Cycling days 229 to 233: - Belen to San Juan
Trip Start Apr 07, 2010
120Trip End Jan 19, 2012
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We hang out at Antonio's house until almost 1pm, then start to exit Belen when a lonely New Zealander waves us down. We end up chatting with him for about an hour and he invites us for a beer, but alas, we must get this show on the road. The late start is okay because the hottest part of the day is passing, but even still, it’s a whopping 41⁰C. The air is so dry and we are guzzling down a lot of water. Beyond a small town called Londre, the road aims straight through the desert passed scrub brush, thorny trees, and the foothills of the Andes. For the next 80km, the scenery is so repetitive, we could swear we are going in circles if we couldn’t see the road stretch on ahead of us as far as the eye can see.
We make it to Cerro Negro, which we thought would be a town from the way it’s marked on our map and the road signs, but the point comes and goes without a single building sight, neither inhabited nor abandoned. Interesting.
We are on the move by 7:45am and immediately arrive at a series of small pueblos collectively called San Blas de Las Sauces. Stores don’t start opening until 9:30am and no one has fresh bread, so our awaited breakfast is a little less than perfect. As we sit in the shade to eat and get buzzed by hundreds of flies, we can tell today is going to be a scorcher.
Just as we are thinking about how stinky, sticky, and salty we are and how we would just love to hose ourselves off with all our clothes on to freshen up, we pass by a delivery truck that has spilled some goods on the road along a sharp turn. Hmm, smells like laundry detergent. We turn around and ask the guys if we could have one of the busted bags of detergent and they happily give it to us. How perfect is that, soap to de-stink us! Yannick announces it’s the 5-series with 25km to the next town, it is 5:05pm, we have put in 5hours and 45minutes of saddle time, covered 105km, and it is now 35⁰C.
We finished the Pacific Crest Trail precisely one year ago, and now we have the length of the PCT left to Ushuaia. Well, that is if we take the direct route South, but that likely won’t be the case – we are thinking of heading back into Chile and doing the supposedly super scenic Carratera Austral. That’s a little too far into the future to think about right now though; today we concentrate on getting over these mountains ahead of us without getting heat stroke!
The next 30km is mellow uphill on paved road, but when we see what’s coming, we get a little fearful: the dirt section is rocky and steep…and we can see the road climb high ahead of us. Oh boy, the wind gets still and it’s the hottest time of the day as well. Fortunately, as we gain a couple kilometers, the breeze comes and we are feeling pretty good.
After a little debating, we take the 3km detour into town in search of dinner – the supermercado has steaming HOT bread, so we have more ham and cheese sandwiches. By the time we are done chilln’ it’s 8:15pm and we ride out town as night falls. Another couple kilometers and we pull off the road to set up the tent…in mosquito land, aagh! We zip the tent closed, happy we don’t have to deal with dinner and start the killing spree. Ugh, this reminds us so much of the PCT…
Day 232 (11/5/11): 148km
The long, straight desert road undulates up and down in a mind numbingly monotonous manner. For 100km, Ruta 40 stretches ahead of us and we roll along, up and down, up and down for the next six hours. Yannick says, “It’s so harsh out here, there are no signs of life…just dead cows” as we pass yet another preserved carcass. It is so hot and dry that the hallow hides keep their cow shape around air and bones. We stare at the sand, the asphalt, the thorny weeds lining the road as we ride up and down, and aim dead ahead, slowly yet surely gaining altitude.
We finally arrive at an intersection with a confusing new road lacking road signs. The policeman who gives us a bottle of ice water says to take a certain direction on the new road, so we go there. The man in a truck half-ass gives us directions to take another way. The woman on the moped says to take the new road because the way the man in the truck directed us to go is longer and mostly unpaved. The man on the bicycle confirms what the policeman and the woman said. Okay, the new road it is then. After a few kilometers on the new road, the pavement ends and turns to washboard, making us wonder if this new road is too new, crap. Oh well, the other way was supposed to be dirt anyway, so at least this is supposed to be shorter. A few more kilometers later, the road is paved again, woohoo! We try not to get our hopes up too high though because we don’t know how long this will last. We’ll just be happy with what get because this gradual uphill in the heat is really sucking all of our energy.
We hit 120km and 7-1/2 hours of saddle time and we are running out of juice. We take another quick break to eat some cookies and nougat wishing our downtime could last longer, but we have to choose between trying to rest, but really wasting energy shooing flies from our legs, ears, eyes, and nostrils, or pedaling to outrun the annoying insects. We trudge on, waiting for our bodies to absorb the sugar we’ve ingested.
The road remains paved, smooth, and barely has any traffic – a cyclist’s dream. Too hot to stop any earlier, we ride until 8:15pm and go camp in another sandy wash, the only place relatively free of thorns. Even this late, it seems as though we stopped too early because we are swarmed by thousands of little flies – so many we have to squint to keep them out of our eyes as we rapidly set the tent. Ugh, at least they aren’t mosquitos! We climb into the tent, swat hundreds of flies out the door, have a dinner of cold mashed potatoes. We are relieved when the temperature cools, all the flies have gone to bed, and we are free to let the tent vent. Ah, cool breeze feels good.
Day 233 (11/6/11): 179km
Thousands of flies return in the morning to bid us farewell. We ride just a few kilometers to a tiny pueblo where we refill our water and buy some food. As we continue on, the next three pueblos on the map turn out to be abandoned and we make due with what we have until we reach a lone little restaurant along the side of the road. We buy a cold drink that is oh-so refreshing and worth it’s expensive price tag. We sit inside, enjoying the shade, sitting on chairs, and not being bothered by bugs.
Long days, little shade, irritating insects, a bit of tailwind, and mostly flat terrain means we put in a lot of time on the saddle and keep a good pace throughout the day. We didn’t plan on it this morning, but we make it 150km to San Juan by 4:30pm. We wash off and do laundry at a gas station, then proceed through the empty streets. It’s Sunday afternoon and everything is closed except for one bakery where we buy some goodies, of course!
Just under 180km today, our 2nd longest distance day and surprisingly, we don’t feel that tired. That’s too bad because if we were exhausted, maybe we could sleep in this 31⁰C heat. We forego setting up the tent tonight to have a little more ventilation.