Salt Plains

Trip Start Oct 16, 2012
Trip End Apr 20, 2013

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Flag of Argentina  , Córdoba,
Saturday, March 23, 2013

I thought I had heard the alarm and then became aware that the tent was fully lit up with the light from the sun. We must've slept through our alarm for an hour or so because we usually get up in the dark and have the tent down and coffee made by the time the sun is up. I pulled myself up and began to start the day. Thankfully Kory was soon awake enough to tell me it was just a light from the sports stadium that was directing a huge beam of light in our direction and it was in fact only 4am.

When it was actually time to get up, a storm was brewing and thunder and lightening was close by. We were happy to be able to carry everything, tent and all, to shelter under the large area of the sports hall. After a delicious breakfast of oatmeal with bananas and milk (two treats we can't usually get hold of when camping) we were packed up and on the road for 8.30am. We stopped at a little supermarket on the way out of town and stocked up for the day. We presumed that there might be no facilities at all as we crossed the flat, barren landscape of desert and salt plain.

The storm had amounted to little more than a patter of rain but the sky remained grey and ominous. The road was fairly busy and again, there was no hard shoulder or extra room for cyclists. Thankfully everyone gave us lots of space and often passed us with a wave or thumbs up or long tooting of the horn in a friendly way. However, there was always that feeling of “I hope they see us”, to which there wasn't much more that we could do.

The landscape was flat and barren, with cactus and small shrubbery covered the red soiled desert. It continued for most of the day and has the sameness that made you wonder if you were cycling around in circles or if we had been here before. We stopped for a picnic lunch of tuna and tomato baguettes, with orange juice and saved some crackers, more processed cheese and tomatoes for a snack for later. As we lunched we noticed that the ground was crawling with ants and the air was filled with flies. It reminded us of Western Australia where the flies are relentless and turn areas of your clothes black.

As we pulled away after lunch, Kory shouted out that he had a puncture. Half an hour later we were back on the road with another patch on his new tube. I can't believe that we are now in double digits for punctures, when last time we didn't have a single one. I have told so many people about the Schwalbe Marathon tyres that we have had for both trips and couldn't have praised them more highly last time but this time we have had a lot more practice at repairing them.

As the day wore on the wind became a force that we had to fight to remain on the road and going in a straight line. It had worked so well with us yesterday and helped us along but today it was our enemy again. We continued on, stopping every hour or so for a quick drink, when we eventually saw the salt flats to our right. They are a huge, desert like expanse of salt, which continued all the way to the horizon. We have opted to not see them in Bolivia and Northern Argentina as they meant several hundreds of kilometres in detours and in Bolivia, very bad roads. This one however, meant only a slight change in direction for us. We cycled out onto the salt plain and took some photos of the beautiful white expanse, which essentially just looks snow. It is possible to take quirky photos whereby you emphasise the lack of perspective in the landscape, i.e. one person can appear to be holding the other between their two fingers, but it seemed like the kind of activity you would need a third person to help you do.

We continued to plod on and finally made it to our destination of Dean Funes. We had to options either we would be able to get money out of the ATM, in which case we could stay in a hotel, have a day off tomorrow and rest. The second option was if we didn't have any luck with the ATM, we needed to find somewhere to camp, then cycle 120km tomorrow to Cordoba, which is a huge city that we didn't want to cycle in and out of unless we had to. Fingers crossed for the former. We cycled in to the main square, which was surrounded by supermarkets, green grocers, and clothing stores.  There were also two banks and after having no luck with Kory's cards we finally navigated through the all Spanish instructions to get some money out of my card.  Argentina has been the most difficult country for us to get money from an ATM so far.  We have tried in every small town we have seen but have about a 10% success rate of being given cash.

We checked in to the only hotel that we could find, which was an extortionate 250 pesos ($50 or 30 GBP) for a tiny room, with two narrow beds and a TV from the 1980s. Then went out for a reasonably priced, but distinctly average dinner. Again, we were the first ones in the restaurant at 10pm and most people were only finding their seats as we left an hour later.
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