Some touring cyclists consider flat prairie landscapes to be boring. Not me. I love days in the saddle where I am in the same gear turning the same cadence all day long. You can get lost in your thoughts. So although the main thrust of this trip is riding in the Andes, I had been relishing the thought of crossing the Argentinian Pampas to get there.
I left Rosario on Christmas Eve and was not sure what to expect in terms of being able to get food and water, or a place to stay. I found a hotel that was open and decided not to get up too early in case there was nothing open till later in the day. It turned out that the gas stations opened at 7:00 so I could have got my morning coffee earlier. I was only on the road an hour when a couple pulled over ahead of me to offer me Christmas lunch at their home 20 km up the road. They drew me a map and a little over an hour later I was there.
Three hours after that I was back on the road thoroughly stuffed with great food. The next day was hot and humid. By 3:00 I found myself lying under a tree at the side of the road wondering how I could possibly continue. Ten minutes later I felt a cool breeze. I looked back and a thunder storm was on its way. Ten minutes after that the temperature had dropped ten degrees and I was trying to outpace the storm to the next town. I made it to the next town and planned on waiting out the storm, but it went on and on, so eventually I got a hotel.
As I rode through the Pampas it seemed like every kilometer or so there was a shrine to an Argentinian folk saint (not recognized by the Catholic Church yet) named Gauchito Gil. Legend has it that he was tired of fighting brother against brother in the Argentinian civil war so he deserted and became a Robin Hood type figure. He is said to have the power to heal the sick, so people pray to him for ill friends and relatives. The shrines are often very different from one another, some more elaborate than others. Many are covered in plastic bottles of water or other beverage left as an offering I found this one to be more Interesting than the others.
December 28th turned out to be a red letter day for what I have come to know as characteristic Argentinian hospitality. In the morning I pulled into a town and a cyclist pulled up next to me. I asked where I could buy a large bottle of water to fill up my bottles. He offers to show me the way. Then when we are there, he pays for the water and the snacks I was buying. His house is a few blocks away so he takes me there for some cold water, and I meet some of his family.
In the afternoon I pull up to a fruit stand and the guy just gives me the fruit. Late in the afternoon in am riding through Rio Cuarto in a neighbourhood that looks a little sketchy and I guy with his two kids on a scooter pulls up beside me. After I answer the usual questions about where I am going and where I am from, he asks if I would like a cold drink. I say yes. He tells me there is a service station ahead and to wait there for him while he goes home and gets it. He shows up at the service station with two frozen yogurts and two frozen bottles of water, which are my favorite cause it means I can have cold water for hours to come. That day turns out to be the longest in kilometres to that point (125). I camp near a gas station that night. The next day is hot and I make it as far as Achiras and decide to pack it in. It is a nice looking town.
That night I was glad to be In a hotel as there was a fairly severe thunderstorm which knocked out all the power. Upon reaching Achiras I was out of the Pampas and into the hills. Although there are a number of similarities between the Argentinian Pampas as Canadian prairies (they are both dead flat), there are some important differences. Instead of chasing gophers off the shoulders of roads, you chase iguanas. And the iguanas are huge and super fast. There are also a lot of herds of horses which result in a equine olfactory delight.