ARGENTINA. IS. MASSIVE.
With only a 90 day time stamp it was inevitable that my route would have to take me back over the mighty Andes at some stage. With time in short supply I chose the pass next to Santiago close to the highest mountain in the Americas. Warned repeatedly by locals about the hideous amount of trucks and cars that go from Mendoza to Santiago the bus option quickly became very appealing. Lorries and bicycles don’t mix. Initially hesitant with my decision I reflected back on my previous thoughts on travelling by bus on a bicycle tour. Even though the ‘dream’ might be to ride every kilometre, I had previously decided that I can’t justify riding a dangerous highway. It’s just not worth it. It’s not even fun. Sometimes you’re caught out and don’t realise what a road will be a like beforehand and are committed to it. But when forewarned, take the bus. That’s the rule for myself.
With the Argentinian national days off exponentially adding to the flow of traffic I was glad with my decision. From the bus I spotted a semi-hard shoulder some of the time and, as it turned out, certain times of the day weren’t so bad; however, other times I witnessed some truly atrocious traffic.
OK, this is what happened:
After some municipal camping at Tamberias the paved continues towards Barreal
In the nice town of Barreal I make some new friends at another municipal campground and we enjoy (their) fantastic beef asado / barbeque.
The next morning a man is keen to show me these pieces of cardboard. Always comforting to see ‘household’ names from the motherland in a random little South American town. With many cyclists passing through he confuses them with other travellers that have passed through and refers to them as girls from the European continent. I assure him they are most definitely not girls and are about as tough as cyclists can get.
The road turns to dirt as I head up the pass over to Uspallata. There are threatening rain clouds but this rather charming rainbow is all that becomes of it.
After some incredibly laborious slow dirt where it feels like I am making zero progress on a tediously gradual climb into the wind for hours, the paved road returns to save my sanity for the descent.
After camping at the municipal campground of Uspallata I take the bus up to Puente del Inca and the Chilean border and I am very pleased with my decision. The late afternoon traffic is terrible and I am delighted to have no part of it.
Cuevas. After being generously allowed to camp for free inside the local hostel at Puente del Inca I decide to hitch a ride up to Cuevas where I start back on the bike tackling an almost empty dirt road that winds its way up 650 metres of quite steep elevation gain towards Paso Cristo Redentor. This nicely avoids a ride through the caracoles tunnel in a pickup truck.
Impressive scenery ensues.
The pass. After my day off the climb is surprisingly quick…
…and the Chilean border makes an unexpectedly early appearance
Cristo Redentor kindly keeping the peace between Argentina and Chile. That’s the idea anyhow.
Acongagua, the highest peak in the Americas, can been seen in the distance begging to be climbed. Shame it costs USD4000 and upwards
Due to a few mini landslides on the Chilean side there is zero traffic and the descent down the other side is a joy.
Switchback dirt road heaven (if there is such a thing, this is it).
National holiday traffic returning to Argentina with unbearably long queues can be seen below. Bicycles are good. Ride them.
After breezing through customs I am met with some mind boggling paved switchbacks that seem computer generated. The last 30 kilometres of traffic to Los Andes is bad and I’m glad to finally arrive.
After pausing for a couple of days in Los Andes I take short bus ride to Santiago thereby adhering to my new quest to avoid ghastly heavy traffic at any opportunity.
Straight lines are bus travel or hitch hiking – Download GPX
I bussed up from Uspallata to Puente del Inca and then hitch hiked to Las Cuevas the next morning (there is a bus that goes all the way to Las Cuevas though and would probably make more sense in hindsight). Once in Las Cuevas you can take the nice quiet dirt road 650 elevation gain up and over the Cristo Redentor pass avoiding the main road. Then enjoy the descent on the other side joining the main road after it exits the Caracoles tunnel. (The second half of the descent was in poor condition due to recent heavy rain and required some walking, going up with a heavy touring bike may not be that fun if the conditions are the same). If the weather is good the Cristo pass shouldn’t be missed. After a few kilometres you hit the combined Chile / Argentina border control (I think if going to Argentina it’s on the other side). All paperwork in one place. There was obviously traffic heading down but I didn’t take a bus since you can ride much quicker. Although 30 kilometres from Los Andes there was a huge spike in traffic (maybe just peak hour?) and not much shoulder so you could try to take a bus here (although I didn’t research this).