget!)

Beautiful trees shade the streets as we leave town

Vineyards and mountain views soon dominate the view as we leave town

On the way back to Chile

After an easy day up a gentle hill we are invited for our first BBQ by Juan Carlos and Beba

Crystal clear views of the mountains as we return to the main road from the Potrerillos campsite

A few small tunnels give warning of the longer tunnels to come

The headwind:

What a difference a day makes. The winding route up to the frontier continued its shallow gradient, but now turned South again, and with it came a ferocious headwind. The battle with the wind and gradient would continue for two days until the gradient became significantly more favourable in Chile, the other side of the Andes. We made slow progress reaching the preliminary border post in Punta de Vacas late in the day, water bottles empty. The usual conversation soon started:

Border guard: ‘De donde son?’

Geoff: ‘Inglaterra’

Border guard: ‘Oh’

Geoff: ‘Tiene un poco de agua limpio, por favor’ (Do you have some clean water please?)

Border guard (jokingly): ‘Tengo solo agua sucio si te gusta Thatcher. Te gusta?’ (I only have dirty water if you support Margaret Thatcher. Do you support her?)

Evidently some people will never forget the Falklands :-). Our water bottles were soon full of crystal-clear glacial water, and we camped nearby behind a building to protect us from the wind.

Pushing ever further up the valley of many colours

Bizarre road-signs on Ruta 7: ‘Ladies with handbags’ and ‘meteorite’ warnings

As we put away the tent the following day, our tent zip broke irreparably. We’re now really looking forward to Stavros arriving with the new tent! A lull in the wind allowed us to reach the Puente del Inca early in the day, so we stopped for toasted sandwiches and saw the bridge. It was a really surprising splash of colour in the mountainous landscape. Next on the tourist trail was Mt Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Americas, nearly 7000m. The clouds parted to allow us a clear view, and reaching the viewpoint seemed like an achievement to both of us. It made us think back to setting off in Mexico ten months ago, and we both realised how far we’ve come. The next sight was not so welcome, a ~400m tunnel. Lights shining, and reflective bibs donned, we set off into the perpetual wind. The wind’s effect was magnified by the tunnel, occasionally disappearing as a lorry’s vortex sped past us. The going was slow and scary. We escaped the tunnel just as another truck thundered past, they all gave us space, but nowhere near enough to avoid their bulk affecting our balance and literally sucking us into the middle of the road, and thus closer to them. Glad to be rid of the tunnels we had to ride, we settled down for a spot of lunch at Las Curvas. A km more and we were at the big tunnel, we knew we wouldn’t be allowed to ride through it, but were surprised at the efficiency of the alternative service. As we rode up, the lady had already called Chile for a truck, and five minutes later we were scooting through the tunnel in a lorry. Those five minutes were some of the most memorable of the trip though, as a black speck in the sky came closer and closer, before swooping low in front of us and down the valley. For Sarah especially, who watched the condor throughout with her binoculars, it was a special moment.

The weather 4km later in Chile was atrocious, the wind still howled, and now there was the beginnings of a blizzard in the air. By the time we reached the immigration office it was late (made even later by the most ridiculous bureaucracy to get our bikes through and passports stamped), we couldn’t feel our fingers, and we were both tired. Not expecting much, we asked for a bit of floor space to sleep. To our delight we were led down into the basement where the heating was being generated, and had a perfect night’s sleep in the warmest place for miles. We decided to sleep with our legs in Argentina one last time, whilst our upper bodies savoured the new country: Chile.

At last the snowy peaks indicating the pass appear

The Puente del Inca, a refreshing splash of colour

Mt.Aconcagua, top of the Americas: 6981m!

Mucho viento!

Sarah investigating the abandoned railway that follows the road

A welcome meal at the top of the pass

The other side of the tunnel, the weather is pretty atrocious

We stick to the outside of this avalanche tunnel, but by the end of it neither of us can feel our fingers

Our spacious and warm accommodation in the Chilean Immigration Post

The next day the downhill began and was rarely interrupted for 30km. A series of hairpins proved tricky to negotiate as we kept stopping to take photos of the snowy peaks all around us. By 11 o’clock the temperature had warmed up considerably, and we stopped at a petrol station to change wardrobes and have a spot of ‘onces’ (the Chilean equivalent of the English ‘elevenses’). Soon we were in the town of Los Andes and happy in a hostal. One day of complete rest later, and we were in Santiago, with Ricardo, a friendly warm showers host.

We’ll now be taking time off the bike to travel with Stavros and maybe reflect a little on what we’ve done thus far, and perhaps what the future holds. So, in short, time for a break from the life we’ve learned to live.

Entering Chile in much better weather than the previous evening!

The first set of nine hairpins was negotiated without incident

We’re glad that we were going down, not up, for the following 19 hairpins

Geoff in various stages of descent round one of the hairpins

Water is everywhere on the way down

A treat for Sarah…as the weather hots up, fruit from Crete is found growing by the roadside: Mousmoulas/Medlars

6 responses to “A Tale of Two Winds”

  1. PHil says :

    Wow! The scenery is just amazing with great photos (as always).

    I’ve been looking through the gear page for the quadcopter camera platform used for the shot captioned ‘At last the snowy peaks indicating the pass appear’ but can’t find it, guess you haven’t reviewed it yet 🙂

    Hope you are (or have had) some good time off.

    Phil

    • Geoff says :

      Hi Phil, we have, are, and are looking forward to more time off! Glad you like the blog 🙂 We couldn’t afford a quadcopter, but instead resorted to the old-fashioned method of standing on top of an avalanche tunnel. We wondered if anyone would ask where we got the trampoline from! 🙂

  2. Piotr says :

    It is really an amazing journey! It’s such a pleasure to read your updates and follow your adventures. Keep on rolling! Best regards from P&P

    • Geoff says :

      Thanks Piotr and Paulina,
      Glad you’re enjoying the ride, we’ll be back int he UK in late April and we’ll get in touch to meet up,
      Geoff and Sarah

  3. Simon M says :

    Hi Geoff,
    Just tuned in to see where you were up to – Congratulations – you have covered some serious distance since last time I looked. Hope you are enjoying it! Things are the same in England – lots of work, but good progress being made here too!
    Take care,
    Simon

    • Geoff says :

      Hey Simon, good to hear from you! Yeah, we’re having a great time, although things have got a bit rainy the last few days. Glad to hear things are progressing well back in the UK, I’ll be in touch with all of you when we return (end of April) to find out all about it.
      Thanks for getting in touch, all the best
      Geoff

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