Yes, absolutely, but first we had to get out of Buenos Aires! Clicking in at 15 million inhabitants and with an area of 13,000 square kilometres, it was not going to be easy especially considering that, apparently, one’s very likely to get mugged on the way out! So, again, we resorted to local knowledge to draw a plan simply because, being immensely stubborn, we want to cycle all the way to everywhere (and not catch a train to the outer rim)!
Countless souls prayed for our safe passage through and effectively so because everything went as smooth as oil and we made it to our first stop; Tony’s house in General Rodríguez. Before this face to face meeting, Tony had started helping and counselling us from across the pond before we even got on the plane! So when we realised that our path would take us only a few blocks from his house … anyway, he’s an amazing dude who unknowingly gave us the first great insight into something unheard of; the Argentinian cycling community. More on this along the way, but it’s basically like being part of an immensely big and friendly family!
You want an example, right? Well, as we were saying our goodbyes to Tony outside his house (he had asked us uncountable times to stay but we had only done 20 kms and it felt wrong), another guy on a motorbike stopped and asked about our trip, etc. He also invited us to his house to no avail. Later that day, upon arrival at Luján and having paid tribute to its Virgin Mary, protector of travellers, we received a message from this man (Tony gave him our number) saying that he had taken care of the accommodation for us and gave us the phone number of another man who happened to be another amazing soul who hosted us for the night and with whom we are still in touch! This incredible episode repeated itself many times in the next month or so which finally brings to the point of this entry; we had a blast in La Pampa!
Although we were worried since many local cyclists warned us about it (please refer to our previous entry), we ended up experiencing much more Argentinian culture than in the rest of the country on our way south. Unlike Patagonia, around here there’s a village or town every 20 or 30 kilometres (most of which have an interesting past or a quirky reason for existing) which made the logistical side of bike touring a lot simpler.
The good life?
So our days were spent village-hopping, stopping in the main square (always called San Martin), eating empanadas and chatting to friendly locals. Sounds like heaven right? Wrong! You see, Buenos Aires’ sphere of influence is huge and about 2 or 300 kilometres around it, it’s impossible to cycle on any of the few tarmac roads which radiate from the city. We discovered this on our second day out and realised that we’d have to use secondary roads (or smaller) which mean absolutely no asphalt. On top of that, La Pampa is incredibly flat (we vividly remember a particular day in which we cycled about 60 kms and only climbed about 80 metres!) and seriously sandy so anytime it rained, and it rains quite often, the whole thing became a mess.
We initially thought it would take us about 2 weeks to cycle the 1,000 kms which separated us from San Rafael but it took us almost a month. Our advance was crippled by the fact that we were cycling on very tough terrains AND that our bikes were heavier than they had ever been due to the extra gear we were carrying for the supposedly cold Andean temperatures.
The silver lining …
This slow and arduous rhythm resulted in us feeling pretty gutted and a bit frustrated the first few days, but once we realised that there wasn’t anything we could do about it, that we chose to go that way and that we actually have all the time in the world, we started really enjoying it and the further we were from the capital, the friendlier people got, as it’s the case in most countries. To make things even better, we were still being pampered by the cycling community who were delighted to show us around, host us and invite us to delicious asado every now and then.
The last few days of this very challenging first part of our American warm up tour (that’s a mouthful!) were spent on the Ruta 188; a much quieter tarmac road which heads straight West towards the Andes, San Rafael (where a pleasant surprise was awaiting) and the Atuel River Canyon (where we would finally do some climbing!).
Funnily enough, although we had our heading on San Rafael and had been looking forward to getting there for almost a month, we never did! A few days before, someone told us about a Casa Cicloturista in General Alvear, the previous town along the 188. We had heard of the existence of these places all over South America so we decided to stop there and check it out and we fell in love!
Leandro and his brothers cycled from their home town to Ushuaia a few years before and were so impressed by all the help they received along the way that they decided to build a small but very welcoming house in their garden (with their mother’s authorization) and now host cyclists like Kings and Queens. Initially we wanted to stay just one night but ended up staying three! Apart from Leandro and his mother’s love, we also shared great moments with another bike-touring couple who was there (@somos.pasos) and we really did feel like at home, even if just briefly.
A genuinely special place
One reason why we didn’t stay longer was actually because the next leg was going to be an incredible one; the Atuel River Canyon! This place is the reason why we made a 1000+ kms detour and we couldn’t wait to get there! One thing in particular that we were looking for was some proper climbs! You see, we had just cycled the flattest landscape of our life and we wanted to get some perspective!
It all begins at the opening of a deep and narrow gorge. Here, there’s still quite a lot of vegetation and private picnic areas and rafting companies have sprung like mushroom. It may sounds busy but it’s not mega-packed and it’s quite relaxed. We quickly cycled past these first 20 kms and suddenly found ourselves alone in a surreal landscape which completely changed with every river bend! Rock colours and types, vegetation and even the river itself looked utterly different every time we looked up. It goes without saying that we had an absolute blast!
The only regret is not having brought more supplies (once in the canyon, there is absolutely nothing apart from two small dams) in order to cycle slower and camped a night in this unique place instead of having cycled through the afternoon heat in order to get to a small and quaint village at the top of the valley which was also our last stop before finally reaching the world famous Ruta 40 on the foothill of the Andes… more on that in the next post!
As always, don’t forget that we also have a YouTube channel full of interesting videos about our adventure and that there’s a VLOGs section about our trips in which we try to show more of the local aspects of each country. Two of these videos perfectly depict what has been said in this Blog entry;