11.01.2003-11.25.2003 Santa Maria, Argentina to Valparaiso, Chile|
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|I cycled out of Santa Maria with the first rains of the season. I was expecting a hot, monotonous ride through the desert so the rains served both to refresh and distract. The next day the pavement disappeared and, as is often the case, the scenery became a bit more interesting. I passed along colored mountains and then through a fine canyon before arriving in Belen. The day I rode into Chilecito I was thinking what I often thought before arriving in these oasis towns. I was thinking how could there possibly be a sizeable population in the middle of all this desert? But then I crested a ridge, rounded a bend and spread out below me I found a pleasant oasis town set up against the snowy peaks of the Famatina Range. I spent most of my time in Chilecito eating and drinking at the several plaza-side resaurants but did, in the end, manage a few outings. The most impressive attraction in town was the world’s longest and highest cable car system, once used to transport minerals from the mines high in the mountains down to the train station at Chilecito. I encountered another little of gem of riding after Chilecito. A single lane gravel road brought me up the Cuesta de Miranda, a fine climb through more colored mountains and eroded landscapes. I arrived in Villa Union later that day and lodged in a small, family-run guesthouse. The owner told me he was having some friends over for food and drink later and then asked if I would like to join them. I tentatively asked at what time. He said, oh, not before 11:30. I wanted to say that while he was sleeping away the entire afternoon (when I arrived at 6:00 he was just waking) I was pedaling away through the desert and was now tired. But instead I agreed to join the little party. Perhaps sensing the reluctance in my reply he made a special setting for me at 10:30.
After Villa Union I detoured from Route 40 to visit Talampaya National Park. The park boasts many interesting rock formations as well as an abundance of petroglyphs. The highlight of the next few days was the little village of Maraye. I arrived in the heat of the afternoon, my water bottles completely empty. The village was comatose, deep asleep in a siesta slumber. I could find no spigots so I was afraid I would have to rudely wake someone. Fortunately I found some children (the only humans one finds vertical at this time of day) playing behind a house. I handed my bottles over to one of the boys and he returned with my bottles full of icy cold water. At the moment I could not have imagined a more welcomed surprise. As I rode away I drank heavily, knowing that the water would not retain its chill for long in the heat. At Vallecito I visited the main shrine to the Difunta Correa, an unofficial saint whose infant is said to have survived at her breast even after she died of thirst in the desert. I’d encountered countless roadside shrines to the Difunta Correa in the past weeks (in addition to those to Gauchito Gil—who’s he???) so I felt obligated to visit the original. It seemed to properly give thanks to the Difunta one had to leave some representation of that for which they were giving thanks--the place was littered with pictures, license plates and miniature models of homes and business.
Arrival in San Juan was marked first by vineyards and then tree-lined boulevards. There I found siesta adhered to on a grand scale. When I arrived in the afternoon the entire town (100,000+) seemed locked down. The next day, a rest day, I had little trouble adjusting. At lunch I ordered what I thought (due to the price) would be a glass of wine to accompany my meal. But in Argentina the relative cheapness of the finer things never ceases to amaze me--I received an entire bottle. I slept soundly through the afternoon and woke just in time to pay roughly a dollar to watch the latest Matrix movie. A long day of riding brought me to Mendoza. After the monotony of the desert I found Mendoza, with its heavily tree-lined boulevards, a veritable forest. I arrived for the weekend but the only entertainment I managed to take in was the Mendoza Philharmonic, the only show starting before ten.
From Mendoza my route veered towards Chile. When I left Mendoza I was told that due to a snowstorm the pass to Chile was closed. Had I traveled so far South as to encounter snow in late spring? Anyway, it was good news. By the time I reached the high Andes the storm would have passed and its wake I expected crystal clear skies. The clouds began to break that very afternoon, revealing freshly snow covered mountains. After Uspallata the route followed the majestic Mendoza Valley. Near the frontier I encountered the first of several attractions, the Puente del Inca (Bridge of the Inca). The natural bridge over the Mendoza River is considered a wonder but I found how nature had harshly dealt with an adjoining hotel to be far more interesting. From Puente I detoured into Aconcagua Provincial Park, where I wished to do some trekking. The following day I hiked up the Horcones Valley, first passing the picturesque Lake Horcones. I continued up the valley for several hours, stopping regularly to gawk at America’s tallest peak, Aconcagua. After the hike I cycled up to the border. By the time I reached the border it was getting late so I decided I’d best delay my crossing to the following day. I lodged in a decrepit mountain refuge. When I went to bed that night I found the head of a dead mouse on my bed. I guess it was the resident cat’s way of giving me a “tuck-in” and letting me know he was “on the job.”
The route descending into Chile was just as scenic as the route ascending from Argentina, albeit quite a bit quicker. I arrived in Los Andes with some anticipation. Nearly every Pan-American cyclist passes through Los Andes to stay at its famous casa de ciclistas. I had looked forward to spending time with other cyclists, sharing experiences. But my timing was off. Not only were there no other cyclists at the house, the owner was out of town as well. After Los Andes I pushed on to the coast. I had not ridden along the coast since the North of Peru so I was anxious. I arrived at the seaside resort town of Vina del Mar. I found the entire area reminiscent of coastal California, both for it geography (hills everywhere) as well as the climate (warm days, cool nights). After a beach day I progressed down the shore to the historic town of Valparaiso.
|Distance||Elevation Gain||Flat Tires|
|Leg||1013 mi/1630 km||37980 ft/12460 m||5|
|Trip||17270 mi/27793 km||188 mi/302 km||23||