The road to Mendoza

Trip Start Mar 11, 2005
Trip End Jul 15, 2005

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Saturday, May 14, 2005

We had originally intended to meander our way virtually due north from Bariloche to Mendoza. But we were keen to cover some mileage to get to warmer climes as soon as possible and the option of heading eastwards to Neuquen, then north through Santa Isabel to Mendoza would hopefully enable us to cover a lot of ground on good roads, as well as give us the opportunity to see another part of Argentina.

We were assured that the road between the lakes and Neuquen was flat: after a particularly steep 8-mile climb we weren't entirely convinced that our information was correct! However, we were pleased to cover the 86 miles to Piedra del Aguila and were hopeful that our strategy would work. The next day, Philsy refused to get on his bike, adamant that being even older than the day before gave him some kind of exemption. Celebrations included washing and degreasing the bikes, drinking coffee, writing the diary and trying to think of something else to do whilst locked out of our hotel: our hotelier was thoughtfully taking a 5-hour siesta! The next few days saw us sail on through Neuquen and up towards Santa Isabel, with the only hitch being a broken spoke that was thankfully easily fixed in a local bike shop for the princely sum of two pounds (with 4 new spokes thrown in!). The landscape kept changing but was largely pretty barren, bordering on the Patagonian, with long low hills (would these be 'steppes' - we neglected to bring our geography textbooks with us!). In one area the landscape was dotted with 'nodding donkeys' as there seems to be oil in some of these parts.

Progress was good until we got to Santa Isabel where Starky came down with a cold and we had to stop over for a couple of days to let him recuperate. Unfortunately Santa Isabel isn't a very happening town: it does have a telephone but sadly no internet access. But it did give us the chance to get a few things done, one of which was to get a haircut and beard trim. The trip to the barber was really quite unusual. We called at about 4.30pm as were told he doesn't open until 4 and time-keeping isn't particularly strong in these Latin circles. A gentleman appeared from around the corner of the locked house and told us that they would be ready in about 10 minutes; in the meantime he invited us in to join him in drinking some 'matte' - the local herbal tea. The drinking of matte is something of a social ritual and it would be very rude to refuse. Whilst chatting over matte it transpired that this guy had his own radio station in the next room and invited us to be interviewed after we had had our hair cut. Fortunately Philsy doesn't speak the lingo, but Starky has no such excuse, so whilst Philsy and the hairdresser sat on either side of him drinking matte and munching croissants, Starky broadcast to the nation - well, Santa Isabel anyway! As this was May 5th, he was invited to give his views on Tony Blair; and also asked to give a message to Santa Isabel: advising people to move elsewhere was an option.

Flat as far as the eye can see

With Starky pretty much recovered, we left and covered 100 miles of totally flat ground: flat, but with a headwind and we only just arrived in General Alvear as the sun set. This is farming country and we happened to arrive in the midst of the annual festival, or County Show as we know it in Blighty. As farming sons we were both keen to have a look around and sample the local fare: wine, cheese, salami, beer, cake, etc. And Starky got collared again to do another radio interview, this time to the good farming folk of General Alvear (getting a bit of a habit this). But perhaps something wasn't quite as it should be with the food, as the following morning Philsy woke up with, how should we say, stomach irregularities. So we were grounded again for another day as Philsy languished in his sick bed.

They don`t mess around here when they get the bbq going.

180 miles and 3 days later we arrived in Mendoza, in the heart of wine country and an area very similar to Starky's South African roots. Mendoza seems to be past the half-way point: our estimation of 6,500 miles for the whole trip was taken from others who have done virtually the same route, but we think they might have got lost on the way! Perhaps 4,500 - 5,000 miles will be nearer the mark, but we really have no idea - we're just thankful that it seems it will be shorter than our estimate rather than longer!! Anyway, Mendoza is the ideal place to take a few days out to recuperate, rest and enjoy the delights of this very pleasant city. It'll also give us a chance to assess our bikes which have started to pick up punctures: the tyres are wearing down and we hit a patch of 'diveltjie' thorns (apparently the South African connection will understand what these are) which seem to have got into the tyres and holed them like tea strainers. As we write, Starky's bike is feeling very sorry for itself having two totally deflated tyres, whilst Philsy's is bearing up manfully having been patched up earlier in General Alvear. So it might be worth re-shoeing both iron horses whilst we're here.

Starky prepares a matte

We've now covered 2320 miles, a third of which was on gravel. Our achievement so far equates to cycling from Land's End to John O'Groats, back to Land's End and up to John O'Groats again - and imagine doing one of those legs on gravel. It's been physically, mentally and spiritually tough. It's been cold, painful and isolated. It's been barren, beautiful and awesome. We're proud of what we've done. We think (hope?) we have done the worst although we've a lot to do - cross the Andes, cross a desert and climb 12,500 feet to Lake Titicaca - but whatever is in store will never take away from us what we have already done. We are pleased and looking forward to what lies ahead.

Philsy poses as carrion to get a better look at a condor.
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