Categories
people travel

los alerces

The road kept follwing lakes towards the south. First the lago Gutiérrez and then lago Mascardi. I passed El Bolson, a town many hippies from the capital chose as their new home in the 70s, and also known for its surroundings and outdoor activities. What seems like a place well worth visiting, the description reminding me of Vilcabamba, where i spent more than a week relaxing and exploring its surroundings, i just passed as i didn’t feel like making a stop for a longer period of time. Just as i was about to exit town, somebody yelled my name, and i was pleasantly surprised to see Simon, one of the lovely folks of the Huayra Sanipi family of Cafayate and had some time to exchange our latest experiences.

From Cholila, where i spent a nice hour with good coffee and wi-fi at the café above the tourist information, i cycled the last part of asphated road towards the PN Los Alerces.

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Camping not far before its entrance, i was up early and had the whole day to explore. When i stopped to filter water, this curious fellow was hopping around the bike for a while, closer than most birds would dare to in other parts of the world.

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While looking for a place to rest along the road, i stopped at the beginning of the path to the viewpoint over laguna verde and postponned my planned picnic for a while. Which was well worth it to see this.

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If someone would want to study the colour blue, this would be a good place to start as almost every body of water seems to add another shade to the palette.

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Some of the lakes had beaches…

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And on one of these i pitched my tent for the night. There are only a handful of free campings along the road through the park and a good place to meet other travellers. I met some Argentinians who invited me to have mate with them while preparing dinner over the fire. The next day i already left the park again as there is just so many lakes you can look at, which probably holds true as well for photos of lakes…

so how about some clouds…

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or rivers…

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This is already in Chile on my way from Futaleufu towards the Carretera Austral.

Categories
people travel

the lake district

We arrived in Junin at night and found a camping that was overpriced but both didn’t feel like cycling out of town at this hour. Only in the morning did we see what nice spot we had, only some meters from the river which did go unnoticed the night before. Bread was organised and together with mermelada de mora and a cup of hot chocolate, this is still a combination i have to get tired of. I started a little earlier than Daniel, a cyclist from Colombia i had met the day before on the bus, as he still had to buy and eat his breakfast, but with plans to meet up later that day again. Which we did sometime before San Martin de los Andes. From there the road of the seven lakes starts towards Bariloche. The road followed the shore of lake Lacar for the first kilometers, with San Martin still visible nestled its northern shore.

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There are lots of campings with different standards of luxury, most of them pretty crowded. We preferred to get the climb, that starts when the road leaves the lake, out of the way the same day. Almost at the end of it, we found a beautiful spot to camp and through the trees one could still see the lake in the distance.

It is amazing how unequally water is distributed on this planet. After the lagunas route and riding in northern Chile, water is plenty here in the south. Some waterfalls kept the ride interesting if, for a short while, there was no lake in sight.

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And sometimes the mountains around the lakes offered that little extra that seemed worth it to take the camera out.

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The wind was favourable until reaching the ruta 40 towards Bariloche and i envied these guys a little while pushing onwards against the wind.

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I bypassed Bariloche as i arrived late, which would have left me with little time to explore it. The road of the seven lakes ends there, but they could have easily let it run further south as there seemed to be no end of lakes in sight.

 

Categories
locations people travel

new year’s and new territories

After the fantastic time we spent in Cafayate, it was time to hop on the bike once more and start heading south. It was also the time to say goodbye to my companion for the last two month, Alvaro. Our plans were congruent in direction but not in time. While i had already purchased a return ticket, he will have more time to explore Patagonia. You can follow his blog here.

The plan was to cycle over Tafi del Valle until Monterros, where the main road is coming from Tucuman in the north and traffic considerably heavier. Because riding wouldn’t be much fun, the plan was to find a truck towards the south or, if that wouldn’t work, a bus to Mendoza. Sadly both things were more difficult than imagined. After a wonderful downhill part from Tafi, the cycling indeed was pleasureless along the ruta 38. There weren’t many trucks at the service stations, and if there were any, no sign of the drivers could be found. So i continued cycling south and stopped at every opportunity that seemed worth it and inquired. Only towards the end of the day were there any serious leads. I heard of two drivers at a rest point twenty kilometers to the north on their way to Mendoza, but how to get there or contact them? Another driver suggested to try out a plant that produces sugar nearby, as he was sure that they had constant shipments to Mendoza. Taking the chimneys as orientation, i soon stood in front ot the entrance where two security officers seemed to do their best to help me. But in between christmas and new years, even in a globalised world, business is not as usual.

This should also prove true for busses in Alberdi. After having checked already three terminals along the way, the answer was again ‘no’, too many passengers, not enough space to take a bike. It is hard to get an overview of all the bus companies, as there are many different names. But in the end they all belong to only two or three different companies which have usually similar policies when it comes to luggage. After getting a positive reply regarding the bicycle from a company i hadn’t tried before, things finally seemed to be on their way. The downside was, i had to wait until midnight. When i came back, the guy was sitting on another counter, which didn’t seem too strange at that time. But when a bus from another company, which never takes bikes, arrived and he said i should ask the driver, i was getting slightly upset. It turned out the guy is selling tickets for all companies, so no matter at which office you show up, you end up with the same bus companies. I waited for another bus at two in the morning, but unsurprisingly there was no place for neither me or the bicycle. The two security officers had offered me to camp next to theit office if things wouldn’t work out. So, slightly disappointed but not in a bad mood, i left the terminal and headed back. What an inconvenience it was, when i found out that these two jokers forgot to tell the guy from the next shift about it. And the guy would’t wanna hear about it as here feared his boss would’t be too happy if he would see me camping there. By now a little frustrated after a long day of trying and a fruitless search for transportation, rather aimlessly, i steered my way to the plaza and asked a woman cleaning the sidewalk in front of her café if there is any cheap hosdedaje nearby. After a small chat, the man who had been chatting with her, offered me a place to crash. Being the clerk of the campo de deportes next door, he could offer me to set up camp there, where there was also a hot shower and later he surprised me with some food offerings in form of fruit and a cake. What a day, full of disapointments but in the end, one meeting changed all that and we were sitting and chatting for another hour or so in the empty sport court.

The riding from La Cocha was much more enjoyable with less traffic and nicer scenery. A little climb added to the change in an otherwise boring straight road until i reached the small pueblo of La Merced. A good place to rest at the plaza and to get some fresh produce from the tienda at the corner and roll over to the municipal camping. Directly next to the road, it is still a nice spot. When i arrived none was there but i took a shower and set up camp anyways. It was still fifty kilometers to Catamarca, which should be a short day on the last day of 2014 and i should have enough energy left to join a celebration.

It was indeed an easy ride. Shortly before town i had almost a whole watermelon for lunch and Catamarca wasn’t that big to get lost in and rather easy to navigate. To meet some people, a hostel seemed to be a good idea and i was glad with my choice. The people staying there were almost exclusively from Urugay and Argentina. An asado was agreed on, and i found an open store to add some veggies to the feast. We had a relaxed night, stayed at the hostel, ate, had some glasses of wine, brought out the stereo and later some instruments. Especially when arriving only hours earlier, it surprises me everytime how easily you can form a connection with some people. Which seems especially true here in Argentina.

On the first day of the year, i finally managed to source a bus company that would take the bike, and as luck would have it, it seemed that Alvaro was taking a bus from another town that would arrive around the same time in Mendoza.

A night bus later, i arrived in Mendoza early in the morning and after entering the terminal saw Alvaro getting his bike ready. We had a recommendation for a hostal we checked out first. Confronted with a pricetag at least double of what we were used to until now, we continued our search a bit further from the centre and found something agreeable. But what a lack in atmosphere, hardly anybody greeting other people, and the staff as helpful as uninterested.

We got some money things sorted and decided after two days to change location and visited the bomberos. Especially for those readers who are not familiar with long distance travelling on a bicycle, some explanations: It has become one of the most visited public institutions where cyclists seek shelter. Either to save money or to immerse themselves more into the country they are in. And most cases probably a mixture of both. Because of it being a public institution, i had my reserves about it, especially as some cyclists seem to hop from one station to the next and using it almost like a hostel. But there are also these stories of stations having their own guestbook for travellers and being proud for offering hospitality. What side overweighs, depends i think on each individual. Only one way to find out for myself… In Argentina the profesional bomberos are often police officers and maybe because of that, we had no luck at first, but were friendly advised to try our luck at the volunteers instead. After we arrived and stated our case, we were handed up the hierarchy two or three times, just to find out that the big boss wasn’t there who would have the last word in the matter. So we had to wait until the evening. But what better way to spend an afternoon than buying some bread, avocados, olives, tomatoes and cheese and make a picnic in the park. Something that has evolved to a favourite pre siesta habit. We had already left our bikes with the bomberos and it was rather a matter of form that we received the invitation once we got back and could use their showers and got a bunk bed in their dormitory.

Im the morning i had already purchased another bus ticket for the next day, as i was keen to get to the lake district and wanted to make the most of my time in Patagonia before returning to the north. Alvaro spent the day finding a welder who could fix his frame, which broke while cycling the Salar the Coipasa. He was getting back in time to say a last goodbye before i made my way to the terminal and boarded a bus to Neuquén.

Categories
equipment music people

la guitarra

Already in La Paz, the guitar was out of shape. Sadly unlike with cyclist, this could not be mended by some days of resting. With some meddling and putting a piece of a bicycle tube under the bridge i could get it back to a level that it was playable. Another month of riding through one of the driest climates on this planet and it was beyond my skills to repair it. The neck was bend. And most of the frets produced only a rattling sound with the highest point of the neck now being around the 14th fret.

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While there were no outer signs visible at the beginning, by the time i had reached Cafayate, cracks were obviously showing.

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Also on the top where body and neck are joined. Luckily this was more cosmetic and nothing substantial.

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I adressed the problem as one of the first things after arriving at the Huayra Sanipi. Pepo, one of the two owners, was quick to call up a friend of his and twenty minutes later i was talking to Pedro, an immensely helpful guy, still a  student but soon to be a luthier himself. He took the guitar to his professor and came back with some suggestions how to solve the matter. Some rather cheap, but only the most expensive one offering a solution that would last.

As the neck adjustment screw was still intact, the luthier changed to the medium expensive version without replacing the fretboard. Which brought the price down to about half of what we had agreed on and i still had a working guitar. In the evening we played a small concert to celebrate the rebirth of the that guitar.

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If someone is looking for a good budget guitar, this is a good choice. I’m not sure if the variations in quality are a big issue. Playability and sound were outstanding for an instrument with a such a low pricetag. Just be aware of dry climates while travelling with wooden instruments. I weren’t thinking about how to humidify my guitar until the neck was already bent.

Categories
fashion food locations music people

cafayate

We had received a recommendation for a hostel which is quickly becoming the cyclist hangout in town: the Huayra Sanipi. It turned out to be a stroke of luck and soon all plans to reach Mendoza until christmas were forgotton.

Five kilometers from town starts a trek to a series of waterfalls along a steep valley. The idea was to visit some of them, but in the end, when we reached a pool and the sun was blazing down on us, we decided to have a swim instead.

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Once again i met fellow cyclists Maggie and Bryan, whom i met now i think for the fourth time during this trip. You can read Maggie’s account of the time during christmas here.

Cafayate is famous for its wine. Some of the bodegas are within walking distance from the hostel and so we went to some tastings.

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‘Nanny’ is one of the winegrowers who produces with strict ecological norms. Their patio, which we visited during the short tour through the premises, is one of the nicest in town.

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The hostel displays the spirit of its guests, who left all sorts of paintings and notes on the walls.

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Camping under the vines was as good as it gets. The first grapes were getting ripe during our stay, and especially bryan was lured out of his hammock from time to time to grab some.

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Goat cheese became a favourite for lunchtime in northern Argentina and when we heard about a goat farm not far from town, it was just a matter of time until we paid them a visit to taste their cheese. A small tour explained the process of making cheese and took us through their farm, before tasting some variations with different herbs and we left happily with a piece of flavoured goat cheese in our bags.

One of the best things about the Huayra was the communal dinners every evening, or rather every night, as it would hardly start anytime before ten. Especially on our first evening this was a challenge as sleepiness and hunger were battling against each other. But after a day or two it became normal. And with the adjustment to local habits, mainly taking a siesta in the afternoon, we were soon embracing this way of life (photo by Alvaro).

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Here with Christian and Pepo, the two owners, who are investing heart and soul into this place. On one of these occasions, rather at the beginning of our stay, i foolheartedly agreed to prepare the next dinner. That night we were only eight people sharing the dinner table, but towards christmas, more and more people arrived, and the next evening, our number had doubled. So i was in the kitchen for four hours preparing ‘Käsespätzle’, a dish i had prepared before but never from scratch with making the dough for the ‘pasta’ myself. Luckily, a girl from south tyrol helped out with her experience without which this would have certainly ended in disaster. It turned out great, the wood fired oven in the garden adding a flavour that went well with this hearty dish, and even though it looked like you could feed a peloton of cyclists with it, there was just enough for everybody.

One evening we went out to the ‘el ombu’ restaurant, where Andrea, a talented singer from Rosario and also guest of the hostel, was playing a concert.

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We arrived with everybody from the hostel during the concert, almost doubled the number of the audience and hopefully gave some moral support.

For christmas we prepared an asado, the argentinian version of a barbeque, which is never just about the food but also a social event. In a country famous for its meat, we also put sufficient veggies on the grill.

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The atospehere was like “en casa”. The temperatures stayed pleasant throughout the night and so we had, also because there was not enough room inside as our number had grown to around thirty, the dinner on christmas eve in the garden.

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After which Pepo Clause was arriving with the gifts.

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And after so much work, he stayed a while to have a proper rest with a small bottle of christmas spirit.

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After christmas most people left town. Here a last goodbye with most members of the family.

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And we also got ourselves ready to leave that cozy place and say our goodbyes to people with whom we had shared an amazing time.

Categories
locations travel

quebrada de las flechas

Cycling south from Cachi, one is passing the small village of Angastaco and from there the Quebrada de las Flechas. Textured mountains flanking the river set a nice backdrop for travelling along the valley.

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It is these places where travelling on dirt makes the experience special, as it feels like the road is part of the country.

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Now on the argentinian side of the andes, black clouds were looming over us but still hardly any rain fell. Along the quebradas, apart from the rivers, the landscapes are still mostly barren (photo by Alvaro).

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A tour guide on the side of the road waiting for his group of tourists, who were allowed to roam freely for a while, told us of this viewpoint which revealed the spectacular rocks a little better.

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Some kilometers further down the road we set up camp at the river with just as spectacular skies (photo by Alvaro).

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Cooking on fire takes more time and energy, but in some places it is well worth the effort.

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It wasn’t as challenging as the cycling within the last weeks but still, we were looking forward to an extended break once we would reach Cafayate.