Welcome to the North of Patagonia
This has been the toughest ride of our entire journey. From the ice and snow to the broad expanses of nothingness. We have been riding like donkeys, with a carrot hanging in front of us, except our carrot is a bottle of Latitud 33 Chardonnay. So come on along, visit a Welsh Settlement, ride La Trochita, the little train that could. Meet Shahram, Clement and Cedric, fellow cyclists. Get into the middle of an unbelievable Colorado Connection and an encounter with Cosmic Rays. Survive the Guff Guff, even if it takes a ride on a Garlic Truck to get us to Latitude 33 and into Mendoza. Then, a Happy Thanksgiving and The Saga of the Santiago Six.
Thanks for reading along and keeping in touch with us. It makes the tough days a little easier on the SEAT and the MIND!
Esquel to Mendoza, Argentina
October 9, 2004
Looking for a New Home
Hotel Tehuelche is exactly the kind of place that we like least. It’s a constant turnover of Tour Buses. Not that they don’t have a place, it’s just not our place. We feel slightly uncomfortable amidst the crowd as they’re herded in surrounded by bags then off in a herd to dinner. So, this morning we’re just a couple of strangers in the herd. Breakfast is a push and shove affair. Everyone is worried that they’ll miss the food trough. The milk for coffee ran out, the line of nervous travelers grew. Impatient, fearful, full of tension like Wildebeests at water, wanting, needing milk. Okay, maybe a little unfair but it seems that these nice people, most elders, deserve better treatment. Awe but, as herds we get used to the way things are, don’t we?
The good news, they are still fully booked for tonight, we must move. The nice lady at the desk gave us a map and the location of the Tourist Office. The nice women there had a list of all Hotels, even offered to call for us. I remembered passing a place, a bit away from the Centro but then Taxi’s are so reasonable it doesn’t matter. They too are fully booked tonight except for their Suite. It’s more than budget but worth taking a look.
Hotel Cumbres Blancas is our kind of place. Small, cozy and personal with just 16 rooms. The suite is huge but only semi functional. A dining room with table but no stove? A living room with couch, chairs and a big screen TV with CNN. Oh, and best of all, Internet connection is included and the service is pretty fast. We’ve found our new home. We’ll be in the suite tonight then change to a normal room tomorrow and get back into budget.
A Taxi ride back to Tehuelche. The bikes were still in repose in the strange, all white, meeting room. We got the bags down, loaded up and rode out into spitting rain. We off loaded just the necessary bags and stored the bikes with remaining bags in the gardener’s cottage.
The kitchen heated the chicken we bought in Tecka and we picnicked. What a difference, this is our kind of place. Our e-mail was overflowing, we had 178 messages waiting. Sharing the duty, it took most of the day to work through them but we love hearing from you.
Cat walked into town to check on bus service to Trevlin, the Welch Settlement. She also set off to get info on La Trochita, the little train. Cat’s Mom, Glenys was born in Wales so that’s a “must see”. I have a dream that we will be able to load the bikes onto Trochita and ride the 20 Ks out of town. Neither office was open, she walked all over town and got nowhere.
A glass of wine then dinner down. Another advantage, the restaurant is so good that locals drop in for dinner, too. I had a wonderful beef stew, Cat Dined on a meat dish stuffed with spinach and sweet potato, delisioso!
The latest news in English then off to bed.
Sunday, October 10, 2004
A Trip to Trevlin, El Asentamieto de Galesis
Another advantage, as compared to the coffee and bread treatment of yesterday, we enjoyed a nice spread of cereal, fruits, yogurt with coffee fuerte y media lunas. Most of the other guests are here to ski. They look great in their ski outfits but we’re glad not to be going to the cold mountain.
We quickly packed and left the bags near the door of our suite. The staff will make the move for us as soon as the room is available. The bus station is a short walk, we got there 10 minutes before departure. It’s only a half hour ride to Trevlin through picturesque hills and dales. The countryside actually takes on a look of Wales. May be that was what drew John Evans and his fellows here about 100 years ago?
The town is a bit disappointing. We expected something like Solvang, the little Danish settlement just north of Santa Barbara, California. It started much like Trevlin but has developed into a tourist destination with Danish restaurants, crafts and architecture. There is little evidence of the original settlement here. We did visit the old Flour Mill started by John Evans and his house where we met Clarey Evans. She is John Daniel Evans Granddaughter. It was raining so we had to forgo the walk through wet grass to see the grave of Jon Evans horse. There is some sort of story about how the group was attacked by natives and the horse saved his life but we didn’t quite get it? Clarey is a wonderful character and we enjoyed talking with her even though she of British Isles decent speaks no English. I hope you can see the video here. She describes her Grandfathers little house with interesting detail on the materials used in construction.
The Welsh are known as Galesis in Spanish. Clarey did have some Welsh writings and lots of memorabilia of the settlement days and her family. Just a short walk away we were drawn into Restaurant Patagonia Celtic. (We had no idea that the Welsh, like the Irish and Scots, are Celtic peoples.) The menu, servers and other diners had little or no connection to anything we would think of a Welsh. The food was good, they served a long narrow tray of dip spreads for the very good bread.
The old flourmill is a Museum now. It is on three levels and does have some history of the original families. There are lots more items of clothing and tools from the early times here. Unfortunately, our Camera decided to seize up and the pictures of most of these things are trapped on a Mini CD? If we are able to retrieve them we’ll try to get Wally to set them in here for you to see. Among the interesting were pictures of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. Remember, they owned a Ranch near here until they grew restless and went south to Rio Gallegos to rob a bank.
Cat was on a quest to find the Tea House. Rain drizzled as we wound our way through the little muddy streets. When she did find the place it was another disappointment. No Welch Cakes like her Grandma used to make, just local pastries Argentinean style. There was a small market trying to get set up in the rain. Booths selling cakes and cookies or other craft items.
The bus departs at about 4:00 PM. It took longer than the coming, it was after 5:00 PM by the time we were back in the Station. We hustled to Cumbres Blancas, a glass of wine and the latest CNN news. Oh, the bad news, CNN only works in the Suite or the game room. So, we savored our wine and news in the game room.
There is a Restaurant, Don Chicquire, next door. They serve pasta, which sounded pretty good, to us. It’s a family operation catering to families but the pasta was good.
A short look at the Larry King Live show but the game room is cold and we were anxious to get into the crisp clean sheets.
October 11, 2004
Columbus Day, Holiday
Why did it surprise us that today, Columbus Day, is celebrated here? After all, he was Italian but commissioned by Spain. And, Spain did control most of South America for centuries. The bad news, most shops are closed, not that we really need anything. Cat did find a Lavanderia open and took our road dirty cloths in. I stayed in and worked at the e-mail messages. We were back to 150 this morning. Wally the Wizard WebMaster, sent out a little announcement about our birthdays and lots of friends from all over the world are sending nice messages.
Cat did find a tiny store open and got the usual, ham and cheese. We picnicked in the room then I worked on our journal while Cat took her turn on the Internet. A couple of sit-coms and a movie filled our afternoon then we walked to the Lavanderia for the cloths. Wow, only 8 Pesos, less than $3.00 for a huge bag of really dirty things!
Dinner downstairs again. The staff, Veronica and the rest, are just great. They also have a good wine list. Cat had a stuffed Trucha, (Trout) more meat for me.
We sipped the last of our wine and watched Larry King interview Laura Bush. She is so genuine and honest that we’ve always felt that she should be President instead of George. Just to set the record straight, we both thought Hilary might have been better than Bill, too.
October 12, 2004
World Riders2 at 2 ½ Years
A Work Day in Esquel
After the better than average included breakfast we rode the Coyote Bikes. The place is busy, three guys working and it’s well stocked with bikes and parts. Pablo, the owner knows and love bikes. He listened to our story, told us he was very busy then slipped us in between his other jobs. The 2 technicians, Pablo and Hernan, started checking then Pablo the owner stopped working at his computer and took over. He showed us that the chains were worn, badly. Probably from the ride in rocks and dirt, Ruta Cuarenta had taken its toll? Also, one problem with my bike, he found that the threads on the rear axel are slightly out of line which could be the cause of premature wear to the freewheel. So, he recommended that we change chains and freewheels.
Cat went to the Post Office and mailed the pictures for the Ushuaia to Esquel journal pages to Wally the Wizard Web-Master and a package of brochures etc. home. They gave her a bit of a problem at first and wouldn’t accept them. Then she was directed across the street to a package store where a fellow wrapped them to Correo Argentina’s standards. Funny though when she took them back to mail they told her that since they have no Aduana the nice package will go to Buenos Aries, be unwrapped and inspected, then sent on?
We cycled back and stopped at the train station. Yes, we can take the bikes aboard, they have a freight car. So we reserved our seats and will live one of life’s little dreams, tomorrow.
Lunch in the Game Room accompanied by CNN News. I worked on the journal most of the afternoon. Cat shopped and prepared us for a camping night, tomorrow. We got the bags packed and most of them back on the bikes then dined down. Pasta, a carbo-loading meal, and tomorrow we ride.
October 13, 2004
La Trochita then Campsite
Loaded up on breakfast then finished loading the bikes and rolled toward La Trochita. Early, like kids at Christmas, we pushed up the hill and into the station at 9:15 AM. Surprise, there were lots of people already buying tickets. The Station Master remembered us and got our seat reservations out. We walked up and down, took pictures and tried to figure out how and when we’d load the bikes aboard.
The Little Train That Could
A guy opened the door to the rear car and waved to us. The crowd clustered a bit and we assume they were trying to figure out what the heck we were doing. Front wheel up then he pulled and I lifted. We tied them down, found our seats in the passenger car and waited in anticipation. The little engine began to puff and snort then the engineer gave us two long blasts of the whistle. We began to roll, the engine huffing and puffing.
All seats were full, when I tried to take pictures the lady across from us urged me to lean out her window. At one point the Engineer had to blast the whistle to clear a flock of sheep off the tracks. Well, the train is a tourist attraction but for a moment it felt like a step back in time. No, it’s not powered by a wood or coal fire, they have converted her to gas or diesel but she sounds and looks just like yesterday.
The turnaround is at a place called Nuhuel Pan. Just a few trinket booths, 4 log cabins and toilets. We found a guide who spoke a little English and did a short video and took pictures. We did learn that they have 3 engines, the eldest was built in 1925. Reluctantly we rode onward out the dirt road toward the highway. It’s about 2 Ks of bumps, even had to ford a creek. There was a flock of goats sharing the shallows with us.
Funny as we rode up onto the paved road we realized that we were just 1 kilometer short of the spot where Jorge had picked us up just a few days ago. Nice to be in a familiar place but it didn’t last long. At the Rotunda we took a right and pulled a fairly steep hill. We were on the way to Bariloche.
At 10 Ks out we ran head on into another cyclist, Shahram. He’s the rugged individualist type, sleeping in rain culverts and living off the road. He’s from Toronto and has been traveling one way or another for years. His last job was as a consultant with a bank. A very nice guy, he’s cycling into Esquel, crossing into Chile then on to Ushuaia. He loves travel and South America so he’ll buy a motorcycle there and ride it north. We vowed to stay in touch and meet again in the north.
Now its all prairie rimmed with the majestic Andes. Finding a campsite is interesting. We like to be near enough to the road that it’s not a struggle getting there but far enough to be out of site. Sometimes tough to do since most of the road is fenced about 20 to 30 meters (50 to 60 feet) from the roadside. Our residence for the evening will be in a notch above the road. We’re out of view of northbound traffic. Southbound cars and trucks see us and often honk and wave.
We set the tent, locked the bikes behind it and began the cooking process. Rice will be nice, the pot was boiling nicely but I had to look. Oops, somehow I spilled the rice and water right in the doorway of the tent. I quickly scooped up the clean top part of the pile, we added more water and rice and Cat took over. Geez, we have to be careful stepping in and out not to slip in the rice. We speculated on animals that might be rice eaters. Fortunately there are few animals here, glad we’re not still in Africa!
Cat added canned corned beef to the rice and eventually we had a very tasty meal. There’s even enough left to take along for lunch tomorrow. We were in the sleeping bags by 9:00 PM.
Footsteps in the Dark
Oh, we’ve experienced this before and I’ve forgotten to share it. The rain fly flaps in the wind and we wake up hearing footsteps. Slowly, listening carefully, we sit up, grab the light then unzip expecting to catch a bike thief in the act. Nope, just the wind.
October 14, 2004
Campsite to Epuyen
Both awake early, we peeked out of the tent and into a cold, cloudy morning. Too cold to jump up into so we snuggled back for half an hour. Rather than set up and heat coffee and oatmeal we just ate our bananas, yogurt and the media lunas Cat lifted from Cumbres Blancas. Not bad and it helped us get back on the road by 10:00 AM.
The road runs flat, along a river most of the day. The wind was there but not totally unfriendly. The mountains run parallel to the road, on both sides.
We lunched on our rice and corned beef under a row of pine trees. The cold wind whistled and we were forced to put our head covers back on. Cold drove us back onto the bikes in short order.
At 60 Ks out we hit the hills that we’d heard were waiting for us. A long pull up then a flat sort of mesa. A sign pointed the way to Cholila, the place 49 Ks or so off the highway where Butch and Sundance had retired. We set up and did a little Bandit picture in their honor. There is an Indigenous Peoples Museo we thought we wanted to see until the sign told us it was 3 Ks down a dirt road.
Around the corner and just before a long sweeping downhill a little Fiat truck pulled up and waited for us. I approached with the usual trepidation and was relieved to see a woman driver. Can you believe, Selva Elisa is the Executive Sales Rep for Familia Martinez Wines. She spoke little English but we knew exactly how to accept when she handed us a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. What a wonderful gesture. We exchanged cards and promised to get together when we get into San Rafael. She drove off before we even thought of taking her picture.
Down, into a beautiful valley and up to the Service Station we’d seen advertised. Unfortunately it was closed and so was most of the rest of the little Pueblo. The sign pointed down the hill and promised a Hosteria. We set off and were soon on loose dirt and rocky road. The only saving grace was down. We were looking for any other place even though Veronica had told them we were coming. However, there was no other place and the next sign indicated 8 Kilometers to the Lake. Cat wasn’t that happy about this part of the days ride. It was tough and bumpy. Then came the turn, into the wind and up a hill. She was ready to call it quits. It was almost 6:00 PM by the time we pulled into El Refugio del Lago.
The place was deserted except for a couple of barking dogs. We rang a bell hanging over the door and a petite French gal, Sophie, came from the garden hands caked with mud. She and her Husband, Jacque are from France. They came here as Ski Instructors and stayed. She told us that they played house monopoly in Bariloche until they had enough equity to buy their dream place, here. They do all the work and it is a constant project. She led us around back to a bedroom where we parked the bikes. It’s connected to another bedroom with heat and a shower.
We were tired and wanted a glass of wine. Sophie had a bottle of Chablis that hit the spot. We sat and sipped and watched CNN. Yes, this little outpost has Directo TV.
After a shower we dined in style, fresh lettuce, spinach, carrots and herbs from Sophie’s garden. Jacque is in Bariloche, he bought a car but it is giving him problems. He’ll be back tomorrow but we’ll miss him. They are from the Bourgogne region and her cooking reminds us of those wonderful days we spent in France. Sophie runs the Hosteria and Jacque leads trekking and cycling adventure trips in season. Between repairs to the old house, the flow of guests and his trips they stay pretty busy. Besides the rooms they also have 30 or so campsites.
A second marriage for both, they have grown children and a 14-year-old daughter, Layla. She and her friend Jade were watching TV and we enjoyed watching them. It’s a kids show is from the States and is wrapped around American history. The characters, kid actors, were dressed like Abe Lincoln and George Washington. The girls laughed but we were pretty sure that they got the funny lines but missed the inferences. They went outside and played badminton while we ate and watched the latest on CNN. And dinner, wow, Chivito (goat) in a stew with lots of fresh veggies. A fire in the fireplace warmed us and the Postres, Dulce Leche Flan really topped off a wonderful meal and at last, a wonderful day.
We were in bed by 9:30 PM.
October 15, 2004
Epuyen to Las Golondrinas (Posada de Olaf Hosteria)
30 Kilometers (Rained Out)
Though the weather report said no, Mother Nature decided to give us rain during the night. The ground is wet this morning and the clouds are thick. Sophie cooked a custom breakfast of fried eggs, coffee and toast. Enough fuel to get us up the hill. Then, as we prepared to go Sophie offered to drive us to the top of the hill. We jumped at the opportunity. It’s a long, steep, rough road back up.
Loaded and ready to roll, Sophie came running past us and said, “Just 5 minutes, we must milk”. We walked to the shore of Lago Epuyen in the damp morning air. This is a rural paradise. Back at the Lodge, we could hear the goats bleating so we wondered over to the shed. Sophie and her helper each had a goat by the hind leg and were squeezing milk from them. This place is a little piece of France in Argentina. A typical French farm, goats, chickens, sheep, dogs and cats. They make goats milk cheese and sell it along with veggies from the garden, walnuts from the trees and honey. She is a ball of energy.
The old pickup truck is used to haul everything, living or inanimate. She insisted on sweeping out the leftovers of her last cargo, goats before we could lift the bikes in. She has to kick the passenger side door to get it open. Sophie told us she was taking a short cut, she roared up the hill in the wet and mud. At the top she pulled up next to a sign advertising her place and we unloaded in a light drizzle. A picture, hugs and cheek to cheek kisses then at 10:30 we were underway.
The rain stopped and we rolled down into a beautiful verdant valley. The road flattened, the green thickened and snow-capped mountains surrounded us. An ominous dark layer of clouds hovered near the peaks. We rolled through El Hoyo, the town of Frutas mas Fina and almost missed it. The clouds began to make good their threats and the drizzle returned in earnest. Up a long slow 4 K pull up and into a wall of rain. Motivated by the downpour we pedaled hard to avoid pushing. It was 12:30 when we arrived at Olaf’s, a place we’d seen signs for. We found a spot to lean the bikes under an eve then decided to have lunch and wait out the rain.
Soaked, we shed the outer layers of dripping rain cloths near the door. Cat was shivering. The woman, who greeted us, seated us near a little gas stove and turned it up. We were soaked through and through. The heat was slow to escape the little iron stove. Cat hovered over it as we ordered and waited. The heat and a bowl of soup finally began to warm us. The weather outside was horrid, the rain poured.
They have rooms available, we decided to stay in out of the deluge. Our room is upstairs, the bikes are down in a water heater closet. The warm shower chased the last of the chills away. We settled in, I sat on a plow seat and edited pictures, Cat lay back on the bed and wrote in her journal. They only have on TV station and it is definitely Spanish.
My eyelids were so heavy that I lay back on the bed, relaxed then slept. Cat washed our pots, pans and dishes. Then she lay back and read about the sights of Bariloche and the 7 Lakes. The rain continued to pound down until after 5:00 PM.
Dinner at 8:00, they were cooking Asado de Cordero, that wonderful Patagonian lamb on a spit next to the fire. They had a whole lamb spread eagle and were cooking for a party tonight. The woman, Petti, (a nick name for petite, given by her family when she the became the shortest of them) talked with us. She’s the owner, her husband, Olaf, died 2 years ago. It’s hard work for her and the kids aren’t interested on carrying on. Tough, another of those dreams that were interrupted by life’s constant changes. Olaf’s a big, happy looking Scandinavian guy in pictures over the bar. He looks like he’s spinning a tail or two to guests and enjoying the fruits of his labors. Petti told us that he was 68 when he died. She has the place on the market and would like to sell and move on.
The big party is for Olaf and Petti’s youngest son who is 25 today. It’s a family affair. They began to stream in as our dinner was finally served at 9:00 PM. The festivities would start at 10:30. We knew that we’d miss it.
October 16, 2004
Las Golondrinas to El Foyel
The sun shone brightly on the pine trees and the air was fresh and clean. A coffee and bread start then we rolled the 7 Ks, mostly down, into El Bolson. It’s a nice town, the LPGB says it was a Mecca for Hippies in the 70s but is now a tourist destination. In a way it reminded us of Mendocino, California. We stopped at the Super Mercado and replenished our food for camping. The locals were busy setting up a Saturday morning street market. We made our way through the booths to the Tourist Office but were disappointed, they offered little info or service. The girl did have a map that we liked but it’s sold, only in a set of three. The other two were worthless to us so we passed the on the deal and moved on.
The town is picturesque and surrounded by those ever present, snow capped Andes. The rode out is up. We pedaled hard not wanting to push. About 10 Ks out we met two cyclists coming toward us. Clement and Cedric are from France. Nice young guys, they are really roughing it. Traveling on a very tight budget, they cook all meals and free camp almost everyday. We thought that our bags and bikes were looking pretty worn until we met them. Cedric began cycling in Montreal, Canada and Clement joined him in Central America. They are trying to make it to Ushuaia before their money runs out. They were intrigued with our Auto Shifters and each took a turn trying them out. It’s hard to explain but despite a language barrier there is a common link between cyclists. Our trip is much different than theirs but we can relate.
The hill and our resolve to ride it stiffened. It was a tough up bet we made it without pushing. Near the top we came upon a small group of houses. We thought we’d made it to El Foyel. A sign drew us in, the name Shanti and a beer mug. Of course we thought it was an Irish Pub and the word Parador led us to believe that they may have rooms for rent. The door was bolted but we could see a person inside. A knock and Ushia opened up and invited us in. She may be one of the non-conformists that drifted here 20 years ago. From Austria originally she said that she’d traveled the world before falling in love with this place, these mountains.
The name Shanti is eastern, from India and a far cry from Ireland. Ushia brews beer and sells it by the bottle. We passed on her brew but did sample a few of her homemade cookies. She has 3 kids that were all born here. Cat asked about a husband and she answered, “He’s in Buenos Aires”. She didn’t elaborate whether he was on a short business trip or living there permanently? We didn’t ask. She did tell us that we have more up and it’s 13 Ks to El Foyel.
Up a little then down a swooping hill to the river and then back up. We stopped for a breather twice but rode the entire. It was actually 20 Ks before we found the Pueblo and a Confiteria, a small café. We sat at a table near a wood fired stove. It was really cold and damp outside. There’s a guy and a Gaucho sitting, drinking a liter of beer at one table and 3 people, 2 gals and a guy sitting, talking at another. Nobody seemed to take notice of our arrival. We tried to ask the guy with the Gaucho about food and a room. He said something about not ready? It took several tries to get his point, he’s the owner but his wife hasn’t made up the room, yet.
A young guy appeared and asked for our order. He had a bottle of very inexpensive white wine. We tasted and bought. I brought the crackers and cheese in from our bags and we snacked. The wife came in and seemed almost cranky about having to make up the room.
It was raining now, we brought the bikes around the building and into the back. The let us keep them in the hallway. Our reticent hostess warmed a little, and brought an electric heater into the cold damp room. She also taught me how to light the strange gas heater in the bathroom and promised dinner at 8:00.
There is no menu, no choice. She had said meat and potatoes. We sat and stoked up the fire in the café from 8:00 until 9:00 PM when she brought out two plates. The steak was Milanese, a thin cut of meat pounded, breaded in corn meal and deep-fried. The potatoes were mashed. All in all it tasted pretty good. We were hungry. We watched the only other diner watch local TV while we ate.
Even with the little heater the bedroom was pretty cold. Cat slept in her long underwear.
Sunday, October 17, 2004
El Foyel to ACA Station
We awoke to the sounds or rain. Grandma served us toast and coffee. The rest of the family was sleeping. Today is Mothers Day here. WE found CNN on the TV and ate slowly hoping the weather would clear. Grandma bid us adieu, she wanted to get across the street to her Nieto. (Grandson) It was 10:00 AM before we got up the courage to venture out.
The rain was now slushy snow. I was fearful that we would get stuck in a snowstorm in the pass ahead. Cat wanted to press onward, she couldn’t stand the thought of another night in El Foyel. Down at first then we started to climb. The higher we went the more snow filled the air. It was cold then the wind began to blow. Wind chill plummeted the temperature. The snowflakes became small and dry with a few hailstones thrown in for misery’s sake.
At the summit we stopped and huddled down behind the guardrail. We were in full winter gear, every coat and pair of pants we owned were on our bodies and we were freezing. Cat fears freezing, she began to weep. We huddled for a few minutes then pressed onward. Our hopes of reaching Bariloche were fading in the falling snow. We were pedaling downhill, against a persistent and cold wind.
Villa Mascardi looks like a village on our map. Short of Bariloche by 35 Ks, it is now our destination. The first signs of life after the City sign was a campground. We weren’t up for camping and it was up a steep hill and down a dirt road into the forest.
Our next sign of civilization was more promising, a Hotel. The gate was locked but we could see people inside. We shouted and waved until a guy and young girl came out. Bad news is bad news no matter the language. We couldn’t get what he was trying to tell us until the word, “Cerrado” came rolling off his tongue. Closed! We asked about other places but his rapid fire speaking was beyond our comprehension level.
Onward to the ACA Service Station shown on our map. WE pulled in and leaned the bikes against the wall. A guy came out and made it clear that we couldn’t leave them there. He pointed to an area further down the wall. Cat began to call him “El Grumpo”, not to his face but between us. Inside, Grumpo settled in next to a wood fire in an iron stove. A girl, his daughter, Florencia, was doing schoolwork. A woman, Delia, the Mom, appeared and told us that she had sandwiches. They were really pretty good and the fire was warming us a little. El Grumpo left, Delia knitted near the fire. Then Cat said, “Feliz Dia de Madres”. (Happy Mothers Day) The tension in the room melted. There is a woman working for them in the kitchen, her daughter, 5 year old Sheila, began to entertain us. We took a picture of her then one of Delia and Florencia.
Delia agreed to allow us to leave the bikes here overnight. She advised us that there would be a bus passing at 4:20 PM. As we readied to get to the road it rolled past without even looking at the station. Concerned, Delia said there was another at 5:20. We had our bags in arms and were struggling down the long driveway when it whistled past without slowing. What could we do, we carried our things on down and hoped that another would be by in the next hour. As a backup we began waving at trucks and cars hoping for a ride. None even slowed, the people in them either looked the other way or shrugged and waved.
We decided to stand in the cold wind until 6:30 then go back up to the ACA. Cat finally decided to go up and ask Delia to call a Taxi from Bariloche while I waited. She had just gone inside when a car pulled up. Three young guys, students, offered me a ride. I told them that mi Esposa was at the station. We loaded the bags in their trunk and I yelled and yelled. Cat came out, got the message and came running. We were on our way to Bariloche.
Ricardo, Martin and Sergio are from Mendoza. They have been at a school camp but are going to Bariloche to dance tonight. Really nice young guys. Cat asked what time the dance starts. They will have dinner then the music starts at 1:00 AM? Wow, they’ll dance until 5:00 then drive on home to Mendoza.
They dropped us at the Tourist Office. The guy there was very helpful. He suggested several Hotels, we decided to go for the closest. It was a 4 star and the tour buses were rolling in. They only had twin beds and the rate was $130 US. I sat for a minute at the desk then they started to receive another Bus full of tourists. The guy was nice but wanted his desk back. He suggested The Hotel Kenton Palace a couple of blocks back the way we’d just come from. Tired, we both struggled carrying the bags. The place looked pretty sterile from the street. We climbed the 30 stairs and dropped the bags in the lobby. Hugo, a big guy with a bigger laugh greeted us. He spoke great English and invited Cat to take a look at the only “Matrimonio” room they have left.
She came back pleased. The cost is in the 180 Pesos or $60 US range. We have found a home in Bariloche. The place is small, the staff personable and, they have CNN in English. They even presented us with a welcome glass of wine. Oh, to top it off, they have an Internet connection for guests.
It was already after 8:00 PM. We took a quick, warm shower and went down to the restaurant. Dinner, pasta, was very good and reasonably priced, too.
CNN news, Christopher Reeves, the actor best known for his role as Superman and his fall from a horse that left him quadriplegic, died today. He was always very positive and did a lot for other people with spinal cord injuries. He’s been a big proponent for Federal assistance for Stem Cell Research. Larry King live aired clips of him from previous visits to the show. He was a fighter.
October 18, 2004
ACA Station to Bariloche
A Ride Back With New Friends
The included breakfast lived up to Hugo’s description. We didn’t see the eggs and sausages (hot dogs) until we were leaving. I said hello to a gal at the buffet, she said hello back. Surprised I asked where she is from, Cat came up and Joan introduced us to her Husband, Robert. They’re from Wetmore, Colorado a small town near Colorado Springs. Actually they live on a ranch near Wetmore. Really nice to speak English, our brand of English. We told them of our trip and learned a little of their lives. He’s a Doctor but seems to own clinics rather than practice.
We went up and packed our front bags preparing to get back to the bikes and ride into town. Back down, Hugo was talking with Robert as we walked up. They finished and we asked about a bus out to the ACA. As Hugo explained that there are only 3 each day Robert intervened, he said, “We’ve rented a car, we can drive you out there”. We hated to bother them but he insisted. Joan came down but wanted some breakfast. He promised her breakfast after they got us out the 35 Ks. So, we were a foursome and headed for the ACA.
More chitchat as the kilometers flowed under the cars wheels. They are interesting and we enjoyed each other’s company. Robert is interested in Preventive Medicine and wanted to know all about Cat’s heart attack. They are horse people but enjoy riding bikes, too. Joan had spent an hour on the treadmill at the hotel rather than venture into the wind to get her jog in. We found so many things to talk about that the ride wasn’t enough. As they dropped us off we made a date for dinner, tonight.
The ride into town was a delight, a sunny delight. It was mostly downhill, we even had our first taste of tail wind since we can remember. The 35 Ks, which has been more than half a day’s ride most of our recent days in the winds, just flew by. We rolled down a very steep hill and up to the hotel in just 2 hours. The great staff opened the delivery door to the kitchen and we parked the bike in the hallway.
After a refreshing shower Cat went looking for a Laundromat and Super Market. I began working my way through our more than 100 e-mails. Cat returned with a picnic lunch, we ate in our room then she went back to computer downstairs and I hit our keyboard and worked on journal pages.
The Liana, Colorado Connection
I called to let Robert and Joan know that we’d made it back and would meet them for a glass of wine before dinner. Then, one of the smallest of small world connections, he asked if we knew Liana, Joan’s best friend? Liana had told Joan about friends who are traveling the world on bicycles and urged her to take a look at our web site. I was shocked, of course we knew Liana.
Liana walked into the Real Estate Company I worked with back in 1976. She had just made the move from Wyoming and applied for the Administrators job with us. We worked together their for 3 years. When I opened my own Real Estate Company she was the first Sales Agent to join the firm. I sold the company and went chasing rainbows on a bicycle in 1988. She became an Independent Agent selling New Homes. When I returned in 1990 she and I opened a small Company. We even dated for a time but our dreams just didn’t intertwine. She wanted a ranch and horses, I wanted another trip around the world on Bicycle.
She and her friend Jim now own Horses, a Ranch and Real Estate Company. Of course Cat and I are living our Cycling Dream, too. Don’t you just love it when DREAMS COME TRUE?
The four of us walked to a rather famous place, Alberto’s, for dinner. Fame comes through huge pieces of meat for this place. Robert and Cat spit a massive Bife de Lomo, Joan had Bife de Chorizo, a Sirloin Steak and I chose lamb. The table ranneth over with good things and joyous conversation.
As we walked back Dr. Robert prescribed Chocolate Ice Cream. Bariloche is famous for Chocolate. They all had a cup of it, I settled for Coffee I don’t eat Chocolate.
A little CNN News in English then we lay back on our wonderful sheets and pillowcases and counted our blessings.
October 19, 2004
Rest and Plans
A good breakfast with eggs and hot dogs today. Also very tasty media lunas and bread pudding. A trip to the Tourist Office yielded good info on tours and bus trips. We’ve decided to take a 7 Lakes Tour. Shopping for meds, CDs, Camping things and maps. Later we just walked around and enjoyed a beautiful day in a beautiful place. It reminds us of a Ski Town like Park City, Utah.
Snow-capped mountains, glowing white in the sun, surround the lake. A woman walked up and grabbed Cat’s arm. Shocked at first she pulled back then the gal reminded us that we had met her on La Trochita, the little train. Maria is from here in Argentina. She speaks no English so we had to do sign language. She just wanted to wish us “Good Luck” with our trip.
Wow, a reasonably good lunch of Mexican food. The owners of the restaurant are from Mexico City. Chicken tacos, beans and rice even chips and guacamole. The best of it was the music. It was low and background but we recognized the distinct Zydeco sound. The girl brought the CD cover to us. We know and have even shared the stage with most of the groups. She cranked up the volume, we ate and soaked up the sounds.
One of the recommended Tour Companies was just down the street. We booked our 7 Lakes Tour. It is an all day bus ride, we hope it’s worth it? I journalized while Cat made a trip to the Pharmacy and paid for our tour tickets.
Pizza for dinner at a small place called Vogue. Really good! We took a few minutes on the Internet then watched Larry King Live. The Scott Peterson murder trial verdict is being delayed until after the Election? How did this California issue get so big? The consensus among the panel is that he will get off? No body or other hard evidence just circumstantial.
October 20, 2004
Journey to The 7 Lakes
Early to bed, early to rise. Thank goodness for wakeup calls. Funny, we usually awaken by 7:00 AM but the 6:30 call was tough to take. We were dragging? Another good breakfast and the bus was there on time, we were off to the Lakes at 8:00.
Surprise, the bus was full, 9 others and us. Claudio, the driver had a problem with the microphone. We all tried to tell him it was okay to just ride because every time he spoke the feedback almost blew our ears out. When he did finely iron out the problem we were glad. His comments and jokes really made the time pass quickly. The couple seated in front of us struck up a conversation. Ethel, pronounced Ayetel, is originally from Argentina, she and husband Cornell live in Sun City, Henderson Nevada. What a wonderful couple. They’ve been married for 20 years, he’s 81, and she’s a little younger. They share 10 grandchildren. The amazing thing is, they met at grief counseling. They’d both just lost their spouses and as they worked out the losses they got to know each other.
Another guy also spoke English, Roger is originally from the Philippines but now lives in Washington, DC. He’s only about Cat’s age but has been retired for 10 years. He is a devout traveler and lives a frugal lifestyle to afford his trips. It all started with a trip down the Nile in Egypt.
***The picture of a bus wheel is to remind us that when we first saw this apparatus on trucks and buses we thought it was for the hydraulic brakes? It was Dr. Eduardo who first told us that it is actually an air hose connected to each wheel. If the tire looses pressure a compressor fires up and pumps. A stopgap to the problem of flat tires that often causes accidents. We thought it was a great idea and asked if it was something new, we should do this back home. Dr. Eduardo surprised us when he said, “They’ve been using this idea here for more than 20 years”. Why is it that we think all great ideas originate in the USA? An American Superiority Complex?” ***
A perfect, sunny and warm day. A lot of the road is Ripio, dirt and rock. The drive is through forests and along the shores of the lakes. All very beautiful but not dissimilar to the things we’ve seen while cycling into Bariloche. Pictures from above then a lunch break in San Martin de los Andes. Roger brought things for his lunch so he headed for the Park. Ethel and Cornell went into the place we stopped in front of. We thought it might be a relative of Claudio, it was just a so-so looking fast food place. We walked on and found a nice little sandwich shop on the main street. As we ordered Ethel and Cornell walked up, they decided against fast food, too. We sat at adjacent tables and enjoyed lunch as well as getting to know each other.
The pine-covered mountains gave way to desert looking hills covered with interesting rock formations. We made a stop at Confluenzia, the cross roads that we will cycle when we set off from Bariloche. The guy at the ACA Station confirmed that the little Hosteria across the river is open. This could be our first stop our to Bariloche.
It was 7:30 PM when the bus dropped us at Hotel Kenton Palace. Roger mentioned that he was having a huge steak at Alberto’s, the place we dined at with Robert and Joan last night. We’d talked about going to Alberto’s Pasta place but the memory of the meat and meeting Roger won out. I had Goat, again. Cat’s chicken was so huge that she could only eat half of it. Roger ate his entire huge steak.
He’s 55 years young and has been retired from banking since he was 40. Made some good Real Estate investments and is living off the royalties.
Late night, CNN News then sleep.
October 21, 2004
Getting Ready to Ride
I buried myself in the pictures for the journal. Cat shopped for camping food. It looks like we may have to camp several nights in a row. She has us pretty ready to go now. Sandwiches in the room for lunch then we walked around asking and finally found butane gas for our camping stove.
Back to the grind, I did finish the photos and Cat got them off in the mail to Wally. Dinner downstairs, salad and pasta.
The weather has changed, the wind is howling and the rain is falling.
A little Larry King Live with guest Celine Dion then, sleep.
October 22, 2004
Bariloche to Confluencia
A final included breakfast then bags down and finally ready to go by 9:00 AM. Then I discovered that when they moved the bikes around in the kitchen hallway someone had lifted mine by the seat and pulled it loose. So, it was a cold windy morning on the sidewalk, we leaned the bikes next to the window of the kitchen, pulled the seat off and went back in. I took about half an hour to repair it under the watchful eye of the Security Guard. He may have been the culprit? He said not a word and every time we glanced at him he cast his eye in the other direction.
There is sun but the wind is strong and blustery. Down the street, right onto the Camino and, with wind at our backs, we flew out of town. Traffic was moderate and mostly friendly. The road takes a left after 6-7 kilometers and climbs along the northern lakeshore. That was a bit more of a challenge. A brisk side wind had us wobbling upward in understanding traffic.
Back to the right and with the wind downhill that may have set our speed record. We pulled up at 1:00 PM and sat in the sun next to the wall of an Estancia. The owners pulled out, saw us and waved, started to pull away then stopped and a guy hopped out and locked the gate. Maybe not distrust, just “Strangers in the Neighborhood”.
After a long flat run along a glistening creek we turned upward and into the wind. All the time gained in our friendly wind was soon lost. Then the clouds thickened and rain began, small drops at first then they thickened, too. We donned our raincoats and pants and plowed onward. Then, as we started a little downhill the rain turned to wet snow. It wasn’t sticking but it was falling fast, bringing the temperature down and soaking us.
A Parilla pulled us in, nobody, nobody spoke English. The 3 women drinking colas tried to communicate. One of them turned out to be the owner or at least partner. Her Son and Daughter-in-Law got the point across that they only had full liter soft drinks. We couldn’t drink that much and when I sort of pled they poured me a glass. Cat was so cold that all she wanted was to huddle next to the old wood-burning stove. The best news, the young guy told us that Confluencia was just 6 more kilometers.
Onward to the ACA Station where they confirmed that the Hosteria Gruta de las Virgenes across the river was open. By now the snow was sticking to our raincoats and the bags. We rode across the bridge then pushed up the steep driveway. The women at the doorway didn’t seem too happy to see us. They were most concerned with our wet muddy shoes. Cat went inside and confirmed that they had a room then I off loaded the bags into the entry area. They really were wet, the women put down a few rags for us to wipe our feet on. We had to leave the bikes in a carport so all bags had to come off.
Once inside we let the bags dry while we had a snack and a glass of wine next to a roaring fire. The fireplace is round and has a huge metal cover that directs smoke out but keeps heat in. We sat near it, draped our soaked clothing on chairs nearby and relaxed. Finally we even put our shoes and the wettest of our cloths around the edge.
Lydia, the owner, softened a bit as we sat. She tried to tell us of her life and that though we are the only guests tonight they are very busy during fishing season. Her husband struggled across the rock driveway in his wheelchair. He was not friendly. He’s lost a leg to accident or disease and didn’t want to socialize. He turned on the TV at 6:00, when the electricity came on. We had to wait until after 7:00 PM for hot water.
The warm shower felt great. A dinner of trout, potatoes and vegetables topped off with warm apple cake soon had us feeling human, again.
Early to bed, the Hubby dominated the TV and Lydia told us they only get the one channel anyway. The snow has stopped, the skies are clear, maybe tomorrow will hold less cold.
October 23, 2004
Confluencia to Campsite #1 at Km 1093
We awoke to howling wind. The snow had retreated up to the higher hills but it filled the wind with cold. Lydia provided a bread and coffee breakfast. We carried bags down then I brought the bikes over and loaded in the brisk breeze.
Once down the driveway, we turned into a brisk tail wind. It even pushed us up some pretty stiff hills. Though it remained cold it was helpful. We stopped at the top of one of them and huddled while we ate the sandwiches Lydia had made for us.
A little further along, we found the remains of a town and the beginnings of a waterfront community. Real Estate agents are always curious about places where there are streets, utilities and this one had the initial work completed for a Marina. We wondered why progress has stopped then of course we thought about who we know that might be interested in it? Wait, we could have stayed at home if we were interested in doing business.
Miguel The Magician
Rolling along, we noticed a bike with bags leaning against a tree. We turned into a dirt driveway and rode toward a house and truck parked nearby. As we approached a guy, Miguel, came out and waved to us. He’s been cycling with his brother, they split up in San Martin de los Andes and he’s headed home, to Bariloche. Language aside, we had a good time talking with him. He works as a Magician, Juggler and Deejay when they don’t have live bands. He did a little juggling with some fruit and posed with us for a picture. Nice guy, the people in the house invited us in for Mate but we graciously declined, waved goodbye and rode onward.
The Rio Colon Cora is so wide that it could be a lake. The road rises and falls above it’s shoreline then we made a fast downhill run to the bridge and crossed in a heavy cross wind. The road splits, one toward Neuquen and Ruta 40 that sets off to the left and into the wind. After cycling only 2 kilometers we found a spot below the road that would make a nice campsite. After pushing the bikes down we set the tent then I ventured down to the river for water. We used it for cooking and saved our bagged water for tomorrow.
Cat cooked a tasty pot of pasta, we enjoyed it under the colors of a wonderful sunset.
Sunday, October 24, 2004
Campsite 1093 to Campsite Km 1069 at an Estancia
Awaking to a sunny wind free morn was a delight. After a quick breakfast we pushed back up to the road and set off. Within just 10 Kilometers we were struggling in a horrendous head wind. An hour of pushing and I was worn down. We pushed off the road and sought shelter behind bushes. I fixed a broken spoke while we rested. Cat was anxious to go, I could have just settled in there but she is concerned about having enough water to make the next few days.
More pushing and struggling than riding and finally we gave in and gave up. Our plan to make it to the crossroad faded in head winds. I sat and watched a line of ants struggle while Cat tried to flag down a truck. Yes, we decided that a ride to the cross roads would be the thing to do. There are very few vehicles passing. The first and only pickup looked us over and refused. Back to the ants, we felt a kinship to them. They were going downwind, picking up leaves and struggling back. The empty handed would run along then suddenly be blown a foot or two. Once burdened and facing the wind their task was almost undoable. They struggle from rock to rock looking for footholds like mountain climbers. A foot forward then the wind lifts them and slams them back a foot or foot and a half. And we thought we had it tough?
Our campsite was protected a bit from the wind but visible from the road. It’s up hill, above a fast running river. I went over the hill looking for water but decided not to risk getting too close to the dangerous looking bank. Cat cooked Shrimp Top Ramen, mmmm, mmmm, good.
Another early night filled with the continuing roar of the wind through the trees.
October 25, 2004
Campsite Km 1069 to Estancia Catan Lil, Campsite Km1006
The wind has died down a bit but still making a lot of noise rushing through the leaves of the trees. We took another quick breakfast, loaded up and rode into a slightly diminished headwind. The river holds a ribbon of green, trees and grass clinging to it’s wet shore. Beyond that it’s a brown, brown , brown, dry desert. We did pass a small herd of Guanaco and some wild looking horses.
Rudy Pours Agua
The crossroads we’d hoped for last night turned out to resemble their name. Rinconada we assumed means “Corner of Nothing”. We stopped a car and the driver confirmed that there is nothing on around the corner. As we talked a pack of dogs barked and scurried up the hill from a shack below. Rudy, the fellow living there came out and called to them. I yelled back, asking for agua. (Water) He disappeared into the shack then came out with a little bucket in hand and climbed up to us. What a nice guy. He poured the water from his tin can bucket then offered to go for more to fill all our bottles. I followed him down the hill for the fill.
The road swings up, we can see the top and the ribbon of asphalt that clings to it. As we began the tough looking climb the wind fell in with us and pushed us upward. We made the entire climb, 5 kilometers, with out pushing. We did pull up for rest 3 times.
At the summit we rounded a corner into a very uncertain wind. The only thing certain about it was it’s desire to push us off the edge. Full of sand and dust, we had to squint as we pushed into it. Almost like a hurricane, the force was so strong that we both lost footing and had the bikes ripped from our grip twice. Several times we had to stop, clamp the brakes down hard, bury our faces in our arm and wait out the gust.
Rounding the final corner the wind again fell in with us but it was too harsh to ride. We pushed up to the top then found shelter behind the bikes and a guardrail and downed some leftovers for lunch. It was interesting to watch the faces of bus drivers as they passed, lips pursed hands tight on the wheel. They knew what lay ahead.
Maria and The Movie
Struggling for the first kilometer then the road took a turn for the better and the heavy wind thrust us across the high plateau. Some ups and downs, some side winds that tried to blow us off the road. A building near the road looked like it could have been or was being rebuilt to be a Grocery Store. I pulled up, Cat kept pedaling up the little hill. I asked and a girl sitting near the door spoke good English, “Yes this is a Grocery Store”. I yelled and Cat swung back.
The girl at the door, Guadalupe, is here with a crew preparing the building for a movie that will be shot here, soon. The film is called “The Aura” and is the story of a man with epilepsy. The name has to do with the feeling that epileptics often experience when they begin to have a seizure. The plot is pretty thick, the crew is from Buenos Aires. They have built a fake wall across the front of the store. It hides the place from customers like us.
Maria owns the place. She is a seasoned gal like the shop itself. I fell in love with her ancient icebox and produce scale. The best was her hand operated lunchmeat slicer. We spent time there, taking pictures and loading up on bottled water, orange drink, ham and cheese. What an oasis and an unexpected replenishing of supplies.
The sun was out and the tail wind kept pushing us along. We passed one Estancia because the house was up a long distant hill, we rode until after 6:00 PM.
South American Gothic
Another Estancia closer to the road. As we approached the little house at the gate a fellow, Miguel, came out to meet us. We asked about a room, he told us no but we could camp here. We found a spot near the woodpile and set the tent out of the wind.
There were a couple of barking dogs but they became friendly once we got our little house set up. We used a pitchfork and rake to clean up the campsite. Then posed for our version of “South American Gothic.
Rice with corned beef tasted pretty good, we were hungry. It was late, 10:30 PM, by the time we bedded down under a full moon.
October 26, 2004
Campsite Kilometer 1006 to Campsite Kilometer 923
A bright, sunny, wind free morning greeted us. We enjoyed running water in Miguel’s front yard. A face wash, brushing teeth and cleaning our dishes, pots and pans. Miguel and 3 friends came out and asked about our equipment, how much it cost. I skirted the issue by telling them that it is old, 5 or more years old. I wished later that I’d asked them how much they get paid. We’ve heard that most ranch hands here make only about 600 Pesos $200 US Dollars) per month.
It was warm and sunny with some wind. We rode hard and long. There were lots of ups and downs but the wind was friendly. Lunch on the roadside, leftovers again.
Pedaling up, my front gear shifting cable broke. That puts you in low gear, suddenly. I rode for a while but knew that we would be slowed to almost a crawl so I began to think of possible fixes. An idea was born, I could use a piece of wire and hook it back up. Unfortunately there was no wire in our bottle of tools. I pulled out a zip tie, those handy, strong plastic strips that we’ve carried since we left home. With a twist of the existing cable I looped the two together and we were back in business. Oh, I did have to stop and adjust a time of two but we were good to go.
La Bomba, The Oregon Connection
We posed for a picture at the road sign for an Estancia called La Bomba. Y Sister, Joan and husband Bill who live in a small town in Oregon, love old cars. They have a 1961 Chrysler Newport. It’s lowered and the top is chopped. We called it the Bat Mobile but they eventually named it, “La Bomba”. We hope they have as much fun seeing the picture as we did taking it!
At the top of a hill we could see a cluster of 4 or 5 homes down below, near the river. We rode down and talked with a young guy, Diego, who walked out to the dirt road to greet us. We couldn’t tell if he felt it was okay to camp, he did get a point across that the bridge had broken down.
The site was sandy but near the river. We pushed down the embankment and set up our home for the evening. I got river water to cook with and a good picture of a Gaucho crossing down stream from us.
We had spaghetti from Maria’s Market. Good food and another early to bed night. The sunset was more than spectacular!
October 27, 2004
Campsite Kilometer 923 to Zapala
2 Kilometers on Bike, 45 Km in Pickup Truck
Up to a beautiful sunny morning, we made oatmeal and coffee then sat in the tent looking out to the river as we ate. The perfectly still air began to stir then suddenly a huge gust rolled the tent over our heads and spilled our breakfast. We tried not to panic but felt trapped, the wind had us pinned down. I reached out and found the rocks we’d used to hold the tent in place last night. Then, we threw a couple of the bags back inside for additional ballast. Cat wiped up as much coffee and oatmeal as possible as I held the tent up off of us.
From that moment on we were in hurricane force winds. I carried the bikes and bags up the hill to the roadway and we loaded them. Then, into the howling wind full of sand and back up to the highway. It was a horrendous headwind until we turned onto Ruta 40. We caught a tailwind but it was too tough to really ride. Every time we passed an arroyo on the left we were almost blown off the road. Rounding a corner to the left put us head on, into the hurricane. We tried to push to the next corner but the sand and dust choked us. At the corner we found the side wind impossible to deal with.
Leaning the bikes we crossed the road and hunkered down behind a bush and guardrail. The sand was so bad that we had to bury our heads in our hands. There is so little traffic that we felt stuck, marooned. A young guy walked past, I stopped him and in halting Spanish asked if he or his family had a camioneta that he could take us to Zapala in? He seemed to say yes then skipped on down the road. We waited for a half hour then an old 150 Ford came around the corner. It wasn’t him but we flagged it down anyway.
The driver, Benerito was worried, his passengers, wife Elsa and friends, Dati and Barbarita looked at each other as though we were asking them to get out so we could ride. We used sign language to ask for a ride to Zapala. Yes they were going there but they have no room for us. We played charades to let them know that we and the bikes could ride in the back. Benerito shrugged then pulled the tailgate down and helped us lift the bikes in. The wind was ferocious when it came from the side but we were happy to be getting out of the storm.
As the old Ford struggled up a steep hill it began to sputter. Benerito pulled her over and the engine died. Oh boy, we may have to push in the wind, again? He got out and said, “No problema” then pulled a 2 liter plastic bottle out of his toolbox. He stood in the wind and poured the contents into the gas tank. The starter ground and ground then as suddenly as she had died the engine fired up and we were back on the road to Zapala.
They drove right into town and to the Service Station. We off loaded as they filled with combustible. (Gasoline.) Once on the ground the attendant asked us to push around the corner. Out of the flow of traffic. We repositioned then approached Benerito. We decided to give them 20 Pesos for combustible. He refused at first but we insisted and he took the bill. We were so happy to be in Zapala and that they had stopped to help us that $6.70 US was a bargain and it was obvious they could use the gasoline.
It was still so windy that we had to push the bikes around town as we sought out the Hotel Hue Melen. The Lonely Planet says it’s the best Hotel and only good restaurant in town? After asking and pushing we finally pulled up in front. A guy came out and invited us to bring the bikes inside. After holding the door for us he quickly checked us in. Strange, in many places we have to argue to be able to keep the bikes in our room, he helped push them around the corner, almost insisting we keep them with us.
Upstairs to lunch, he told us that the restaurant would close at 2:00 PM, just a half hour from now. We went up in our dirty, sweaty cycling cloths. Lunch was good but we were too tired to enjoy it. A warm shower felt beyond description. It’s been 4 days and we knew it. I was so zonked that I just lay back on the bed and rested. Cat was energized, she started out to walk to the Grocery Market but the wind wouldn’t allow it. So, she took a Taxi.
It was dinner up and again, really good food. We tried to watch a movie but couldn’t keep our eyes open.
October 28, 2004
Well Earned Rest in Zapala
Breakfast is served upstairs, too. It is provided by the Hotel and is something less than the restaurant food. The server is one of the guys from dinner, a friendly and he likes to joke with us. The food is basic, coffee and bread.
My first task is to find a Bike Shop to replace my shifter cable. Amazing, Bicicleteria Maba is just down the street. Nice guys, too, Marcello and Damian took it right in. Marcello tried to talk with me while Damian pulled the broken cable out and replaced it. The job was slightly different for them but I remembered watching Mohammed and Peter replace Cat’s back in Mokopane, Africa 4/17/04) so I helped a bit. Damian soon had things in control and finished the job in just minutes. What a surprise, the price? 3 pesos, 50 centavos or about $1.60 US for the part and labor.
Cat found a laundry and got our really foul smelling cloths to them. We walked around but couldn’t an Internet Shop. A taxi ride downtown and we found a place with fairly fast machines. A quick check, then off to lunch. A decent place on the main street, we enjoyed the food and view of locals coming and going.
I went back to the Hotel and our computer while Cat answered messages at the Internet Café.
For dinner we walked downtown in clear, still evening air. The Pizza place is really nice looking but the nice stopped there. Service was slow and the Pizza was cold. Cat even sent hers back, twice, for re-heating. The best of it was that they had Directo TV and programmed CNN for us. So, we had so-so, cold pizza and fresh hot news. Most of the news is dominated by the Presidential Campaign. All polls agree that it’s too close to call.
The walk back to Hue Melen was pleasant. A movie in English with subtitles then sleep.
October 29, 2004
Rest and Getting Ready to Ride
We were tired and road weary when we finally began to stir. Cat was hoping to get on the road today but I felt a deep sense of fatigue. Recalling the words of Vince Lombardi, the coach of the World Champion Green Bay Packers back in the 1970s, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all”, I decide that I needed another day of rest. I could also use the time to complete the journal pages of our ride from Ushuaia to Esquel.
At breakfast Cat made a deal with our friend, the waiter, to have him wash our dirty dishes. Well, she asked about using the sink and he insisted on doing them. I spent most of the day on our keyboard while Cat completely reorganized our bags. She emptied each and weeded out lots of things we haven’t used then prepared a package to mail home.
After a picnic in the room Cat went on the longest Post Office excursion we’ve experienced. They informed her that they won’t take any package over 2 kilos. So, she went to a Kiosk and got 2 boxes. The guy there wrapped them and she went back. One of the boxes was over weight and they wouldn’t accept it. She came all the way back to the Hotel and repacked them both. One of them was still a little overweight and they refused it. So, she pulled the packages apart again and shuffled things. Finally they accepted them, she had to re-wrap them on the floor of the Correo.
It was after 7:00 PM by the time she got back to Hue Melen. A glass of wine to calm her down then we dined upstairs. Trout for Cat and steak for me, both very good. We feel stronger and are sure we’ll get away tomorrow.
We did watch a movie but it was finished early and we were off to dream land.
October 30, 2004
Zapala to Las Lajas
Breakfast then, as we final packed Cat noticed that our little notebook, the one I carry and write names and e-mail addresses of people we meet was missing. I remembered having it out at the e-mail place yesterday. So, while she worked on packing I hoofed it back only to find the shop closed. I could see the notebook on the counter. Back to the Hotel, we explained our dilemma and our friendly clerk took over. He asked the mailman about the Internet place then started calling around, looking for the owner. Several calls and voila, the owner will meet us there in half an hour.
Packed and ready to roll, we expressed our gratitude to the clerk then pushed off. We cycled to the Internet place and waited. A woman opened the door and handed our notebook out then quickly closed up before we could even express our thanks. She didn’t seem too happy?
So, our plans for an early start were once again thwarted. We weren’t too worried, our ride today should only be 50 Ks and there is no wind. Out of town was an uphill experience. The up continued as we rode on. About 10 Ks out there is a round about and the turn to the left goes to the Land Fill. Several garbage trucks had passed and we were happy to see them turning.
Just a short way passed the circle a car slowed and passed. The guy in the passenger seat leaned out, cheered for us and yelled, “Where are you from”? I shouted back, “California, and you”? He laughed and said, “France”. They went on them pulled up, got out and he knelt in the road and shot pictures with a telephoto lens.
Pierre is a Photo Journalist. He’s been living here and working on a just finished book for 5 years. The book documents the life of Gauchos and their Mythical Horses. It’s written in French, he had a copy that they, taking to the Son of one of his photo subjects who just passed away. The book is beautiful, the coffee table type, hard bound, about 2 inches thick and full of wonderful pictures.
His friends, Patrick, Carlos, Manuel and Gerardo are all Argentinean. They’re going to a Gaucho Asado in Nuequen held to honor their fallen friend. Pierre shot dozens of photos of us, we even got a couple of him and his buddies. We talked for almost an hour, as long as both they and we could, then hugged, waved and rolled onward. I invited Pierre to come help us select photos and tell our story in a book when we finish our ride.
Just a few kilometers up the road we came upon a Citroen C6 and two people standing next to it, waving at us. Pablo and Roxanna are driving their 1974 classic on a 17,000-kilometer tour of Argentina. They’re headed south toward Ushuaia and have been on the road for more than 3 months. We told them of our experience on Ruta Cuarenta, they couldn’t believe we had chosen that road. Pablo told us that he didn’t want to take his classic baby on that rough drive. They’ll take route 3, The Pan Pacific Highway. We enjoyed talking with them and I loved knowing more about their trip and the CV6. It is one of my favorite little cars.
The wind was kicking up but was coming from behind us most of the time. A lot of the road is flat or uphill. Lunch along the road, Cat had packed ham and cheese so it was like so many of our roadside lunches.
The road took a strong uphill slant then began a downhill run past a hill that the sign called Cara de Indio, the face of the Indian. You be the judge, I could sort of see it Cat couldn’t.
As we reached the bottom of the hill and rounded the corner we met a greenbelt and headwind. Able to ride, we struggled down and into Las Lajas at 5:00 PM. The Officina de Tourismo gave us a map of the town and let us know that we haven’t arrived quite yet. It is off the highway, down a steep looping hill. Hosteria Angelica, the only place with a restaurant is at the bottom.
Angelica is wife of the Patron. She wouldn’t let us bring the bikes inside until he comes in and approves. We parked on the porch and took our clothing bags in and showered. Hen I went back out the Patron made it very clear that he wouldn’t have our bikes in the room or the hallway. I did my best to convince him but finally tired of the game and began to grumpily carry bags. He maintained his attitude, we began to call him El Graucho.
A walk to the local market for tomorrows lunch things and a bottle of wine. We sat in the room and sipped. Then, dinner and a whole new attitude from El Graucho. He was as friendly as one can be when faced with a language chasm. He’s the Chef and proud of it. The food, a steak, was the best we can remember having since we’ve been in Argentina.
The end of an English language movie that Mr. Graucho had found for us then off to bed.
Sunday, October 31, 2004
Las Lajas to A Sandy Campsite
El Graucho was his usual self this morning and breakfast was a far cry from the wonderful dinner. Cold burnt toast, frozen butter and coffee served in a small pot that we had to share with the other guests. Yes, there were others, we were surprised.
The steep hill we flew down last night was equaled by a very steep up that required pushing to get out of the hole. A beautiful sunny morning seemed to make the push easier. As the day wore on and the sun reached its zenith it became hot. Cat has said that she will never complain about hot after all the cold we’ve suffered through. As we slowly plodded a herd of horses with 2 mule chaperones came ambling down toward the road. Keeping a wary eye I got a little nervous when they began to gallop toward us. Maybe they thought we were a threat to the colt they were protecting? Maybe they thought we were bringing food? Whatever, we picked up the pace and they stopped to watch us move on up.
Roadside lunch and then the wind kicked up in our faces. The afternoon was a struggle. We’d hoped to get into Churriaca but fell short by about 22 Ks. After 3 hours of struggle we gave in to the wind and found a bush to set camp behind. We were almost visual to the road and the sand was blowing around but it was the best we could see.
Setting the tent was a chore, the wind really fought against us. We’re so glad that we chose the 3 person tent, the bags are great ballast and we can’t imagine leaving them out with the bikes. Dinner was cooked through the flap. We would open, stir and close to keep the dirt out. Pasta of course. We are so glad that we loaded wine on board. This would be hard to take without a glass of Chardonnay.
Just a little cleanup then we sat and talked for a while. Our conversations constantly drift toward what life will be like when we get back home. Neither of us seems that anxious. Talk drifts from work to friends and family to wondering if we will ever really fit back in?
We lay quietly, listened to the wind and drifted off.
November 1, 2004
50 Ks then 50 in Cattle Truck
Cold cereal and yogurt, good and quick, too. The wind didn’t slow all night. We had to load in blowing sand and push back to the road in a dust storm. We struggled on a long slow up then finally turned the corner and caught a bit of tail wind. A row of trees off to the left looked like it might be Churriaca. If it is we’ll skip it.
Then a turn that gave us a real boost and we needed it, it was up. Churriaca turned out to be on the highway and to be just a wide spot. No store or café, just a house and mechanics garage. I went to the door of the house and asked if they had food or a soft drink. They were eating lunch, and at first they said no then the guy got up and poured a glass of their Orange Drink into a glass for me. I sipped then told him that mi Esposa would like some and indicated I would bring the glass back. “No problema”.
We sipped and decided to move on, see what the top of the hill would bring. As we rounded the corner the blast of wind swung from our backs to our faces. It was so strong that we had to pedal down a steep hill. Then it became a side wind, dangerous side wind. We stopped and hailed a truck. The driver was a nice guy but explained that they were in a company truck and couldn’t pick up riders.
Onward, down in precarious winds. Then another corner and we were head long into a blast of air moving so fast that it ground us to a stop. Our flapping windbreakers sounded like motorboats. With the bikes leaning against the guardrail, Cat hunkered down and I started trying to get a ride into town.
A couple of pickups stopped but both were already overloaded. Then, a big old Mercedes came barreling around the corner. I waved my arms and stepped out onto the road. They swerved and started on then pulled up a hundred meters away. An older guy, Dante, rolled out the door as I jogged toward them. I asked if we could ride with them, he indicated yes. They’re a cattle truck pulling a hay trailer. We lifted the bikes onto the flatbed hay trailer then he opened a door and we crawled up into the cattle truck.
Straw and sand were blowing around, filling our eyes and hair. It was a rough ride bet we weren’t complaining. We’d waited more than an hour before they picked us up. We lay back on a roll of canvas, closed our eyes and tried to relax. I stood a time or two and watched the countryside roll by. Dante had to make a relief stop at one point. He opened the door and asked if we needed to go then walked off into the brush. We sat in the still air and enjoyed the moment.
Onward then we turned and came into Chos Malal on the main street. As they rolled through town I caught sight of Hotel Picun Ruca. They took us all the way into town then helped us get the bikes down. Dante is 70 years young and strong as a bull. No real conversation but we did enjoy a few minutes with them.
They pulled onward, we cycled back to Picun. The place puts up a better façade than the interior deserves. The room is pretty plain but does have a door to the parking lot and they told us to keep the bikes in the room. They provide breakfast but don’t have a restaurant. The one down the street opens at 8:30 PM according to the girl at the desk. We walked there and went inside at 8:30, the girl mopping the floor gestured for us to sit then ignored us.
Sitting and thinking about a glass of wine we finally got her attention. She in turn went to the kitchen and called for help. The waitress came out and gave us the bad news, no white wine. So, we settled for a bottle of Latitud 33 Malbec, the red that the region is famous for. It was good sippin’ but we were hungry. Finally at 9:00 the waitress took our order. At last, at 10:00 we had food in front of us. The good news, it was great.
November 2, 2004
Election Day, 4 More Years?
A day in Chos
Our included breakfast is pretty much bread and water. That’s what I’ve started calling the toast and coffee they serve here. We watched CNN in Spanish trying to figure out what the pundits were saying. The best we got is that the polls have Bush winning but won’t know until late tonight after most of Ohio is counted. Funny how it can hinge on one State, like last time the entire election came down to Florida.
We walked in the wind to the center of town. Though Chos seemed to be pretty much a one street town we discovered that there is a little more to it than at first meets the eye. The Tourist Office had some pretty good info about town and the road ahead of us. They suggested a Sporting Goods Store where we might find butane for our camp stove. After a tour of the town, from store to store, just as we were ready to give up, we finally came upon a shop that had it. Afraid of running out, we bought 3 cans.
After an hour at the local Internet Shop we picked up some great smelling Empanadas and walked back to Hotel Picun. They tasted as good as they smelled.
Cat walked to the bus station to see when buses leave for Malargue. We are fearful of the more than 200 kilometers out there that are mountainous dirt roads. The bad news, the only buses large enough to handle bikes go to Nuequen. The small buses to Malargue won’t take bikes. I don’t want to board a bus yet so I wasn’t all that unhappy. I figure we’ll work it out when we get there.
It was so windy this afternoon that Cat took a Taxi to the Internet then another to the Hotel. We’re both hoping that this thing blows over by tomorrow. Our buddy, Richardo the Taxi driver says that there will be no wind tomorrow but it will be cold.
The big discovery today was Hotel on Costa. They have a nice restaurant and it opens at 8:00 PM. We took Richardo’s Taxi and were seated at 8:00. The waiter hovered over us and took our order right away. I wanted Chivito, grilled goat. They have it but it take a little more time. You guessed it, we didn’t get the main course until after 9:00. The good news, it was wonderful!
November 3, 2004
Snow in Chos
No wind, the sound we heard when we awoke was rain. Peeking out, we could see snowflakes in the rain. We knew that we weren’t going anywhere today. After huddling for another half hour we peeked again and the lawn out front was white, good decision.
After the breakfast we rode with Richardo to the Internet Shop. I got the pictures off to Wally and answered lots of notes from friends. Cat went shopping for food for tomorrow’s camp. When we met we grabbed Richardo's Cab back to the Hotel. As we pulled up she asked where the camera was? Oh Geez, I left it at the Internet place. We had Richardo hustle right back. When I walked through the door the owner smiled, wagged his finger at me and pulled the plastic bag up from behind the counter. Somehow he got the point across that a young girl seated nearby had found it and turned it in to him. I offered a reward but both Carlos and Maria refused. I did get a picture of honesty.
Cat did the Post Office again but she’s getting to know their games. A box and wrapping then weigh in and they took it first try.
Dinner at on Costa again, this time we had Pasta, carbing up for tomorrows ride. Our favorite waiter wasn’t there and the Pasta was served pronto.
Richardo had us back to Picun by 10:00 PM. CNN, even in Espanol, was absolutely sure that Bush has won another 4 year term. The proof was in Kerry’s concession.
November 4, 2004
Chos Malal to Campsite
World Class Winds
Cold or at the very least cool when we peaked out this morning. No wind, that’s the good news. There were a few guys sitting, talking in English next to us at breakfast. One of them turned and asked what we were doing. When we mentioned bicycles he laughed and asked if we knew that this area is known worldwide for the wind. Wind for him and his friends, is a good thing, for us it can be good but most of the time it has been in our faces. They’re here to go sailing, sailplanes that is. We sometimes call them gliders, they tow behind a power plane to reach sailing altitude then cut free and glide. Well, this area is famous in sailplane circles. They hold the altitude and distance records here.
The friends of our new friend were in a hurry. They were urging him to leave but he wanted to tell us about his sport. He’s been up, above 50,000 feet and said the feeling is one of complete silence save the rush of the wind. And, it’s cold up there, cold enough to freeze your feet. He’s from Australia and told us that the famous Developer that accompanied Richard Branson in the attempt to fly a balloon around the world is coming here. He wants to set a new altitude and distance record. His goal is 90,000 feet. Our pal finished telling his story as his buddy’s drug him toward the door. We got one of our cards in his hand but failed to get his name.
Cordillera de los Vientos )Mountains of the Winds) will form the backdrop for our ride today. It was a backtrack through Chos Malal to Ruta 40. As soon as we turned the corner at the highway we began an upward pull that was to last most of the day. The one saving grace was that Los Vientos were our friend this morning. At 10 Ks out we stopped for a cold drink. The Restaurant is a cute log cabin. When we stopped the friendly wind proved to be quite cold. The bikes rested against a log rail fence and we went inside seeking warmth.
The wind was now full of raindrops but as we sat they began to turn to snow. It was like a blizzard, visibility was cut to just across the road. We worried about going on. I asked about a room but the family made it clear that they had none. Cat made it clear that she wanted to press onward. Weather is so unpredictable here, by the time we had finished our drinks it was clear again.
Donning our raincoats we rode on in a fine mist that was to continually change. Everything from rain to sleet to more snow, even some hail. The woman at the Café told us that it was 40 kilometers of up and snow ahead of us. She was pretty much right. None of the snow we rode in was sticking to the road. We did get up to a point where the roadside was lined with the white stuff. A lot of the climb was in friendly wind even when it also carried ice or snow. We rode the entire distance, no pushing.
It was a slow process, we stood in the wind and ate our sandwiches. The climb took us from 878 meters at Chos to almost 2000 at the summit. The route circles Tromen, an extinct volcano that spikes up to almost 4,000 meters. )To figure meters to feet multiple meters by 3.3)
Once over the summit we cruised down, down, down. Slowly leaving the snow behind and dropping into warmer climes. The climb had taken a toll on time. It was 5:30 when we rounded the base of Tromen and hit some small ups and headwind. A stand of trees off to the left looked like a good place to camp. We had to push, in fact at one point I had to get to a tree, lean my bike and help Cat.
Gauchos and Goblins?
The circle of trees used to be a corral of sorts. It was full of dried manure and bones of long ago eaten animals. We pulled in past a falling down adobe building and chose a corner of the enclosure as our campsite. It was somewhat sheltered from the wind and se felt secure. I began filling in the holes behind our tent with branches when a Gaucho rode up. He just sat astride his horse and stared. Using the full extent of my Spanish I asked if it was okay to camp here. His one word answer was, “Si”. I asked if he sleeps here and he pointed off into the distance then nodded and rode on. The encounter left us worried that he or his amigos might revisit us after dark? I placed the skull of a goat on top of our tent to ward off evil spirits.
Our little shelter was perfect for relaxing and cooking. The wine aboard was an elixir, it calmed our fears and was a reward for today’s extreme effort. We were pretty proud of ourselves, more than a 3,000-foot climb and no pushing.
The sound of wind in the trees was soothing, we were soon fast asleep. Then, at about midnight I awoke with a start. The sound seemed right above us, a sort of raspy screeching. I sat up and found one of our headlights then slowly unzipped the tent flap. The ghoulish sound seemed to be coming from several sources. Were we surrounded? Had the quiet Gaucho returned with a cadre of comrades and circled our campsite? As I stepped out the goblin seemed to pass directly overhead. I shoe the light up but saw nothing. Then I heard a whoosh, maybe a pair of large wings? The sound moved off, into the distance, I crawled back inside. Cat asked if I’d heard it, I told her that my theory now is, it’s a huge owl.
We lay and listened. It made a few more crisscross patterns then drifted away, again. The soft sound of a gentle breeze in the leaves lulled us back to sleep.
November 5, 2004
Goblin Campsite to Barrancas
Our little secure corner was shaded but the sun was streaming down on the rest of the natural corral. The tent was wet, we hung it in a tree to dry then did the same with the sleeping bags to air them. Breakfast, cereal and yogurt while seated on a fallen tree in front of the adobe. The sun felt wonderful, a good way to start the day. We ruled out Gauchos and Goblins and concluded that the noise had to be an owl or some other nocturnal hunting bird. It sure is easier to discuss with bravado in the bright sunlight.
A push through the brush, down to the road then in short distance a push up a steep hill. The feeling of triumph we’d grown to love yesterday now turned to one of defeat. The long pull up had taken a toll, our legs were stiff and tired. Pushing made for slow progress.
It took us 2 ½ hours to ride and push into Ruta Ranquil, 18 kilometers. The little town is a surprise, tree lined streets of dirt and a fairly large population. It seems to be a fairly new town. We rode up the main street and found a little grocery kiosk. The girl had cold Pomelo, the grapefruit soda, but little else. She told us where we could find a bakery. Cat walked up the street to it but they were already out of bread.
Another woman suggested we’d find bread back two streets. We took a left turn and ended up back near the highway. A young girl at another small Kiosk told Cat to follow her to the Panaderia for fresh bread. They walked off and I entertained or was entertained by a young boy. He climbed in and out of a window then walked in circles around me. We began slapping high fives, which he found quite funny.
Rather than eat under the watchful eyes of villagers we took the bread and some ham and cheese from the Kiosk and rode up out of town. A septic pumping truck passed us as we pulled out but his engine had a hard time pulling the weight of his smelly load and we were doomed to ride in the plume of smoke and odor most of the long pull away from town. He turned off toward the Town Landfill, we rode on over the hill and stopped at a guardrail for lunch. A slight breeze and lots of sun, a nice way to enjoy our sandwiches.
The next 40 kilometers to Barrancas were a series of ups and downs through desert fair. The wind was fairly calm and the sun filled the air with welcome warmth. Approaching the little pueblo we decided to take the dirt road through a dry arroyo. As we pushed up a group of kids came riding bikes toward us. They were our official greeters. Asking for a bus station tow of them gestured for us to follow. They led us along the dirt street then pointed down another and indicated it was at the bottom of the hill. The street was a rough ride of loose dirt and rock. At the bottom of the hill, almost back on the highway, we found a service station. The guy there was friendly but couldn’t understand what we wanted. Using the same phrase that had gotten us here “Estacion Omnibus” he finally he said, “Omnibus, Policia”. Somehow the kids had thought we were asking for the gas station.
So, it was back up the hill and around the same corner where the kids had left us. There, at the Policia building a big guy with a big gun and bad teeth got the point across, there is only one bus each day and it comes at 0:30. In 12 hour clock time that would be 39 minutes after midnight. He also told us that the bus pulls in here then passes the other Policia Checkpoint 3 kilometers further north. Somehow, in sign language, he suggested that we go there and hitch a ride on a camion, a truck. He also gestured directions to the only place to stay in town.
It was now after 4:00 PM so we decided to stay here tonight and go to the Checkpoint in the morning. Seeking a Grocery Market we again followed our young friends to a spot but the fellow there said, “No Vino” and that would never do. Onward to another, larger store. We could see produce through the window but the place was dark. A young guy with a wheelbarrow indicated that they would open at 5:00 PM.
We sat and our welcoming committee gathered round. They chattered among themselves. One of the boys seems very popular and very deaf. The others take great pains to see that he is heard and understood. The boy with the wheelbarrow began exploring English but his words seemed to come from ‘R’ rated movies. He got stuck on the ‘F’ word and that made the others laugh. I scolded him and that made them laugh even more. It was 5:20 before the storeowner ambled down the sidewalk and unlocked. They did have wine but it was only 2 pesos, 80 centavos, less than a dollar for the bottle. Beggars can’t be choosers, we took one along with some cheese and bananas.
Elias, a 13-year-old boy, met us at the door of the little Motel. They only have 4 rooms but the place is clean and has private baths in each room. We pulled the bikes inside and he ran to turn on the hot water. It was an hour wait, we sipped the cheap wine as we waited. Elias’ father, Servando, came in to collect the rent. He didn’t have change but promised to return.
Back with change, Servando confirmed that the only restaurant in town was just across the street. It’s a family affair and the menu is limited to one item. They said it was lomo, steak, but we feared they meant milanesa. When we heard the pounding, we knew it would be the breaded and fried beefsteak. The best of it, they had a bottle of Colon, Chardonnay and CNN in English. The steak was greasy and tough. The salad was wilted and soggy. The Chardonnay was delightful and the news was refreshing. No more election reruns. After a half hour some guys drifted in and the Patron shrugged a “sorry” and switched channels to a Futbol game.
Back in our little room, Cat fell victim to the Guff-Guff. Strange, we have eaten the same things and drank the same water but she caught the bug. Usually if it’s food or water I get it first and hold onto it longer.
November 6, 2004
The Long Wait in Barrancas
Cat spent a lot of the night making trips to the toilet. She really has it bad, I feel great. We walked to breakfast at 7:30 AM and had the place to ourselves. They fired up CNN and we caught up on International news.
A Ride on a Chicken Truck?
There was another guest here, a guy who was having Mate as we went over for breakfast. Rojas is driving a chicken truck, Servando had suggested that he might give us a ride today but he worked hard to tell us that he was collecting chickens today and would come back through late this afternoon. We sort of got the point across that we were looking for a ride and he sort of agreed to pick us up.
Diarrhea or no, Cat wants to get going. It’s a downhill run to the Border Checkpoint between Nuequen and Mendoza States. We sailed downward but pulled up as a flock of what appeared to be Parrots flew over. They screech and fly fast. I tried to get pictures and video but they were too quick.
New Checkpoint Chums
The Checkpoint is manned by a uniformed Policia, Javier, a guy who sprays tires of trucks coming into Nuequen State, Edgardo and a 3rd who seems to be in control. At least he does little other than sit at his desk. At 11:00 AM a friendly young guy, Flavio, came to work. He’s with State Tourism and is here to welcome visitors and hand out info about places to visit. He speaks a tiny bit of English and wanted to know all about us. None of them really have much to do, it was 2:00 PM before the first vehicle of the day came through. The flooded out and surrounded the incoming car.
We sat in the shade, ate our sandwich at 1:00 and discussed how few cars we’d seen on the road as we rode into Barrancas. Three of the big natural gas trucks crossed into Nuequen but it was after 3:00 before the first vehicle, a car, came down the hill and crossed the bridge into Mendoza State. By 5:00 PM the 3 gas trucks came back through and another car had passed. Cat was wearing a trail through the grass to the toilet. The guys were now our friends, they offered plastic chairs in the shade of the porch. We sat and watched as they began turning the soil and planting lawn in the dirt portion of the front yard.
By 6:00 Cat was feeling terrible. A 6-passenger pickup came down the dirt road and across the bridge. I asked Flavio if he would take the bikes and me up the hill to town when he gets off work at 8:00. Then he helped ask the two gals and guy in the pickup to take Cat to the Motel. In fact one of the gals spoke English. Cat climbed in and they took her back up the hill. She learned that they work with the National Park in Bariloche and have been attending an Ecological Conference in Mendoza. Most travelers take the paved road through Nuequen but Solidad, Julian and Carolina decided to take the dirt as an adventure. The news of their rough ride wasn’t exactly music to Cat’s already weakened ears.
Remember Me, Flavio
Flavio pulled his old truck around and we loaded the bikes at 7:00. The boss had given him permission to take me up the hill early then return to work. When we pulled out a flatbed rolled down past us. It would have been a good ride but it came too late. Flavio handed me one of his Nuequen brochures, I reminded him that we were leaving Nuequen then he pointed to something he had written on it. “Recuerde de: Flavio” he had also included his full name, address and the date that we met. It was a poignant, almost emotional moment.
Jan, the Czech Adventurer
As we unloaded the bikes a Motorcyclist pulled past and waved. He rode into the campground behind the restaurant. With the bikes safely back in our room we relaxed and sipped a glass of wine. Cat had bought the Chardonnay from the restaurant. The guy actually had a couple more bottles. She also made a trip to the market and got lunch food for tomorrows wait.
Oh, I did see Rojas the Chicken Truck Driver. He was fueling up when we passed the Station. He must be running pretty late.
Dinner across the street again. Jan, the Motorcyclist from the Czech Republic, came in and sat with us. CNN filtered the rerun news through our conversation. Jan began his adventure in Anchorage, Alaska. He’s trying to decide whether to continue to Ushuaia or swing across to Brazil and spend time on a warm beach before returning home to winter weather? His decision hinges on whether his Sister will loan him enough money to stay long enough to do both. A really nice guy.
Our request for Lomo Grillado brought the same, pounded steak to our table. However it was grilled not fried. Still tough as leather, we all 3 worked hard to cut and chew. Cat felt tired and weak. She went back to the room but I stayed and talked with Jan, sharing stories of the road. He says that his greatest expense is gasoline. He usually sleeps just off the road or behind service stations in his tent. This stop was necessary for his occasional bath.
Sunday, November 7, 2004
Barrancas to Malargue
210 Kilometers in a Dusty Pickup Truck
Breakfast and a goodbye to Jan. Setting off, with a screeching sendoff, we discovered a flock of birds, Parrots we think, circled then sat on a wire and saluted us. We flew on back down the hill and were surprised to find Servando in control of the station. The others were all different people, too. Flavio had told us the he was off today. His replacement, a thin young girl, spoke no English. She stood at the corner of the building smoking cigarette after cigarette and waiting like a spider for a vehicle to become snagged in her web of info.
Racing Over the Rocks with Jorge, Jorge and Sergio
Servando got the plastic chairs for us, we assumed our position, and waited like spiders, too. Time drug by, slowly. It was after 2:00 PM before the first car came past. Then at 2:30 a pickup came up to the gate. Everyone there began to talk with Jorge, he elder of the three guys in it. He didn’t seem that thrilled about the deal but finally agreed. The entire border crew helped us hoist the bikes up and over a pipe across the back of the truck. We climbed in, hung on and were off up the dusty road.
Jorge’s son, Jorge drove like a racer. Sometimes we even sort of slid around corners. The road had some patches of pavement but they were generally broken up to the point that they were worse than the dirt and rock. Every swerve, every cloud of dust, every long uphill assured us that we’d made the right decision.
The boys, Jorge, Jorge and Sergio stopped for a snack and beers. We’d already had our lunch and didn’t want beer so we walked around the area of the restaurant. A request for a toilet ended in a dirty room with no water. I went, Cat held it. The boys each drank a liter of beer.
It was 7:00 PM when we rolled down main street, Malargue. Jorge pulled up in front of a pretty sad looking Hotel. We had wanted to get through town to one recommended by our guidebook but they were pretty insistent. As we began to unload we were greeted by a parade, how had they known we were coming?. Lots of young people walking, waving shirts and banners followed by a stream of horn honking cars. No it wasn’t for us, River had just beaten their cross-town rival, Boca. These Soccer fanatics were obviously River fans.
Pat & Cat
The manager of the Hotel came out and insisted that Cat take a look. I left the call up to her but reminded her that we want to spend an extra day to get her back to normal. She came back and said the place was about the same inside. We thanked the guy and rode down Main Street. A place called Hotel Bambi that the book mentioned was another disappointment. It reminded me of an old folks home. Then, we came upon a great looking place. Unfortunately it was fully booked? We couldn’t believe it but the clerk told us that there was a big meeting in town. He called another place then sent us on to Hotel Rio Grande.
The place is at the edge of town. Our hopes for a place in the center faded but we were pleasantly surprised when we got inside Rio Grande. They had some pretty plain looking rooms then the guy, Gustavo, showed us an upgrade. We took the deal. As we off loaded the bags a guy, Matthew, said “Hello”. He’s here from Chicago with the big group. They’re Physicists here with a project he calls Pierre Auger, building a collection point for Cosmic Rays.
Tired, we dined in our dirty cycling cloths. Dinner was good but we were beyond hungry. The shower was great and the bed comfortable. We slept.
November 8, 2004
Malargue and Cosmic Rays
A great nights sleep then media lunas and new friends, Arun a Physicist from UCLA, yes, Los Angeles and Raphael from Illinois. Both are here for the Cosmic Ray Conference. Raphael is a Safety Engineer, in charge of keeping the work place safe and making sure the equipment is in good order.
Cat still needs to stay close to the toilet but we did get our dirt cloths to the laundry and spent a little time answering e-mails.
For lunch, we wanted to try the Hotel de Tourismo. The Manager and Chef had been so helpful and the place looked great. As we sat at a patio table Raphael drove up. He joined us and we enjoyed learning more of his life, born in Puerto Rico he earned a degree in Engineering, became a US Navy Pilot and moved to the US. After several years in Philadelphia he took a position with a firm in Plainfield, Illinois. Later a spot opened with the Pierre Auger Project, he applied and won it. His office is close to home and the family love living in the small town. His wife is a teacher. He has an older son from his first marriage and a daughter and son. His daughter is in College and Son who is 18 is attending a private Military School. He’ll soon be 62 but can’t think of early retirement because his kid’s educations are really costly. What a good father and family man he is!
We rode back with Raphael, he stopped and gave us a quick tour of the Pierre Auger Observatory. They have discontinued tours due to the Conference. We peeked through the windows then he walked us past the tanks and explained how they work. He had to go back to work so we walked back to the Hotel. It was about a kilometer and Cat really had to strain the last few steps then rush to the toilet.
The afternoon was spent watching TV as I worked on our photos. Cat really isn’t feeling very well. I went to town and picked up the laundry. She stayed close to the throne.
As we entered the dining room we spotted a guy sitting alone. He invited to join him and a colleague. When the other guy arrived he came with a third. They are all with the Cosmic Ray Project. Paul is the Project Manager, Allan is with the Physics Department of Leeds University in England and Project Spokesperson. They didn’t tell us Dave’s position but it’s obvious that he is an integral part of the Project. We enjoy learning more about the Project and they seemed interested in our journey. In fact Allan and his wife just completed a bicycle tour in Spain. He sort of made a joke of how easy it was compared to our trip. I told him that it was just such a trip to China that whet my appetite for cycle touring.
Collecting Cosmic Rays
It was Frenchman, Pierre Auger who discovered Cosmic Rays while flying in a hot air balloon about 100 years ago. They seem to shower in from space, one landing in a square kilometer about once every 100 years. Using these odds they are placing 1,600 collector tanks in a 1 square kilometer pattern over a piece of land the size of Rhode Island. Our own sun emits some Cosmic rays but their hope is to capture those from deep space. The information may shed new light on the creation of the Universe? There may also be some form of energy source, too? At least Raphael told us that our own DOE, Department of Energy, funds 40 % of the Project.
Cat crawled back to bed, I joined Arun, Matthew and Aaron, another Physicist from Illinois. Very bright guys, but Matthew represents an extreme liberal viewpoint while the other two seem more centrist. I just enjoyed listening to English being spoken at conversation speed.
November 9, 2004
A Sick Day in Malargue
Cat was still plagued most of the night. We decided to stay another day and try to get some medication. After breakfast we took a Taxi in to a Pharmacy. The woman there gave us 2 options. The one she most recommends will take 3 to 5 days to be affective. When we told her we were cycling and wanted to ride tomorrow she selected Imodium.
Back home at The Rio, Cat had white rice with cheese. Gustavo, who appears to be the manager though he dresses more like a maintenance man, helped to make sure that they cooked the rice properly and loaded it up with the right cheese. Later Raphael told us that Gustavo’s parents own the Hotel. They’re away right now and he’s in charge. Beyond first impressions, he is really a great guy. I had a chicken sandwich and we watched International News from Spain. Well we looked at the pictures and guessed at the stories.
Either the rice or Imodium or both worked. The Guff Guff subsided, we lay around the room. I worked on pictures and we watched English language comedy with Spanish subtitles. When we asked the front desk to call a Restaurant known for it’s Chivito they tried then called the room and asked why we didn’t try their Barbequed Goat? They had told us in the restaurant that they didn’t have it. Apparently Gustavo helped them find some?
The Chivito took a long time to cook but tasted great. Cat feels normal, even enjoyed a shoulder of Goat.
November 10, 2004
Malargue to El Sosneado
After a great nights sleep we awoke to the sound of soft rain. It was pretty wet but we decided to load up and roll. The Chef treated us to ham and eggs, a good send off. A picture under the awning with Raphael and one with Gustavo and we were off into a thick mist. The road is a long slow upward pull. Out of the city, we rode down a tree-lined lane. The rain thickened then it poured. Even though we had our rain gear on we were soon soaked to the bone. The climb continued and as we gained altitude the air began to chill. At the top we were in thick rain and sleet. Little pieces of ice hit stung as it hit us on the face. Our hands and feet were soaking wet and numb.
Cold, Wet and ALIVE
Once we round the curve it was a slight downhill run into El Sosneado. We pulled up in front of the Hosteria, cold and shivering. A guy came out and gave us some real bad news, the place was closed. They’re rebuilding it during this off-season. We were completely deflated. I asked about another place to stay. He pointed back and said, “Malargue”. I thought Cat was going to cry, maybe he did too. He told us to follow him around to the back. There are 4 little cabins there. He opened the door of one then told us that the electricity was not on. We didn’t get his entire message but Carlos was now determined that we would have a place to stay. He had his boys drag a power line across the wet ground and hook the cabin up. Then he brought in a couple of space heaters.
Angelica, a sweet young girl came in and mopped the floor then hung curtains on the windows for privacy. They helped keep the heat in, too.
Cat put a blanket over her shoulders and huddled over one then we began feeling hunger, it was after 3:00 PM. The restaurant is closed, too. I asked Carlos about food and he jogged away. Back in just a few minutes he came bearing a rack of barbequed short ribs. They were hot, salty and oh so greasy. They were great. The fat ran down our arms and turned into white grease as it cooled on the tabletop. Cat asked where most of their guests come from and why they stop here? His answer surprised us and was kind of strange table topic. The airplane carrying members of the Uruguayan Olympic Team and other crashed on a snowy mountain peak just 70 kilometers from here. The story is known far and wide, there’s even been a film called “Alive” made of the tragedy. The survivors of the impact eventually had to eat those who died in order to live. Remember, when we were in the northern city of Posadas and the big auditorium was packed with people there to hear form survivors? We think it was 30 years ago and still the interested and curious flock here during season to see the crash site. Carlos says that the plane is still there.
Bathing was a brief affair. The water was cold the heater apparently wasn’t working? After shivering through it and standing over the space heaters we discovered that the water was now so hot it sent steam out the faucet? Bad luck for us, eh?
Carlos also said that we could find enough food to get by tonight at the nearby Service Station. Cat continued to hover over the heater, I went out for food and wine. They did have a wonderful selection of wines and some dry soup mix and yogurt for our breakfast. We set up both of our camp stoves and I cooked the soup and rice with cheese.
Our little Cabana was now warm and toasty. We were full and sleepy. The bed was okay, we crawled in at 9:00 PM.
November 11, 2004
El Sosneado to Campsite
Our toasty Cabana has hot water this morning. The cold showers were taken a little to soon? When we tried to wash up we cold only get steam out of the faucet. I worried about blowing the water heater up so reached behind and unplugged it.
Breakfast of yogurt, cereal and coffee. Carlos told us to pay what we wanted, we gave him 60 Pesos or about $20 US, which seemed to make him quite happy. We haven’t figured out whether he is the owner, manager or the construction foreman but it matters not to us. He’s our provider, our Savior! Life would have been cold and wet without him!
Carlos told us of a Sandwich Shop and estimated it was 65 kilometers from here. We loaded up, pushed up the road to the Service Station and bought yogurt for tomorrows breakfast. The clerk there confirmed the Sandwich Shop existed and that it was 60-70 kilometers down from here. Yes, both said it’s all downhill except for one little up, between here and San Rafael.
A Sovietski Sandwich Shop
Out first few Ks were on a slight downhill in rows of planted pine trees. The weather was cool but dry. E flew the first 22 Ks in just an hour. Then we hit the desert and rolling hills. Not hills we would have to push up but steep enough to slow us. Still making good time, we decided to press for the Sandwich Shop for lunch. No sign of any civilization at 60, 65 or 70 Ks. Once again the road has taken a slight downward turn and we are making good time.
Finally, at 90 kilometers according to the roadside markers and 3:00 PM, we found the Shop. Leaning the bikes our front we entered and found a slightly hunched over woman mopping the floor. She spoke not a word to us just a slight nod of acknowledgement. When she retreated into the attached house behind the store Cat approached the door and asked a guy there if she could sit beside their fireplace. He gestured by crossing his arms that no one is allowed inside their home. Disappointed she came back to the table just as he reappeared with a butane tank in hand. He sat it nearby then lit a thing attached to it that looked like a horn. The gangly looking device put off quite a lot of heat. We wondered how something like this would fly at home? It doesn’t look like it would get the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval?
A truck driver had entered and ordered a sandwich. We downed our soft drinks and watched as he picked them up. They looked great. We ordered one to eat now and three to take along for lunch tomorrow. As we waited a cyclist came in and got a piece of the paper that they wrap the sandwiches in. He spoke a little English and told us it was for warmth as he stuffed it inside his cycling jersey. He, Alberto and his friend, Dario, were on a fast training ride, an out and back from San Rafael. I went out and got a picture of them. They rode away at a pace designed to keep the blood flowing on this now cold windy afternoon.
Cat got the sandwiches and as she loaded them I paid. The guy whose name I never got told me a strange story as he counted the change back. He had seen the map on our jackets and asked if we had cycled in Russia. I confirmed then he told me that his Father was Argentinean and his Mother, the woman who had been mopping, was Russian. His Dad went to The Soviet Union as a young guy, to work. He met and married the Mom in Baku, Azerbaijan. Eventually they came back and opened this store. The son spoke with slight distain of Capitalists as he told the story yet they own a shop full of tourist trinkets and fast foods. The unique blend of cultures had produced a Capitalistic Communist? Cat was shivering outside, I rushed away without getting his name or a picture. Darn!
The sign across the road reads “59 Kilometers to San Rafael”. We had asked about staying there at the store and been told that we could put our tent up on the side of the building. It seemed too conspicuous so we decided to move on. By now it was after 4:00 and cooling quickly. Alberto will need the paper insulation as they push into the wind.
Pressing ourselves, we rode hard for 20 Ks. The promised hill, the big one, loomed ahead of us. It was getting late and neither of us felt like making the climb tonight. When we crossed an abandoned railroad track we spotted a likely campsite. It was a tough push through soft sand but we felt fairly obscured from the view of traffic.
The wind died down, the sun popped through and it even warmed slightly as we erected the tent. We’re getting pretty good at it, we had a campsite in less than 45 minutes. Then another decision, why save the sandwiches? Tomorrow we just have to clear the hill ahead then it should be a downhill run for the remainder of the 39 Ks. So, we broke out the sandwiches in lieu of the cook stove. A glass of wine enhanced their flavor. Though it had been after 6:00 PM when we pulled in, we had time to sit and boast of today’s big ride. We were almost sorry that we didn’t go that extra kilometer. It would have been our first 100 Ks since Africa.
The sun had barely hit the horizon, we were sleeping soundly by 9:00 PM.
November 12, 2004
Campsite to San Rafael
Another easy out, Cat put together a breakfast of cereal and yogurt while I began breaking down the tent. I hung the wet rain fly on the fence to dry while we ate. We really are getting good at camping. We pushed back through the soft sand and onto the highway at 9:05 AM, a record of sorts for us.
The hill that looked so ominous in dusks fading light took on a different view to our rested legs. We rode it all without having to push. The hill peaks out and the road wiggles through a canyon of cut rock walls. The other side revealed the sprawl of San Rafael below. The rest of our ride was down, down, down.
The desert begins to give way as we passed National Parque Sierra Nevada. Ell, this is still desert but the constant flow of melting water from the Andes has been harnessed for centuries. Some of the canals date back centuries before the European invasion. The first big patch of green we came to was to be the first sighting of vineyards. The vines lie in rows, the trunks are longer than we’ve seen elsewhere. The most interesting addition is mesh in frames folded down on each side of the wine. It took a little time but when we saw some of the same mesh lifted out, it was obvious that they use it to protect the grapes from the brutal hailstorms we’ve read about. Sometimes they get hailstones as big as grapefruit.
You See What I See?
The down flattened some as we reached the outskirts of San Rafael. The road took a sweeping curve and as we rounded we found ourselves almost in the midst of a group of 20 horseback riders preparing to follow a buggy across the desert to Malargue. They say it will take 3 days, we know that they must be taking a short cut. A few were in period costume of the 1800s. Several were mounted Policemen. The graphics on the buggy makes us believe that there is a Religious theme to the ride.
We were in the streets of San Rafael before noon. Somehow we missed the Tourist Office and rode completely through town. Backtracking, we passed on one nice little Hotel because they didn’t offer CNN. We stopped across the street from the Tourist Office in front of a building a local had called The Tower. Cat noticed that a small sign said, “Hotel Parking” with an arrow pointing around the corner. We put the bikes against the building and she went in to check the prices. It looked like it would be beyond budget.
After looking at the Mini Suite and Standard Room she chose Standard. Surprisingly, the price was well within budget. Rolando, the Bellman walked us around the corner and down into the garage. We will leave the bikes with camping bags on board, down in a locked room.
Rolando is a bright and friendly young guy. He is helpful and seems to have a smile locked on his lips at all times. He introduced us to the included Internet Connection. They have 2 computers. Rolando is an avid cyclist, he invited us to cycle with his group on Sunday but we politely turned him down. Sounded too much like a Busman’s Holiday. The restaurant has a good lunch menu. We ate in our cycling cloths then went up and showered. After we walked across to the Tourist Office but found them only slightly helpful.
Back to our room, I rested and wrote journal pages. Cat put together a bundle of soiled cloths for laundry. She walked there then had to wait, they were closed for siesta until 5:00. We spent an hour answering e-mails when she got back.
Dinner down, very good food, Ravioli for Cat and Fillet Mignon for me. We topped it off with apple cake and ice cream. MMMMM.
No CNN here either, we watched a movie.
November 13, 2004
Ruff Guff Guff in San Rafael
I woke up early and had to make a mad dash to the toilet. It was all downhill from there for me. I tried to eat breakfast but it was tasteless. I went right back to the room and to the bed and stayed there all day.
Cat had the Restaurant prepare white rice and cheese for lunch. It too was tasteless. I struggled but could only down half of it. She ate great smelling Empanadas from a little shop across the street and watched movie after movie. She made a trip to pick up our clean cloths then back to the TV screen and another movie. I dozed on and off, all afternoon.
I pushed the remainder of the lunch rice down and Cat had half a chicken for dinner.
More movies, more sleep.
Sunday, November 14, 2004
Still The Guff Guff
I did eat some ham and eggs this morning but they flowed right through. I still feel pretty sick and weak but we decided to rent a car, see the countryside and seek out the little farm that the couple, Arnie and Helena from Colorado have purchased. Surprise, the desk helped us find a car to rent and as I filled out the paperwork the agency guy discovered that my Drivers License has expired. Cat had to complete the transaction and I was sort of happy to know that I couldn’t drive.
A Visit to Finca Lehmann
Remember Arnie and Helena, the couple we met at Hotel Froussard in Buenos Aires? He is retiring from his teaching position next year. They bought a small farm near San Rafael and we are curious to see what $50,000 US buys here. Driving out toward the place we decided on lunch at Parilla San Javier. It’s a great local place. They cook meat on an open flame. Armando, the Chef even delivers tasty tidbits to the table as he cooks. Omar, the waiter took me into the kitchen and posed for a picture, slicing Jamon Crudo. I was feeling much better and enjoyed the taste and smell of food. The price, 35 Pesos, slightly less than $12 US added to the wonderful flavor.
Our Real Estate curiosity was peaked when Arnie told us that they bought a farm, we think its 25 acres. It has mature grapevines and apricot trees. Also, two houses. One for the fellow, Maza, who is the caretaker and one that they are rebuilding to suite their tastes. The entire property cost them $50,000, US. We laugh because most cars now cost at least $25,000. You can’t even get a Mobile Home back home for $50,000.
With rudimentary directions and a few asks we were in front of the place. We pulled into the drive and walked to the lesser looking house. I knocked and knocked, finally a voice asked what we think was “What do you want”?, in Spanish. Maza must have been taking his siesta? He took some time to get up and going then gave us a little tour of the place including a look inside the “Work in Progress” house that Arnie and Helena will soon call home. A new floor has been installed in the Great Room. They’re building a completely new bathroom too. They’ll have a wet bar and fireplace there, too. The construction is simple but it looks like it will be a nice place to live. It’s not our cup of tea, we don’t see ourselves as farmers but it is a great bargain when compared to California or Colorado real estate. We were impressed and glad that we took time to take a look.
My Chauffer, Cat, drove us back through town and out on the route we’ll cycle when we get out of town. There are a few wineries along the road and a large Bianchi Champagne-producing place near the road. E just did drive bys. The Airport was busy, hosting a Model Airplane Show. There is an Autodromo, circle racetrack nearby, too. We saw some of the racers at the Hotel. Rolando told us of the event. I was beginning to feel a need to get back so we passed on the race, too.
Back at Tower Inn, I hit the toilet then the bed. Cat checked the Internet and Raphael had sent a message, he’ll meet us here tonight. His flight leaves from here, tomorrow morning and it’s another opportunity to enjoy his company.
We went down at 8:00 PM. Raphael came in and joined us but he only had a glass of wine. He wants to enjoy one final big meat feed at the local Parilla. Though I didn’t feel that great, it was great fun to talk with him. He’ll be in Buenos Aires tomorrow and back home in a couple of days. What a small world this really is, eh?
November 15, 2004
More Guff Guff in San Rafael
Another day lost to the Guff Guff. Breakfast down, then I spent the morning in the bed. Cat worked on the Internet and watched some TV.
Light lunch down, more TV for Cat and sleep for me.
Dinner, not easy to eat? I almost had to force myself. I’ve decided that Cat must have caught a flu bug and given it to me. It’s a tuff one!
Another movie for Cat, early to sleep for me.
November 16, 2004
Guff Guff Gets Real Ruff!
Our planned departure today was delayed. I still have a terrible stomach and wouldn’t dare get too far from the toilet. Cat is really disappointed, she just doesn’t do well staying for too long in one place. She did get some Mineral Water for me, I have worried about the water and our buddy Rolando says that some tourists get sick from it. She also found Charcoal Pills, that and the Imodium seemed to help her.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner here. Cat did wander the streets a little this afternoon. She feels great, I feel terrible.
Pasta for dinner but it didn’t stay with me for long. TV til the lights went out.
November 17, 2004
Finally a Trip to the Guff Guff Doctor
A Helpful Porteino and a Free Office Call
Today is another “no go”! Today is the day that I finally break down and find a Doctor. The Charcoal has only colored things black. The Imodium has had no affect, at all. I am so dehydrated, I started drinking Gatorade yesterday but it just adds to the flow. We met a guy from Buenos Aires at breakfast. Luis speaks English and wanted to help us. He insisted on taking us to his Health Insurer and finding a Doctor. Glancing at his watch he said, “I can take this time, my colleague will understand”.
He drove us around looking for the address. Started on the west side then was direct across to the east side. Once there they sent us to the Clinic just down the street from the Hotel. He pulled up in front of the Tower, yelled at his friend who was waiting at the top of the stairs that he was taking us to the Clinic then off we walked. Luis owns a Company that imports electronic items from Europe and Asia. He walks and talks fast. Nothing less than an introduction to the Hospital Administrator would do.
He had us take a seat to wait for a Doctor who speaks English. Luis shook my hand and exchanged cheek kisses with Cat then hurried out the door. We were really disappointed that we hadn’t gotten a picture of him. He did tell us that he was born in the Port area of Buenos Aires. They call people from that area Porteinos and they’re known for not being helpful. He has really spoiled that reputation!
After too long a wait the Administrator ushered us into an exam room and introduced us to Doctor Daniel, who spoke not a word of English. He listened to the story that Luis had told the Administrator then took my temperature and blood pressure, listened to my heart and lungs, stared into my eyes and ears with his little flashlight then prescribed two drugs that he indicated would help. He also shook his head and let us know in International terms that we shouldn’t take the Charcoal or Imodium.
I asked for his bill and he said, “20 Pesos”. We thanked him, he shook our hands and wished us well. At the front desk I told the girl 20 Pesos but she wanted a written bill. The Administrator came back out, listened then went in to confer with Dr. Daniel. He came back, waved his hand and said, “Suerte”, good luck. With his wave of the hand he had waived the bill.
The Pharmacia Dr. Daniel recommended was just across the street. The woman there wanted to sell us a lot of pills. The price was pretty high, I asked if we really needed 30 days of the one and she retracted, saying that we could get by with 10 days. The twice a day pills are Azulfidine, Sulfasalazina the three times, Totallora, Bacteriofagos, Lactobacilos. One to slow the flow and the other to settle the stomach. The third item is a powder to mix with water, Salas Para Rehidracion. I began the pills and powder as soon as we got back to the Hotel.
Concerned with the unknown we e-mailed our own Dr. Ed. I outlined the problema and treatment. He got back to us almost immediately. He agreed and sent his wish that the problem ends quickly. I sent a note back and he replied, “A happy bowel makes a happy cyclist”. Pretty funny, we sent back a short note, “Sounds like something that Confucius would say”!
Lunch was another hard to swallow affair for me, then back to the bed. Cat spent the afternoon tearing the bags apart and repacking.
Dinner down, I still don’t feel great but have improved some. We are determined to set off tomorrow, hell or diarrhea.
November 18, 2004
San Rafael to 65 Ks Out
A full nights sleep without toilet calls interrupting every half hour. I still feel pretty shaky but it’s beyond time to get going. Breakfast then bags down and onto the bikes. It was after 10:00 AM by the time we pushed up the steep drive to the underground parking and out into a bright, warm and sunny day.
Rolando has told us of a place they call Los Arboles, The Trees about 60 Ks out. Our plan is to get there and find shade, camp early then get up and get going and ride to a small place with a Hosteria called Tunuyan on day two. We should be in Mendoza sometime on day three. The entire distance is about 240 Ks.
The bike path runs all the way out past the Airport and Bianchi Winery to the Rotunda and turn off to Mendoza. From that point on the road is desolate, fairly flat and the sun was high, hot and high. Hot would have been a treat for both of us except for my dehydrated condition. I am sipping the powder in one of my water bottles.
We pulled up at the first tree we found. I sat in the shade, Cat couldn’t stand it, the little black flies were thick and seemed intent on swarming in our faces. She found that they let her alone in the sunlight. I needed the shade so buried my head in my arms and tried to relax. I was really feeling weak. We ate a little, I had very little. The bread just cakes in my mouth. I’m so dry that even drinking between bites has little effect.
Onward, I pushed my self until I felt I couldn’t go on. At 3:00 PM I gave it up. There was no shade anywhere. We topped out and could see the road for a long way ahead. There was a little flat place just off the road. It’s not very well secluded but I need shade and I need it, now!
We got the tent off the bikes and I did most of the work getting it set. Then, I crawled inside and tried to rest. It was hot, even in the shade the tent created. Cat got all the bags off, handed them inside then locked the bikes together. I was virtually worthless. Thank goodness for her endless energy.
We sat inside, swatted flies and watched dark rain clouds move toward us. Cat put together sandwiches but they were tasteless and dry to me. I had to use the re-hydration mix just to get them down.
It was a long afternoon and evening. We spent most of it just sitting in the tent. E did get most of the flies out before we lay down, hoping for sleep. It’s pretty hard to drift off in daylight.
November 19, 2004
65 Ks to a Ride in a Garlic Truck
The sun popped up early and it was hot by the time we were loaded and ready to roll. I did get a little cereal down but couldn’t stomach the bread. Not enough food to sustain the long ride ahead but it was the best I could do.
The road drops a little then remains flat. That helped but I was failing, fast. At 15 Ks out we came to our first uphill pull. The long slow pull was draining me. I tried to make it to a little stand of trees but finally gave up the battle and sat in the little bit of shade afforded by a road sign. Hoping to pull some strength out of reserve at first it wasn’t long before I knew that I was finished for the day.
Mendoza in a Garlic Truck
A short discussion about camping here then I made the decision that we must catch a ride, at least to Periditas. That’s about 45 Ks on down the road and we heard a rumor that they might have a Hosteria there. Lots of cars and a few trucks past us by. Finally Cat waved frantically and a big, flatbed truck pulled up. Ignacio helped us lift the bikes aboard. The cab of his truck was hot. I just sat with my head in hands waiting for these moments to pass. Our water bottles were still on the bikes. Ignacio offered and we accepted drinks from his bottle.
His load is a mix of household and industrial items coming from Buenos Aires. The main freight he hauls on his return trip is Garlic, he pointed out several local trucks headed into town and got the point across.
At Periditas Ignacio told us that there is no place to stay. He said the first place would be San Carlos. He’s intent on getting into Mendoza, unloading and getting back on the road to Buenos Aires, today. He has no planned stops but would drop us. The longer we rode the less I thought of getting off in a small town and hoping that I’d improve enough overnight to go on in the morning. I made a unilateral decision, I raised my head and asked, “Ignacio, es posible para nosotros iran con usted a Mendoza”? That’s my best effort at trying to ask for a ride all the way to Mendoza. He nodded approval.
For some reason he pulled off the freeway about 10 Ks shot of Mendoza. He pointed across the freeway and indicated that we should go that way. He stopped a woman driving past and asked her then reemphasized the direction. We slipped him a few Pesos, he didn’t object. Then honked and waived as he drove on.
The Service Station just across the street had Gatorade but no sandwiches. I drank 2 half liters then the clerk told us to try the Shell Station on the other side of the freeway for sandwiches. We rode across and found only plastic wrapped sandwiches. Not what we had in mind but they were filling. I managed to get another full liter of Gatorade two plain Jane sandwiches down. For dessert I ate two orange Popsicles.
Feeling better, we set off for Mendoza. Soon we were in Godoy Cruz, a suburb that connects directly. The rows of shade trees were a real relief from the hot sun. It was an ask, ask, ask journey but we were soon in downtown Mendoza.
Signs led us into the Tourist Office. Cat went in and got info on Hotels, I stood the guard. As I sat I began to hear a young couple seated nearby, speaking English. I asked, they are from Colorado. Sarah has been traveling for 5 months here, in South America. Aaron just joined he last week and is only here for a couple of weeks. They’re just marking time, waiting for a bus to Bariloche. He is uncomfortably sunburned. They spent yesterday at a Thermal Hot Springs. Sarah is meeting two other friends when Aaron heads home and they will trek up Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Americas.
After too long a discussion we decided on Hotel Aconcagua. When we asked the Bellman for a luggage cart he seemed hesitant but soon showed up with one in tow. We loaded it up then he led us to the garage and opened a storage room. It was full of new stationary bikes, they run a popular spinning class in their gymnasio.
Back inside, the Bellman pushed the cart to the elevator then told us that it wouldn’t fit inside. He had to hand carry all the bags into the elevator then down the hall to our room. I still felt pretty weak so didn’t try to interfere. How silly, to buy a worthless luggage cart.
A shower rejuvenated us a bit. The meds and Gatorade seem to be taking affect. They offer a “Happy Hour” special, Latitud 33 with Guacamole and Nachos. We went down to take advantage. Surprise, the Hotel is full of English speaking people, military looking people. We spoke with one but he was sort of vague about their mission here. The Happy Hour wasn’t as happy as it could have been for us. They didn’t have Chardonnay, we had to settle for a lesser brand. Sitting outside was a treat. The temperature was pleasant and we watched them set up for a big party. The Nachos were great but they only served a handful of them. The Guacamole was good too. I asked for more Nachos and the waiter reluctantly brought another, even smaller handful.
We moved inside hoping for Chivito or Cordero. The only thing they had was a dish they call Sorrentinos, Raviolis with lamb inside. Both chose them, they were just okay.
The Aconcagua does receive BBC, we loaded up on British style news.
November 20, 2004
Day Off in Mendoza
The breakfast room was crowded. Many of them are English speakers. The included Deysayuno is pretty good. Fresh fruit including bananas, cereal and the usual coffee and bread. We chatted with some of the Military people. One, a Pilot the other, Martin, is an Air Force Communications Officer. They would only say that their here on a mission of support. When we asked if it was backup for President Bush who is in Santiago, Chile for Trade Meetings. They only shrugged and smiled.
The Luis Connection
Remember Luis, the young guy we met in Marbella? The guy who invited us to his apartment on Christmas Eve, the guy that cycled out of town with us when we left Marbella last year, headed for Africa. Well, he lives in Mendoza and we had wanted to meet him but he, too, is on a bicycle tour. When we talked he recommended his bike mechanic, Pablo. I called and he knew of us and was anxious to help. He came right over with a trailer and picked up the bikes.
Chores, laundry to Lavanderia then an hour on the Internet. The place is incredibly inexpensive, just 1 Peso per hour, about 35 cents. They are also a travel company but between the language difficulty and their inexperience we couldn’t get any info about Santiago. They ended up suggesting that we should go to the Bus Station to get our tickets.
Lunch at a wonderful sidewalk Café. Another group of US Military seated next to us continued the tight-lipped treatment. One, told Navy stories, when I asked what the Navy was doing in this “land locked” place he did disclose that the group includes Navy, Marines, Army and Air Force personnel. The food was better than the conversation with our fellow countrymen and women.
Cat enjoyed the warm, almost hot, weather as we walked to the Bus Station. We’ve decided that we’ll just go to Santiago and find a place when we get there. That usually works pretty well for us and there are several buses leaving in the morning hours. The Info Desk directed us to an area where 15 Bus Companies vie for customers going to Santiago. After talking with several we decided to make the decision later. At least 2 companies have buses leaving at 10:00 to 10:30 AM.
It’s a long walk to and from the Bus Station. Learning the streets and enjoying the sights, we just sauntered along and enjoyed. It was late afternoon by the time we got back to Hotel Aconcagua. Just enough time to relax a little and enjoy a glass of wine.
One of the guys downstairs suggested a Parrilla that would have Chivito. He called a Taxi, it’s too far to walk. Our driver was a talker, he became our tour guide pointing out landmark buildings and important streets. Speaking in good English, he was full of stories and anecdotes. The ride cost 10 Pesos and seemed well worth $3.33 US.
The Restaurant is called El Patio de Jesus Maria. It sits on the edge of a paved parking area and Service Station. Our seat on the patio had a good view of the kitchen and gas pumps.
A couple came in and were seated next to us. As we chatted about our day and planned trip to Santiago the guy turned and asked, “What do you think of the Scott Peterson verdict”? Obviously he’d heard us speaking English. We’d just heard that the guy, remember the murder trial featured on Larry King, had been convicted solely on circumstantial evidence. Horatio is a retired Attorney from Berkeley, CA. He’s originally from here in Mendoza but has lived and practice there for the past 25 years. We talked, told him of our journey and enjoyed the warm summer evening. He has his right arm wrapped. One of his stories was of having just crashed his motorcycle.
Harley, the Bicycle Rider
Motorcycle probably dredged up a memory of Harley, the cyclist we met at lunch in the Bad Lands of South Dakota. Remember him? He rides off across the US like a madman every year. He tucks his head down and pushes into the winds for 150 miles or more everyday. The connection, Harley’s from Berkeley, too. He’s a Professor of South American studies at U. C. Berkeley. When I brought up Harley’s name Horatio told us that they are best friends and he, Horatio, has often helped Harley with information about Argentina. Geez, another small world connection!
The food lived up to the praises of our friend at Aconcagua. Very good salad and the Chivito was served little pieces at a time. They came out hot and tasty. Oh, the fries, they were served with an egg on top. Another connection with the North American continent, remember Pouteen? The French fries covered with gravy that are a favorite in the Province of Quebec, Canada?
Dinner and our conversation with Horatio were drawn out but both were fulfilling. The waiter, Omar, called for our favorite Taxi Driver. That was a pretty long wait, too. Eventually, a car rolled in but our driver wasn’t on board. The return fare was only 7 Pesos but the tour on the way up was worth the extra.
Sunday, November 21, 2004
Mendoza and Ximena
Right after breakfast we called Ximena, one of the 7 Hanon Sisters who lives here. Remember, Maxine who stored our bikes while we rode the bus around Argentina and up to Brazil? And, of course, Xandra, the Sis who sent us up Ruta Cuarenta, Route 40. Cat has often mentioned her name as we struggled in the wind, bumping over rocks and dirt. We’ll get together with her family at 5:00 PM tonight.
They call it Museo Popular Callejero, a collection of street scenes depicting the changes Calle Las Heras has gone through over the past 150 years. Kind of interesting but slightly affected by graffiti. I tried for a picture to put in the journal but couldn’t get around the scratches and paint on the clear plastic. Yes, graffiti is one International phenomenon that, save language, is similar everywhere. Back at Aconcagua I journalized while Cat walked to Carrefour, the big French Supermarket. We enjoyed a Ham ‘n’ Cheese, in room picnic.
Ximena suggested that we come to Chacras de Coria a little early as they’re having an Artisan Fair this afternoon. We set off at 3:30 because we’re not sure how ling the bus ride will take. Chacras is like a suburb of Mendoza, about 12 kilometers out of town. Our desk clerk friend told us to walk to San Martin Street and take Bus 15. We found the stop and waited. Several buses pulled by then we waved and 15 pulled up. The driver knew no English but wanted to help. Cat said, “Chacras de Coria”. The driver asked where and we tried to figure out how to say the Square where they are having the Art Fair. He couldn’t get it, there are 2 squares, and we chose the main one and hoped for the best.
Bus 15 is a local run, it makes a lot of stops. Then, the driver looked at us in his mirror and waved his hand toward the door. There was no square anywhere? We looked out then tried to ask. He stepped out the door and pointed down a side street. Yes, there were booths in the park and people hoping to make a sale or two. As we walked we began to get the feeling that we were the only potential customers. There is a concrete slab with seating around it in the center. A group began to gather and one fellow took a seat facing them. A storyteller? A merchant trying to sell something to other merchants? It was our own experiences with events like this at home that finally helped us solve the question. The guy on the chair is probably with the community. He’s trying to help the Artisans figure out how to promote the event. How to get more people to come shop the Fair. A band began setting up as they talked. Hey, music could be the key?
At 5:00 PM we called Ximena. She told us she’d be right there, driving a cream colored Peugeot. Cat took a seat in the shade, I leaned against a log rail. When I stood up Cat noticed that the wood had been treated and it left residue on my shorts. At that moment the Peugeot pulled round the corner and honked. The Hanon girls that we’ve met all look so similar we cold have picked Ximena out of a crowd. She has the same smile and laugh and uses both as often as her sisters did.
Their home is on a country lane, they call it El Terron which she says means “Small Camp”. She and her two daughters, Francisca and Jacinta gave us a tour of the house. Ximena is and artist and her home is full of her work. They have done most of the work themselves, an ongoing project. Her Husband, Santiago, is napping. They attended a luncheon and he ate and drank a little too much.
Jacinta, the younger daughter, became our Wine Stewart. She pulled the cork and poured for us three adults. She did take a little sip to insure that it was okay. Discussions ranged from art and family to cycling trips. Ximena keeps her bicycle, a prized possession, in the living room. She shared pictures of the trips she and Xandra have made.
Our little party moved to a table in the garden and Santiago joined us but chose not to drink more wine. He’s like us, he doesn’t do well drinking in the afternoon. What a great family they are. Santiago is a house painter and Ximena teaches English. She has a little schoolroom that they built and hold classes afternoons from 3:00 to 8:00 PM.
Time flew by, after hugs and cheek kisses Ximena drove us to a nearby restaurant. We gobbled down a pizza then walked to the nearby bus stop and waited. The waiter had told us that the bus comes at 9:50. Time now drug along. At 10:10 we went back to the Restaurant, the guy who had told us the bus schedule just shrugged, said something in Spanish then walked away?
A young couple sitting nearby asked, in English, if they could help. They did confirm that the bus should have already come and suggested that it should, obviously late. The bus came roaring down the country road, I stood at the edge of the road, waving. The driver, the same one who had brought us here earlier, continued to roar through the night. I stepped further into the road as it approached. The driver put the brakes on hard, maybe he didn’t see me? Maybe he wishes that I would have jumped out of the way? We didn’t know if there would be another so we stood our ground. He smiled and seemed to recognize us as we stepped up and paid the little fare.
It was after 11:00 PM by the time we got back to Aconcagua.
November 22, 2004
House Hunting in Mendoza
We saw Martin and his Pilot partner as we entered. They told us that they were taking off today. Still tight lipped about their mission, we joked with them about Bush. They had just gone down the stairs when I saw a newspaper at another table. One of the stories had a picture of a C5 Galaxy but the article entitled Avion Secreto de Bush, mentioned a 747. Martin had given us his business card. There’s a 747 pictured on it. I decided to catch them and chide them about everyone in town now knowing. They had already gone, darn it!
There’s a Real Estate Office on the other side of the park. A short walk and a nice guy there took us another half block and showed us a small apartment that they have for rent. The price was right, 90 Pesos per day, about $30 but it didn’t feel comfortable. There were no chairs other than 4 at the dining table and no couches either. It was an easy decision, we walked on.
A Dana Point, California Connection
A place advertised as a Bed and Breakfast turned out to be a Hostel, not our style, either. A walk to the Tourist office turned up a list of ApartHotels. One nearby was again, too small. Back in our room, we called several on the list. One strange ad had a US telephone number listed. We sent him and e-mail. He fired one right back with a local telephone number. We called and asked what part of Orange County he was from. He was surprised that we knew the area code. He’s from Dana Point, the same little beach community where our kids, Lori and Dave live. Nice guy and his place sounds great, too. Unfortunately it’s in Ximena’s neighborhood. We’ve decided that we want to be in town.
One of the listing invited us to come take a look. It’s close to the Hotel and the woman who speaks little English made it sound pretty good. ¬¬¬¬¬Sibilla, the gal we talked with was there and took us to see a couple of the places. The lesser-priced place was okay but the penthouse was wonderful. Imagine, the 12th floor, overlooking Colon Street and the mountains beyond. It’s a 1 bedroom, with kitchen, dining area and living room. A TV in the living and bedroom and both get BBC. We were an easy sell. And, by paying cash the price is well within budget. This Argentina and in particular, Mendoza, are beginning to intrigue us!
Another picnic lunch in our room, authentic empanadas then I called Pablo at the bike shop. We asked if he or someone he knows might be able to hold onto our bags while we’re in Santiago. He immediately volunteered. They are closed during the afternoon so we made a date for 5:00 PM.
I typed while Cat went to the Estacion Omnibus and bought our tickets to Santiago. She chose the 10:30 AM Cata Bus and bought a return ticket, too.
It took a little time to separate our cloths and repack the bags, the 4 front panniers will go with us, and the others will stay with Pablo. He had warned Cat not to flag down a Taxi, he says it’s safer to call. Our desk person called for us, we struggled down to the lobby with the bags.
Two Dana Point Connections in One Day?
Pablo’s shop is in Godoy Cruz. Not a very big taxi ride, we were there before he opened. He had us stack the bags then we looked at some of the things he offers for sale. We will probably buy new helmets. Cat’s shell is broken and both are probably beyond their useful life. The Styrofoam begins to get brittle after time and exposure to sun and heat. Pablo is such a treat to be around.
I asked Pablo how he had learned to speak English so well and his answer surprised us. He and his wife were Pro Mountain Bike Riders. They lived in California, yea you may have already guessed it, Dana Point, California. He even worked at Dana Point Cycle Shop. Imagine, two people from Dana Point crossing paths with us in the same day?
One of the Military guys we’d talked with recommended a Parilla on Sarmiento Street. We hoofed it over, I had Chivito, and Cat tried their Ravioli. We both had salad bar and both were happy with everything including the service. A pleasant evening, we sat at the sidewalk seats and enjoyed listening to several English language conversations. A table of 8 guys were so wrapped up that we didn’t want to interrupt. A couple of guys next to us talked about buying and re-habing properties here. They smoked and cursed so we left them alone, too.
November 23, 2004
Mendoza to Santiago, Chile
A quick breakfast then we carried our own few bags down and they called for a Taxi. We were checked out and on our way to the Bus by 9:30 AM. Though the walk took us almost an hour, the Taxi had us at the door in just 10 minutes. It was a bit of a struggle getting from the entry, all the way around to gate 16. Then it was a bit of a wait, the bus arrived late and was slow to load. It didn’t pull out until 11:00 AM. We had heard that it’s a 5-hour trip so felt sure that we’d be there in plenty of time to figure out a ride and Hotel before dark.
Once out of Mendoza it was pretty much desert as we slowly climbed. A guy who must work with the bus company took a seat up front with the drivers and they carried on spirited conversations that were our entertainment. Surprise, we asked if they stop for lunch and the friendly guy who called himself Brigo, let us know that it was a direct flight. There is a town, Uspallata but we just rolled right though. A short way up the road Brigo signaled for me to bring the camera. He pointed out Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Americas and Puente del Inca. I got some surprisingly good shots. Next, a long, dark tunnel and the border. We pulled in to the Border Check Point at 1:30 PM.
The Argentinean side was a wave through. Then, the Chilean side was dead stop. We sat in the bus in line with a bunch of others for more than an hour. Then, inside the covered area, we had to disembark and walk through a slow moving line to have our Passports checked. Then, back to the bus and off load all baggage. They had an x-ray machine but had lots of our fellow passengers open bags and spill the contents out for physical inspection. Our dream of arriving before sundown began to fade. Brigo, now our buddy, suggested that we buy an Empanada from a guy selling them from a styro cooler. There was a trailer outside with soft drinks. At least we wouldn’t starve on the way down the Andes. We finally pulled out at 3:45.
Brigo waved his hand again to get me primed for photos. The bus crested a peak and below was a breathtaking view of a huge series of switchbacks, 30 in all. I took lots of bad pictures and one or two good ones.
After the long slow decent came roadwork, lots of it and it slowed us to a crawl in a long line of other crawlers. The dream of Santiago before Sundown was fading fast. It was after 7:00 when our CATA bus finally docked. Still some sun but we were lost. With bags in hand we set off, looking for the Tourist Office. At a Taxi stand a guy who spoke some English told us that there is o TO here? We protested but he stood his ground. Sure that he was trying to sell us an inflated Taxi ride to a Hotel of his choice we began to argue. Then, like a miracle, Adriano, a guy standing nearby asked if he could help. He lived in Santa Barbara for 6 years and speaks great English. His friend, Bella, is from Seville, Spain and they’re staying here tonight then driving to the coast in the morning.
Adriano suggested that we follow them. He’s booked a Hotel he stayed at before. Moderate price for good value. They took off on a fast trot and we did our best to tag along. Down the street and into the Metro. The trains were made in France according to Adriano. A little noisy but they are efficient. Off we jogged, still trying to keep their pace. He asked direction once then we arrived on the steps of Posada del Salvador. The place is pretty simple, the price is the same as Hotel Aconcagua in Mendoza. No comparison!
Starving, we threw the bags in the room and asked where their restaurant was. The desk clerk shook his head and pointed down the street. A little more upscale Hotel we passed as we hustled in has one. They have a fixed menu that looked pretty good, chicken with rice. Not a lot of food for us hungry ones but it is really too late to eat too much now.
November 24, 2004
Relocating to a Great New Home
Breakfast then we set off looking for a new home. The Posada is okay but we want a little better place since we’ll be here for 4 more days. First stop, we walked to the Tourist Office. They weren’t extremely helpful, some general info but no list of Hotels. The girl sort of waved her arms in a circle and said we’d find may Hotels nearby. We about an ApartHotel we had seen in our guidebook. She spotted it on the map but it was quite a way from the center.
Divine Providence? Just up the street and around a corner we spotted a very cute looking place, Hotel Orly. The place is picture postcard perfect up to and including Francisco, the desk clerk who speaks English. And, there are several guests who also speak our brand of US English. Then as he gave us the bad news that they are out of rooms but have a Suite we were surrounded by fellow Notre Americanos who wanted to know about the map on our shirts. They were going on a tour together. Susan and Moshe, a couple from New York were especially interested, he’s a cyclist. They listened in astonishment then he told of crashing recently. He fell and hit his head. The impact left him stunned, he called Susan 6 times and told her the same thing. He lost a tooth and skinned himself up badly. We wanted to know-how it had happened, he grinned and said, “I was talking on my cell phone”.
Then Francisco asked if we wanted the Suite. The rooms are over budget for us, the Suite is pretty much out of the question. “What is your budget”? he asked. Then, he offered us the Suite at just a tiny bit over the room rate, we took the deal, we love this place. They have CNN but when we asked about Internet he told us that they have a deal with the place next door. Not included but the price is okay and they will bill to the hotel. Also, they accept American Express and don’t charge extra.
The Suite hadn’t been cleaned yet so we headed for the Internet. As we pecked away a guy, another guest at the Hotel, came in and told us that Francisco needed to see us right away. Oh oh, what now? He was serious looking when we came back in and told us that the people in the suite had decided to stay another night. Just as despair was about to settle in Francisco gave us the good news, he now has a regular room for us. Should have been ecstatic but, we had already moved into the suite, in our minds.
Okay, we felt like we were being downgraded but we wanted to live here. Cat checked us in then we flagged a Taxi and went back to Salvador for our bags. The owner of the Hotel was on duty, he asked about our shirts then launched into the story of how his son loves cycling. He even took us out to the patio to see his bike. Then he told us that the boy is in the hospital, he just had his appendix removed. We would have guessed that the boy was a teenager, surprise, he’s 35 years old. They, the family, have owned and operated Salvador for 35 years. He was such a nice guy we hurried getting packed up and paid up fearing he would ask where we were going.
As we prepared to leave our saviors and guides, Adriano and Bella came in. Thanking them, we got his email address and phone number and promised each other that we’d get together in Mendoza.
Back home, at the Orly, the room still wasn’t available, we left the bags and rode the Metro back to the bus station to book our return trip. The Metro is such a good deal, about 50 cents each for anywhere in town. Exiting at the bus station, we realized that it wasn’t the same place we’d come into last night. Hungry, we ate at a fast food place, I had 2 Super Ponchos, hot dogs. Cat chose something a little less fast, a little more better.
It’s a pretty long walk from this terminal to Terminal Santiago. Getting the reservations for a ride back on Sunday morning was a stand in line and wait process. Then, we retraced our steps, got our bags and rested in our little loft room on floor 5. AC and C on TV, rate has its privileges.
A little sight seeing as we walked back to the Metro then back to the room. The AC felt so good that I lay back and relaxed. Cat made a trip to the grocery store. We enjoyed a glass of wine with CNN news then went down for dinner.
I had Steak and Fries, Cat chose Salmon and veggies. GREAT!
More TV, a movie then the beginning of Larry King but our eyelids wouldn’t cooperate.
Thanksgiving, November 25, 2004
Dia de Gracias
Santiago With Doc & Gale
Breakfast, as we ate a gal, Louise stopped at the desk and began a play by play of her evening out last night. When she came into the dining area Cat said, “Sounds like you had a great evening last night”. When Louise stopped and said, “You could hear me”? The woman seated next to us, Liz, said, “Yes, now we all know”.
Louise continued with her story and more. She is celebrating her 70th birthday, traveling in Chile. She travels alone, pretty gutsy for a gal. Liz, from London, is here to meet a group of Photographers. They are shooting the south of Chile and hope to publish their work. She came in a few days early and will travel to the North before going to work. Wouldn’t you know, the photo I took of a Photographer is slightly out of focus. Hate it when that happens!
We walked to the Sheraton, called Doc and Gale’s room and woke them up. Gale’s sleepy voice told us that they hadn’t been able to sleep on the plane. We made a date for dinner. Our job was to find a Thanksgiving Dinner. Even the Concierge struck out. She did find a place serving traditional with the unlikely name Pincho Pancho but they were fully booked.
We walked to the US Embassy, it was closed, of course. We wanted to know if they would be there tomorrow? No!
After a long walk about town, shooting pictures and soaking up Santiago we made our way back to The Orly. The little restaurant is just as nice as the rest of the Hotel. We indulged in quesadillas, to add real Mexican flavor I added a margarita.
Spent the afternoon dozing and relaxing. Gale called at 4:00 PM and invited us to join them for a glass of wine. Cab to Sheraton and fun talking about the good old days, Kiwanis Club. 1974.
They dressed and met us back at the Orly. After a tour and a drink on the veranda we chose a place for dinner.
Isla Negra is supposed to be a typical Chilean Restaurant. It took 2 cabs to get us there. Another round table of fun, they were happy not to have turkey. So, our white meat was Chilean Sea Bass. Time has flown, it was after 10 PM. A plan to meet again at our Hotel at 10:00 AM and we left while they waited for their Taxi.
November 26, 2004
Saga of the Santiago Six
Breakfast with Moshe and Susan. Really nice people, he won the trip in a company contest. Their kids are staying with her parents in Florida. What a wonderful couple.
Our Oxnard crowd pulled up at 10:30. We took them on a local tour that started with a ride on the Metro. Next a walk through town on the pedestrian street. Mercado Central was a treat, they probably would never have seen, not a typical Cruise Ship tour. Lunch in a sidewalk café, sandwiches.
Doc, in his inimitable fashion, approached a group of Policia on the street. He tried to tell them that his daughter and son-in-law are Police Officers in Oxnard, California. They struggled, trying to understand his broken Spanish. I raised the camera and the usually camera shy officers agreed. Did they get it or just give up on the language barrier?
Ahumada, the walking street is decked out for Christmas. Everything from singing Santa to scenes hanging on high. Gale was intrigued by the number of dogs laying, sleeping on the sidewalk. Plaza de Armas is across from the Cathedral. It presents a mix of old and new architecture as well as a strange variety of people.
At the north end of Ahumada we walked through Centro Mercado. It’s a treat, so different from Von’s back home. Fish and meat displayed right out front and buyers picking them up and inspecting. We’ve seen lots of these but it was new for our buddies. A couple of guys grabbed onto us, chattered in English and really put on the sales pitch to have lunch at their stalls. But, the smell of fish and meat was less than appetizing to some of us. We walked on and found a wonderful little Café with sidewalk seating. The food was good, too.
Who’s Pablo Neruda?
It took a lot of asking but we finally found Neruda House. Pablo Neruda is a Chilean National Treasure, a Nobel winning Poet. He ranks right up there with Dali, Picasso, Van Gogh in our book. Like so many dissidents, he was imprisoned for his thoughts and writings in the Pinochet times. We had to wait for a tour, Gale and I feared that our more conservative amigos would tire but we convinced them to wait. It was worth it, he had an extreme lifestyle and this home, one of his many, proves that. He built it to resemble a boat, a Cruise Boat, and the best part of the story is that he was afraid of the water. The place is full of his words and his art.
Another interesting part of his twisted story is of Matilda. They began a romance and it got very hot and heavy even though he was still married. He asked his friend, Diego Riviera to paint a portrait of Matilda. Riviera wanted to do one with both of them but Neruda told him that he mustn’t be included, it would create scandal. Riviera did the two faces of Matilda, the artist and the woman. If you look closely you can see how he wove Neruda’s profile into her hair.
Funicular to the top then down on a tram, like a ski cable car. We rode with Doc and Gale, Mina fears heights but it was Cat who almost lost it as we swung out above the trees. They got off at the mid-point, so did we. It was a long walk down. I spent time walking and talking with Doc. He has been a real sport and walked all day despite having had a stroke just a couple of months ago. He really is almost back to normal. What a guy, and Gale doesn’t cut him any slack, she’s pulled and pushed him every step of the way.
They went toward the Sheraton and we walked back to the Orly. A glass of wine with feet up and BBC News then down to reform the “Santiago Six” for dinner. The place we had chosen was fully booked, Francisco tried several then sent us to the place with red and white-checkered tablecloths down the street.
It’s noisy but the food was great and we truly enjoyed dinner and each others company. They all went for the fillet mignon, I had lamb. Wonderful mashed potatoes and of course wine. A memorable evening with friends from the Northern Hemisphere.
Another late night, too much fun!
November 27, 2004
Dinner with Santiago Chica
Talked with Lindsey, she was supposed to join us for Thanksgiving Dinner last night. A woman at her Church had died and they had the funeral on Dia de Gracious. She was busy teaching last night. She’ll come by here tonight for dinner. She suggested that we see Santa Lucia today.
A Metro ride downtown then a walk back. The hill stands out, in the middle of a park. There are stairs that circle around a huge fountain then on upward. We walked around the hill then to the top. The view is good but pales when compared to that of the Funicular. This hill and the fort atop it are the sight of discovery by Don Pedro de Valdivia on December 13, 1540. Within a year the name Santiago was chosen and the city was officially formed on February 12, 1541. Isn’t that about the same time that Ponce de Leon was searching Florida for the “Fountain of Youth”?
While walking down the pedestrian street we came upon a band and dancers. The male Chilean dancers hold a white kerchief up, wave it around and click their heels as they stomp and make fast, fancy steps.
We rode back to Orly on the Metro. A Dad and son with New York Yankees hat on posed for us.
Lunch in a sort of sit down, fast food place. Chicken sandwiches with green beans on them. Strange and new to us but interesting looking and tasting.
Much of the afternoon was spent searching for an Exhibition of Photography. We finally found the Universidad Catolic but found that the Exhibition is scattered all over town. It didn’t take long to see the small display there.
Back to Orly, we lounged and relaxed the afternoon away.
Waiting for Lindsey, we moved down to the veranda overlooking the sidewalk and ordered a bottle of wine. A car pulled up and there she was, looking more mature and self assured than we remembered her when we met in Africa. You can check the picture taken on New Years Day, 2004. Almost a year has past, her Brother Matt is back home, he did make the trek to the top of Kilimanjaro, his dream before leaving Africa. It was more like a nightmare for us, remember?
Lindsey filled us in on her Family and her job here. She is a Missionary with The Church of Christ. She says that they take a low-key approach but their objective is to convert others to their point of view. We filled her in on our beliefs. Mother nature has no need for recruiters, she gives and takes, as it should be. However, she does need activists to slow the impact that we humans are making on our tiny planet.
A great evening, and a great end to a wonderful side trip to Santiago. We hailed a taxi, tucked Lindsey in and waved goodbye. Who knows where or when we’ll see her again? She is invited to come visit us when we get back home. Isn’t it great to connect in places as widely distant as Cotonou, Benin and Santiago, Chile.
We settled into CNN and our comfortable bed.
November 28, 2004
Santiago to Mendoza
The expected wakeup call hadn’t come when we arose and it never did. So, a little failure but the overall grade for service and value of Hotel Orly is A-Plus!. Down for breakfast, we had the place to ourselves. Cat checked us out as I had a second cup of Café con Leche.
As we rode the Taxi down Providencia, the main street, the Chileans presented us with a goodbye parade. Mounted Color Guard and a brass band. Wow, just 4 short days and we’ve made a much better impression than President George did? Well the streets are cleaner and the locals less vocal!
The taxi had us at the gate of Terminal Santiago at 9:45 AM. The line at the counter of CATA was long and moving slowly. So, we moved on to the platforms and asked a bus driver for direction. Space 46, we sat and waited then boarded and they pulled out on time. That’s a half hour ahead of our Mendoza departure.
The ride up was a rerun except that we made better time in the construction zones. We were beginning to think we’d be early getting back then came the Argentinean Border Control. The bus pulled in and parked. Everyone got off and walked through a drive through. Just as we got to the window a group of students were allowed to cut in front of us. Another half hour delay. Next, they pulled the bus up and everyone had to take all bags off and set them on a long table. A fellow of authority walked back and forth until all bags were present then strutted to our end of the line and waved his baton at us. He had us open all our bags and he dug around in them then waved again and went on to his next victim.
Since we were first we had time to grab some food. There are 2 trailers out back. I had a Super Poncho, then Cat and I each had empanadas. I wolfed the Hot Dog down with a soft drink at the stand, we carried the Empanadas back on board.
It has taken 2 hours to get the entire group through the process. Off again, through the tunnel, out of Chile and down into the Mendoza Desert. The road parallels the Mendoza River that is not much more than a creek in the high altitude. It’s a muddy red stream that I began to think of as the blood of the Andes. Coursing down the veins of the mountainside and spilling life into the Mendocino grapes below.
The mountains on this side are rock and sand. They spike up then are slowly eroded down as the mountain bleeds. Colors blend from the reds and browns to green and white. Quite a unique form of beauty.
It was 6:30 when we pulled into the Station in Mendoza. We had worried about being so late that the Millennium Tower staff would be gone. They assured us via e-mail that the doorman would have keys and instructions for us. The Taxi dropped us at the door and we were home. The doorman was expecting us and called another guy who showed us to the Apartment.
A quick trip to Norte, the Supermarket, and we were seated at our dining table supping on salad, chicken and ravioli. And, drinking a fine Argentinean wine! It’s good to be home.
November 29, 2004
Back Home in Mendoza
I got up early and took pictures out the windows and in the apartment. The news on BBC today is full of a story about former President, Augusto Ugarte Pinochet of Chile tortured his opposition. The current President of Chile, a more liberal fellow, is leading the effort to compensate those victims. Somehow, our own CIA seems to always be involved in the demise of Governments and installation of Military Leadership like the General. Pinochet had been hiding behind ill health but recently appeared on 60 Minutes, the US television show and sounded like a healthy person. He lost his immunity and then to top that off they found his Bank Account in the US with more than $10,000,000 waiting to be spent.
Okay, strange way to end this segment of our journal. Just sharing this morning and this morning’s news but isn’t it strange that we sometimes seem to be on a course with current events?
To Be Continued!
Yes, we hope that you’ll continue to read along as we ride on, into Bolivia.