Argentina does its best to slow us down, possibly so that we could appreciate the incredible number of sights on our way. I nearly pick up a hitch-hiker and finally answer the question on everyone’s mind: What is mondongo?
Tuesday, May 29th (cont.)
Alright, Ruta 40, bring it on! When we left off last time, I’d just finished installing the one bolt that had shaken loose. I got packed up to leave my surprisingly pleasant, gravel-pit campsite.
Today, my rough goal was to make it to Cafayate.
Look at that map. Only 136km (84 miles). Easy day right? Well the road conditions were…less than favorable. I continued to be surprised by just how rough this road was. At my weight, 20mph was the maximum through most parts.
Looking for the smoothest track:
Even after having time to reflect, I’m having a hard time figuring out how to describe the countryside. It wasn’t completely desolate, as there were plenty of fields of corn and sugar cane. There were cattle, goat and donkey pastures as well.
But one thing told me that I was truly in the middle of nowhere: Oncoming drivers started waving. There’s was of the full-handed variety, arguably less refined than the Nebraska “finger-wave.” Speaking of that, how would you like to dress like a real person who has been Everywhere?
I thought so! I’ll leave the link to the “finger wave” shirt HERE.
(Sorry, it seemed like the right time for some self-promotion.) 🙂
Some of these gifs will be sped up since I was riding so slow:
The closer I got to Cafayate, the more grapes I saw.
A constant feature pretty much all of the way through Latin America is the presence of a soccer field, even in the most remote communities. (this one is pretty high-tech, with metal goals)
Oftentimes as I ride by, I wonder how it is even possible to find enough people to field a full 11 vs 11 match. The goal lines on this field appeared to be lovingly dug by a youngster’s heel:
About half of the way through, the scenery turned other-worldly. This was around Quebrada de las Flechas (Canyon of the arrowheads).
The road was smacking me around pretty good, so I took every opportunity to hop off and take some pictures.
Someday this trip will be over. One of the questions I will be asked many times is how many miles the journey totaled (proabably 55,000ish). What that number doesn’t reveal is how many of those were tough, exhausting miles. Perhaps I should have been tracking “time spent in the saddle” instead? 🙂
This may have ranked as one of my most “punishing” days of riding. The log roads to Ombabika were almost certainly worse, but that’s a dead end road in the middle of nowhere. It should be terrible.
I think that Nebraskans should endeavor to help our fellow man by sending representatives into the world to teach them how to build gravel roads. A lot of the backwoods roads around where I’m from can be driven at 70mph in a truck and 50-60mph on a bike (not saying that you should). I’m sure there’s more variables at play, but I still don’t understand why the rest of the world has such poor unpaved roads
At around 3:30, I finally saw it. Beautiful, sweet, smooth pavement. This was only about five miles outside of Cafayate.
In the photo above, you can see a diminutive photo-bomber standing in the road. Knowing of this quality publication, he approached me and asked to be compensated for his likeness being used here. We contacted our respective legal teams and were able to reach an out-of-court settlement: Two minutes of scratches.
This little guy worked his way into my heart and almost into my frunk. Life isn’t easy for a stray, especially one of his size. Like me, he had a little gray in the beard, and I’m sure he has a dog’s life worth of stories to tell. I can’t imagine a better welcoming party to the paved surface.
This little tourist hotspot all revolves around one thing: Wine (“Vino”). Pretty much all Argentines acknowledge that the best white wines come from this area.
I was a bit perturbed that my cellular data had not returned, so I did not have it to help me locate a place to stay. I still needed “breakfast” anyway, so I went into a restaurant with wifi.
I investigated some options, but with sunlight waning, I decided to just go find a spot to camp. I’m still not sure why I did this, as there were plenty of options under $15. I think I wanted to get some good writing done, the best of which usually comes from inside my maroon cocoon.
In hindsight, the sun was too low for happy hunting. I basically just had to pull off the road into some brush, then jog around to find a spot big enough for Annie and the tent. I found one which seemed suitable, but which required some creative trailblazing to enter.
Additionally, I hadn’t inspected the ground thoroughly enough. It was pretty much a dust pit which only appeared firm on top. This picture from the next morning doesn’t do it justice.
At least I had some stickers for traction:
I always like to have Annie turned around and pointed in the right direction before I start setting up. This process took all of half an hour, wrestling her around in the dust. It was dark by the time I started setting up. Regardless, I was in good spirits and churned out some solid paragraphs this night.
Wednesday, May 30th
I did some more writing in the morning before packing up and getting going.
This exit deserves a video:
Yes, I killed the engine once. Yes, you may judge me. The lengths that I go to to find a good stealth camping spot might seem ridiculous, but I sleep so much better when I know I am hidden.
I had seen a little of Cafayate, but I definitely wasn’t “done.” Just as there are border guards when you leave the state of Maine, making sure that you ate lobster (reference to this post); I don’t think it is permissible to exit Cafayate without trying some wine.
I don’t normally start drinking at 10am on a Wednesday, so this experience would be an exception. I made my way to Bodega El Transito for a tasting. The price was right, about $3 to taste four varieties.
The lady was really nice and I had a good time trying to explain what I was tasting using my limited vocabulary. I think she enjoyed it too. I asked to buy a bottle of the white and found out that they deducted the cost of the tasting from the cost of the bottle. All told, the experience only cost me about $5. They even gave me a little “cajita” to keep it safe in my luggage.
I did some more aimless wondering around the town. In the center there was a huge variety of trees. The leaves are changing down here…
….but there are still palm trees. I don’t really get this environment.
This strange building begged to be photographed:
There was a security guard across the street and I sat and chatted with him for a bit, asking him about the structure. The best way he could describe it was that it belonged to “an artist.” I’m the son of one, so I understood completely. 🙂
Thanks, Cafayate! Time for me to get rolling.
Ruta 40 was great asphalt again, until it was time for me leave it.
This could be my last time on this road road, but my gut tells me that we will tangle again. Better luck next time, road! Once I left Ruta 40, I started climbing.
The road was patchy in some spots, but I still appreciated the pavement. Dance, Annie, dance!
The conditions got really cold then eventually foggy.
Without too much trouble, I reached the town of Tafi del Valle. This is a very agricultural area that is beginning to become more of a tourist attraction in recent years.
I was unsure whether to stay there, or whether to move on. I knew that it was probably too cold to camp, so I examined my lodging options. On the app iOverlander I found a place called Hostal Camping Pachaventura. It sounded strange enough for me, so I checked it out. It was actually closer to the town of El Mollar, so I rode the bumpy road alongside the man-made Lake Angostura.
“Horse Walker” seems to be an occupation in these parts. My application is pending.
El Mollar in the distance:
I reached the site and knew right away that I was going to like it. It was so rural, so random and my host was a real character. Her name was Tina and I could tell by her accent, even before we switched to English, that she was from France.
It was just a few simple shacks in a field, surrounded by various livestock. The room was very basic, but it was only $6/night and I had it all to myself. There was a slow, but steady flow of internet, but I kicked myself because I had forgotten to buy an adapter for Argentina’s abstract outlets. Perhaps “abomination” is too strong a word, perhaps it’s not strong enough:
No problem! Tina dug through one of her drawers and gifted me one to keep. She’s planning to sell and leave this place so she was in the mood to get rid of things. I was very grateful. I had a really productive afternoon/evening…
….but then I opened up the wine (which ended up being about 14%ABV).
Glass by glass, my productive day devolved into a night which featured a marathon Youtube session of Disney songs. I suppose there are worse ways to spend an evening. 🙂
Thursday, May 31st
My room wasn’t the most well insulated…
…but there was an ambient heater in the room and I had a great night of sleep. I continued to enjoy the eccentricities of this place and decided to stay another night. The showers were basically like a hot-pot. You fill the tank with water, plug it in, then come back in 15 minutes. It was actually almost too hot for me to stand!
The decorations ranged from French movie posters to kids drawings.
Tina told me the story and showed me the picture of the strange ferret-like animal that had taken up residence behind the water heater in the kitchen. Much to her dismay, the cats hadn’t been able to chase it away. The kitchen was actually very well equipped…
…and the bathroom was clean and even had a bidet!
(No, I wasn’t brave enough to try it. There are limits to my courage.)
I rode into town for some supplies and food.
The nature of commerce is kind of different in Argentina. I haven’t quite figured it out yet. A lot of businesses are basically closed between lunch and 5pm (the hardward store included). Some restaurants don’t open until 9pm.
Realtime update: I’m still here. I still don’t get it.
I was able to find one restaurant open. I asked about the menu of the day, which featured a soup called “mondongo.” I tried, with a health dose of futility, to understand the explanation of my sweet waitress. I really only understood that it was a soup that featured some part of a cow. Sounds safe, right?
Upon my first bite, I knew exactly what I was eating: Tripe (stomach lining). This is just the second time I have ordered this on accident in Latin America. I think that’s pretty good. The whole meal was only about $5 and the mondongo was the best I’d ever had. 🙂
While waiting for the hardware store to open, I wondered around an archaeological display that was just off of the main square. The indigenous Tafi people left lots of these stone-carved monoliths around the valley. They were moved to this location to help protect them.
I had a nice, calm, wine-free evening.
Wow…I just scrolled through all of the pictures on this post and am still blown away by the range of sights that I got to see in such a short space of time. The variety in Argentina is staggering. We’ll get even colder next time! 🙂
Stay variable, everybody!
Realtime update: The end!….sort of. I’ve reached the southernmost location of my trip: Buenos Aires. I’ll be here for a few days, then I’ll start coming home, albeit slowly. There are still a few more things to see.