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Finally In Mendoza!

I left Zapala with a raging headwind forcing me to make an average of only 8 km/h all the way to the next town. Fortunately, I arrived just before dark and rewarded myself with a family pizza. The next morning was completely calm and sunny, and this weather actually lasted for almost one week, which on 35 degree days made minor climbs quite sweaty! These “siesta drains” are very appreciated on such days:

Siesta (35 degrees)

On my way towards Chos Malal, I once camped in a dried out riverbed and it turned out that I literally was going to sleep on a field of fossils! The fact that one of my biggest hobbies as a kid was to collect minerals and fossils made me very excited about this discovery! The following morning, I walked upstreams and found plenty of fossils of ammonites (same class as today’s octopus/squid) and shells. Argentina, and in particular Patagonia, is very famous for fossils. I’ve seen many spots on the map denoting petrified forests, and this is also an area where many dinosaur fossils have been found. An owner of one of the estancias I stayed at showed me a petrified crocodile that he had found on his property, along with some stones that could be dinosaur eggs.

Fossils

That same morning, a couple from Holland who were travelling in a 4WD Toyota Land Cruiser (70 Series) stopped next to the road. They were old bikers, and very kind, so they refilled my water supplies and gave me bread, yoghurt, cheese and even a cold beer when I finally arrived at the camping in Chos Malal later the same day. Their car was impressive and equipped with many smart solutions due to several Sahara expeditions made by the former owner. It had an integrated tent with beds on the roof, solar panels, compressor, custom designed bumper that also worked as an extra 110 liter water tank etc.

I got invited to a goat dinner by some locals that I met on the street in Chos Malal. Goat is a local speciality in this area, but I was not a big fan of it, especially not the pungent testicles that they insisted me to try :-) I met another cyclist at the camping (Lorenzo from Basque Country). He had been on the road for 13 years with only two 6 month breaks!

Invited to a goat dinner in Chos Malal

At a hostel in a small town called Buta Ranquil the owner told me that there was no problem if I wanted to use the kitchen. I preferred not to, and here you can se why – haha!

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The landscape has been very barren and arid with mountains and extinct volcanoes shaped by weather and wind, and there has not been many animals to see but surprisingly many roadkills: snakes, birds, tarantulas, amardillos, foxes and dogs. Even though the scenery could be described as rather monotonous, it still has many parts that are beautiful.

Eroded mountains

By the end of the calm week I got taken by surprise when the road turned into a valley and one hour later I was in the middle of a sandstorm. One gust was so bad that it felt like someone threw a bucket of sand right in my face! I didn’t take any photos from this for obvious reasons. The next day was completely calm and again this continued for one week.

When I got to Malargüe I made some cultural sightseeing like visiting its famous planetarium, going to the museum and on top of that cinema. From here, I had 400 km left to Mendoza. I went via San Rafael, because the gravel road (Ruta 40) had washboard all over the place so I decided that it would not be worth it just to have 50 km less or so. When I entered San Rafael, I got a flat on both my tires at the same time, caused by a plant which releases several pieces with thorns. These pieces have the same construction as caltrops, these things that are used to cause flats on vehicles because they always have one nail pointing upward no matter how you place them. Irritating but a bit ironic, I got the same kind of double flat when I left San Rafael! If I just rolled my wheel 1 m next to the road, I would have 10 of these sitting in the tire – horrible…

Repairing the second double flat in 24 hrs

I entered Mendoza on a road parallel to the highway referred to as “camino del vino”. Along this tree lined avenue, several bodegas (wineries) were located. I stopped at one of them, Cabrini, and they had free wine tasting! This bodega was started by Italian immigrants, now run by the 4th generation. The first generation included a priest who was a friend of the Vatican, and since then Cabrini produces the church wine here in Argentina. Moreover, the pope decided to celebrate the millennium with their wine.

Malbec wine

Mendoza is a big city and my intention was to take some days off the bike here. But, I happened to have a friend who recently moved to Pichilemu in Chile, 3 hours south of the capital Santiago, so I decided to go visit her instead. I took a bus that got me close to the border and left the bike at a hostel. Then I hitchhiked with some road workers to the other side of a tunnel, and from there I hitchhiked with an Argentinian couple to the border. They were going to Santiago, but unfortunately the guy had brought the wrong passport with him so they had to turn back and me enter by foot, which required some extra papers to be filled in. At the other side, I tried hitchhiking with truck drivers but they weren’t keen on picking me up at all. Instead a big van stopped, and offered me to put up a foldable sun chair in the open space in the back. I gladly accepted the offer, and later managed to sleep (!) through the steep switchbacks leading down to the valley while somehow successfully keeping the balance.

Pichilemu is famous for its surfing, which is actully considered to be one of the world’s best, and many professional big-wave competitions are held here during the winter when the waves can reach 15 m. I rented equipment two days at the central beach, but after the tsunami, the seabed is completely messed up so the waves were not so good. The water was cold as well so I needed both wetsuit, boots and a hood. I’ve felt a couple of minor aftershocks from the earthquake but the people here seem to be very accustomed!

Punta de Lobos, Pichilemu

Tomorrow morning it’s time to go back to Argentina. South Americas highest mountain, Aconcagua (6962 m), is located very near the border and where I have the bike. The season is over, but I still think you’re allowed to do some short treks just to get a glimpse of this tall beast!