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.