Cycling in Argentina, at least this part of Argentina, is very different to cycling in Chile. We had been used to towns or villages being only a days ride apart and the countryside having trees and some sort of green agriculture. Here the landscape was stark volcanic desert which was very hot, had no shade and a lot of wind.
The distance between small villages, that had no facilities, was often 2 or 3 days cycle and there was a total lack of larger towns. It appeared that this area was a lot poorer than Chile but it did seem as if someone, possibly the government, was trying to do something about this. Each village we passed was trying to double in size. Strangely all the infrastructure was in place, the roads, new (empty) schools, parks, even works of art. They were just waiting for people to buy the plots of land and build a house. This was why villages looked large on our maps, but were in fact tiny. There appeared to be no work for anyone in the villages so I don’t know why anyone would build a house there. Although later when talking to some Argentinians they said that there may be little work but at least it was less violent than in the cities and had a “everything will happen eventually” culture. Or as they said to me during the impossible queuing at their banks “tranquilo”.
We had had a lot of trouble getting any Argentinian pesos before we left Chile and that had involved standing in a bank queue for over two hours then waiting another hour in another queue to get ripped off by a Cambio Exchange. So we were carrying very little cash. No one in this area accepted credit cards and we were about five or six days ride from a big town were we hoped (in vain as it turned out) we could get some cash.
As we left the campsite in Los Loicas we had a strong head wind for the first time. So what should have been an easy roll down a gentle slope on tarmac turned out to be very hard work.
The whole area here is full of dust from the Volcan Peteroa eruption and this has really made my throat sore. So the one positive about the headwind is that it is blowing the ash plume back to Chile.
It was at Bardas Blanca that we were introduced to Argentinian plumbing. Either the water does not drain away at all or it drops down into a wider pipe that then promptly overflows over your feet.
There was also no Wi-Fi here or anywhere else we stayed until we got to Chos Malal. What was good is that we could understand more Spanish here as the Argentinians speak so much slower than the Chilenos. Luckily there was a small shop attached to the hospedaje so we were able to stock up with some provisions before setting off again.
We were cycling down what appeared on the map to be the largest road going south in the area so we expected tarmac. But the road builders had other ideas and had removed the old tarmac but hadn’t quite got round to replacing it, so it was a hard slog along ripio with a lot of very bad washboard and it was 130 km to the next village.
We then spent some time studying the map. It was about 140 km to Chos Malal, the nearest town, with not much in between except desert. We couldn’t see any rivers en route or other sources of water. I know we take some calculated risks sometimes but we do know our limits and we knew the next section was beyond us.
I would rather not think too much about the alarming drive where our driver would turn right round to talk to me, with one or no hands on the wheel, at 120 km per hour, while doing 4-wheel drifts around the sharp corners. Suffice to say we arrived alive.
Luckily the driver was happy to take the cash we did have as we couldn’t get any out of either bank at that time. This left us with no cash sitting in the shade in the park wondering what to do next. No one seemed to take cards. After 1 hour waiting in the bank we were told to come back at 13.00. Luckily Bernie went back 5 minutes early as they shut the bank at 13.00 with Bernie still inside. Persistence paid off and he emerged victorious with just enough cash to last us two days if we were careful.
Of course by now everything in town was shut and it was getting very hot. As we had discovered in the villages everyone here has a siesta between 2 p.m. and 5 or 6 p.m. This includes shops, cafes and hotels. Luckily we found a hotel eventually that was not only open but it took credit cards and would still serve us lunch. They also had an Italian ice cream parlour attached. Happiness!
We now had to decide where we were going to go next as we both agreed we were not really enjoying our time in Argentina. All the people we met here were lovely and very kind and helpful. It was just such a tough place to cycle through.