Long Distance Is Back
I left Angel's house early after a ton of oatmeal. A solid downhill, and then a long uphill.
A long uphill.
I'd had no idea this was coming, but this was the longest hill I climbed since Peru. But it was pretty!
Then the gravel started. Only 12 hours before, Angel had told me that I wouldn't see gravel for the next three weeks, and here it was, only a few hours from his house. The road was under construction, not only to pave it, but they were smoothing out the grades. I wish I'd known about this hill and gravel before I'd bought a ton of food the day before.
A few of the grades were steep enough that I had to drop Valeria into her very lowest gear. Once, that wasn't enough, and I stopped in my tracks and went over.
The pavement returned only a couple km before the top of the hill, then the inevitable downhill. In early afternoon, I was already at the day's destination. There was another town in only another 40 km. Why not? I didn't even stop for a break.
I kept making good time, even as the wind began to pick up (again). A sign appeared, giving the distances to the next few towns, including the one I was going to in two more days. It didn't seem like that much, at the rate I was going. Could I make it tomorrow?
I got to the next town around 4:00 PM. It was tempting. But...could I make it to San Juan tomorrow? It was still within the realm of possible. Even if I couldn't, maybe going farther today, when I feel good, could make the next couple days easier. I kept going.
I happened across a police checkpoint, the first one ever where they've bothered to stop me, and the guy even asked to look at my passport. I’m guessing they were supposed to do that all along. I didn't mind, as the guy was professional and polite.
"There are two Germans ahead of you, on bicycle."
"When were they here?"
"Ten minutes ago."
I kept going for another 40 km at a good clip and never saw them. I wonder if they set up camp and did a good job of hiding? Or maybe it was a lot more than 10 minutes ago. And in Latin America, you have to wonder if the entire story was a lie and if they ever existed at all.
For the first time since Bolivia, I rode until dark. This time though, it happened at 8:00 PM. There had been almost no traffic for most of the day, and now was not an exception.
In the process of walking Valeria through the brush, she got a thorn in the front tire, bad enough for flat #12. It was already dim outside, so I saved it for the morning.
Well-hidden from a barely-traveled highway, I left the rainfly off the tent and enjoyed the fresh air and full moon. When you get away from cities, full moons are bright enough you could probably go for a hike.
San Juan was about 200 km away. I'd done 200 km the day before, including a huge hill that lacked pavement. Anything is possible, right?
After a long day of nearly nothing, incredibly enough, I made it. 25 km before town, I passed an enormous pile of unopened bags of candied peanuts, sitting there on the side of the road. I think I'll take those...
I checked into a hotel that was more expensive than I'd hoped, but hey, I got another day ahead of schedule! Probably saved me some money.
I tried to find a pharmacy selling gel insoles for shoes, hoping to cut out a few pieces and tape or glue them to my saddle, underneath the now-paper-thin foam pad. No luck. Back to the wool sock and carry on...
Mendoza is the last large city I would visit before the end of the ride, so I figured anything I needed to pick up, I should get there. It also had at least a dozen WarmShowers hosts. After reading several profiles to get an idea who would actually respond, I sent two requests. One waited a week to respond, then said no. The other said yes, then changed their mind the night before. But by Latin American standards, I'm lucky they even wrote back. And there's also a HI hostel in Mendoza, and that's almost as good.
Another touring cyclist I met says he thinks it's polite to bring something to your WarmShowers hosts, as a way of saying thank you and giving back. I responded with the idea that I give back by paying it forward and would gladly host anyone. He pointed out that most folks in Latin America will never get the chance to do a bike tour in places like the United States or Europe, and he's certainly got a point there.
That sais, less than half of Latin American WarmShowers hosts respond, and half of those say no. Some of them use it as free advertising and charge you to stay. So I'm not kicking myself about failing to give back, except to people like Angel, and the Casa de Ciclistas I've stayed at.
I'd heard that Mendoza was a famous wine region, but all day, I didn't see it. Mostly flat land, a lot greener than it had been recently, but no vineyards.
The road remained one lane each way, no shoulder, even though it was the only highway connecting the two largest cities in this part of the country. I'd forgotten what traffic was like. I was so irritated at the volume and noise level that I was looking forward to getting into town, so I could get off the highway, even though I knew the streets would probably be just as bad. At least people weren't honking.
When I got into Mendoza, what a relief! The highway spread to two lanes each way and a shoulder, with virtually no increase in traffic volume! The roads were straight and wide, and intersected each other at right angles! Not every intersection had a stoplight! The roads were conducive to going somewhere! On top of that, Mendoza didn't look like a dump!
I found the HI hostel and did some work online, then asked about a good place to eat asado (Argentinian barbecue). The place the guy recommended was ten blocks away, so I figured if he was making me walk that far, it must be good.
Never before have I ordered something, only to be told by the waiter not to get it. I asked why, and he made gestures like it would give me indigestion or something. So instead of the mixed grill, I got the veal ribs. And some local malbec wine.
I'd expected veal ribs to be incredibly tender, since both veal and ribs certainly can be. Both were tough, and flavorful, but not especially so. I was a little disappointed.
The wine cost $7. That’s...kind of expensive...but I’ve seen a glass of wine that costs even more, and this was supposed to be one of the world’s premier wine region. It would be worth it just this once.
When the waiter came with the wine, he brought an entire bottle, uncorked it in front of me, poured me a glass, and left the bottle on the table. I figured they go ahead and uncork it for you when they’re opening a new one, for presentation. But otherwise, they probably bring the glass alone. In any case, it was damn good!
Later, the waiter asked, "Aren't you going to have more wine?"
"Maybe...I don't know if I want another glass."
"You have an entire bottle!"
"I get the whole bottle??"
Turns out it’s $7 for the entire bottle! Normally, a bottle costs more than that in a store. Most restaurants charge that much, or more, for a single glass. But in Argentina, wine is $7 per bottle in restaurants! I poured another glass.
I wound up talking to the nice folks at the table next to mine, and as it turned out, they were from LA, where my parents grew up, but used to live in Plano, my hometown. Small world.
I still had half the bottle of wine left at the end of dinner.
"What do I do with this?" I asked the waiter.
"Whatever you want! It's yours, you paid for it."
I walked back to the hostel, bottle of high-end malbec in hand, drinking it straight from the bottle. In Latin America, this is totally OK, normal even. About a quarter of it was left when I got back to the hostel, and I shared it with folks staying there. A whole bottle is a lot for a guy my size.
Last big city under my belt. I had done 570 km in three days. I felt good about taking on the vast emptiness between myself and the final destination.