Argentina 3: Mendoza – Bariloche along the Ruta 40

Mendoza meant the start of the Ruta 40 for me. This road stretches from all the way in the North to all the way down to Tierra del Fuego, the end of the American continent.

It’s a very popular route for cyclists and it didn’t took long to meet up with fellow cyclists.

I had only left Mendoza at 12 am, but with the sun going down at 8.30 pm, I still managed to do a 100K up to San Carlos. I asked the police where I could pitch my tent, and they pointed out a ‘clube’ for me which is basically an outside swimming pool where Argentinians gather over the weekend to make a BBQ. The friendly owner didn’t let me pay, but the other people staying there really turned it into a great night. We drank and played games till 4am.

Obviously I had a late start again. At around 4 pm, I met Fredrika from Sweden who’s two years into a world trip by bike. I actually knew we would catch up, because I had been following her Instagram for a while.

She seemed super strong to me and in a way, she brought my focus back to the my bike trip. I was getting distracted very easily before, I reckon because the cycling was boring and I loved therefore to do other things. Which of course is great to get other experiences, but I had now made a final plan with my Belgian friend, Jelle, who was going to join me from Bariloche onwards, about 1300 km down South and I needed to do about 100 km a day to meet him on time.

Immediately after meeting Fredrika, my Argentinian adventure really started. Distances got bigger (200 km between shops on this particular stretch), I bumped over my first stretch of ‘ripio’ (dirt road) and with no people around, I was now down to wild camping at the side of the road.

I was now cycling with the Andes on my right hand side and camping under beautiful starlit skies. The dirt road really reminded me of Namibia. With fake flat roads going on endlessly over often sandy/soft gravel, the resemblances were striking.

Still, whenever I had the chance, I asked a family if I could pitch the tent.  They sure have plenty of space here! This particular family was super sweet and the kids extremely curious therefore asking lots of questions to the guy with the funny sounding Spanish.

I got to Malarguë, the first town in 350 km, without big troubles. With only a handful of shops along the way, planning became essential. Leaving town with for example half a bottle of fuel (to cook), could mean a lot of hassle down the way. So I went shopping….

The road turned back to ripio for 120 km while following the Rio Grande and over the hills towards Barrancas and the Neuquen province. Temperatures never dropped lower than 35 or 38 at midday and were still giving me a hard time. Even at 6 pm, the sun is still burning. But in a way, you get used to this. At least, this becomes the new normal.

Finding a little bit of shade under a sign.

There was also a new challenge: biting flies. When taking a necessary break and while waiting impatiently for the quinoa to cook, they absolutely drove me nuts. In the end, I just went in the river where they couldn’t catch me. But while getting the bike ready again to go, I almost lost it. Imagine a guy running around in the middle of nowhere while trying to lace his shoes before the flies got him only to run away with the bike in his hand, loosing balance and crashing on the gravel.

To make up for this, I met Tom and Ben again, the two Australians with whom I hang out in Buenos Aires. We kinda had an idea where we would meet again, but with very limited phone signal, we couldn’t really make a plan. It was therefore a great surprise to catch them on the road and camp together! Especially because they dragged along a 3.5 kg chicken and some whiskey!

Totally rejuvenated by the friendship and epic dinner, I hit the road again.

I was now hoping to get to Chos Malal in two days to have some rest, but the wind viciously turned against me and it became three. Cycling therefore was slow, my patience got tested once again. The only thing bringing a smile back was some good music or the supporting horn from the little traffic passing me.

After some rest in Chos Malal (another very dry and dusty village), I got to work on the last 400 km towards San Martin de los Andes where the landscape would change dramatically and where I would leave the dryness behind.

Washing in the river: showers are so overrated!

In Zapala I went shopping again to be able to leave the ruta 40 and follow the ripio for three days through the mountains up to San Martin de los Andes.  So beautiful already!

dirty cyclist next to some goodlooking meat

Finally I made it to San Martin, where I was looking forward for some rest. Vinicius, a Brazilian friend whom I met in Belgium and who’s currently cycling Africa, had put me in touch with the sister of his girlfriend, who accepted to host me. Julia is also a nutritionist, so I could learn more about food! I was feeling better, but still had moments of total weakness, which I didn’t understood till then.

San Martin also meant the start of the ‘ruta de los siete lagos’, the route of the seven lakes and a booming number of cycle tourers. Many Argentinians fly to Bariloche just to do this route, and they are so right! It’s absolutely amazing and the free camp spots at the lakes make it just perfect.

I took it really easy, doing about 60 km a day. First night, I asked to fill up the bottles at a restaurant, started chatting with the lovely young people and ended up spending the night there. We made a campfire and fresh fries and pizza for dinner…so good!

 

Last night, I arrived in Bariloche and cycled towards the airport. Just a couple of km’s before it, I put my bike over the fence and camped in the field with a beautiful view while some planes flew over me. Next day Jelle was going to arrive! Although I like to travel alone, I was really looking forward to travel with him for a couple of months.

His plane arrived on time, but Jelle turned out not to be on it. His flight somehow got derailed, and he arrived three hours later…without luggage. The adventure had started! His panniers got there another two hours later. We packed up and cycled out of town!

 

Full photo album here!

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