Endless stretches of paved road disappearing into infinity. At times hours would go by and it was hard to tell if I had actually progressed. The death of my phone and thereby podcasts and various educational audio literature I like to listen to compounded the boredom to ‘hard to bear’ levels. All the while battling with a very sweaty brow and melting brain due a relentlessly powerful sun. I occasionally wondered whether it was worth it but these moments were richly compensated by the limitless camping opportunities on the massive dry open plains and clear star-filled skies. I regard camping in nature as one of my favourite aspects of the trip and these desert landscapes didn’t disappoint. And, almost without noticing, the flat paved roads enabled me to add on another several hundreds kilometres south at speeds logarithmically faster than my normal dirt road pace. Useful with the threat of Patagonian winter breathing heavily behind my ear.
A photo account of my ride through the desert in the north of Argentina on the HOT Ruta 40:
On the way to Amaiche I am distracted by the ruins of Quilmes. A fascinating history, the local Quilmes were one of the few to hold off the mighty Incas and then, for 120 years, the brutal Spanish conquistadores. After finally clinching victory the Spanish forced their captured slaves to walk over 1000 kilometres across Argentina to Buenos Aires. Few survived but their descendants live freely today.
4240 kilometres to Ushuaia. For so much time the remaining distance has been some almost mythical impossible figure. I didn’t know exactly how much it was, I just knew it was A LOT. Even though my route isn’t going to follow the RN 40 all the way to Ushuaia, seeing this number I start to sense the end of this trip for the first time.
Horses and a donkey getting rather friendly?
No. Prisoners tied together under the relentless sun. Humans. Why oh why?
A topic that often surfaces. “What do you think about the Malvinas?” There’s probably arguments to both sides. Even though many seem to be unclear on the actual facts here there’s a very strong “it’s ours” sentiment. “(Arg.)” appears on maps in brackets next to the islands and even on the currency. One thing is sure, a lot of lives were sadly and pointlessly wasted after Argentina’s dictator sent hopelessly untrained teenagers to fight against Britain (allegedly in an attempt to distract the nation from the atrocities that were taking place on the mainland (so I’m told, I’m no historian though)).
The last stretch before Chilecito, fast thoughtless drivers pass ridiculously close and there’s no shoulder to hide. After clocking over 100 kilometres I am exhausted and unamused. My middle finger makes a regular appearance.
After a few days in Chilecito, I camp for free 20km down the road in the municipal camping of the pleasant Sañogasta. This dog decides I’m her new owner. After sleeping next to my tent for the night she follows me, despite my best efforts to dissuade her, for 25km and 850 metres of elevation gain over the pass and into the desert and the hot morning sun. I consider bringing her with me but sadly realise the complexity of the undertaking on such a trip. I console myself that I perhaps I will adopt her later. Constantly running around me this was the only shot I manage to get of her.
The road continues onward towards Guandacol
In the Guandaco square I help out the owners of a famous Argentinian magazine known as ‘Random’ with a memory card and I suddenly find in the middle of to a Argentinian family ‘asado’ (top quality meat feast barbeque).
The hosts conveniently manage a vineyard and the ‘Castore’ home grown wine flows freely.
With some exceptional rib and filet cooked by César, the highly talented son and in house chef visiting his parents from Buenos Aires.
I am consistently amazed by the generousity and kindness in this country.
A slow morning introduces a midday sun that turns into be one of the hottest days of the year so I leave late in the afternoon and camp in the desert 30 kilometres down the road. Here I am rewarded with an impressive star-filled night camping with just a mosquito net. No covers necessary.
And then a pleasant sunrise
As the heat of the day starts to really crank up my Thomson Elite titanium seat post rebels from the relentless years of misuse and snaps at the curve. Tediously I now have to ride standing up for another 60 kilometres through the desert sun.
In San José de Jachal I buy another seat post but am unable to remove the broken one since it has decided to make an inseparable bond with my frame presumably due to rust (not for the first time). I know of only one way to solve this problem…
The local bike shop sends me to the very helpful Milo Moreira.
After heating the bike to excessively high temperatures it’s time to throw on some water for rapid cooling which somehow breaks the bond.
And out it comes with a little brute force.
It is close to midday by the time I’ve solved the seat post issue and decide to head to the leafy plaza and join the dogs for a midday snooze on a bench.
Well over 30,000 kilometres of abuse. Not bad.
My last day on the Ruta 40
After my front gear cable snaps I stumble across these happy cyclists taking some wise shelter from the midday sun.
…before leaving Route 40 and starting the climb up and over to Calingasta
After an excellent little camp spot hidden close to the road, the climb resumes, Just a few days before the pass to Chile…