When this trip was in the planning stages I poured over satellite and elevation maps. One of the spots that intrigued me was what looked like an old volcano in the middle of nowhere. I was finally at this old volcano that looked out of place on the elevation maps. The riding that day was quite variegated. It started with a climb up to the volcano. I had originally intended to go south around the volcano but changed my mind and went north. As a result I missed a turn and added on likely 30 km. On the other side of the volcano I was flying along at 35 km/hr with with a strong tailwind, and all of a sudden the wind does a 180 and it takes me an hour to go the next 7 km (uphill) to El Morro. I sought cover as a thunder storm went through. A hour later I was back on the road. Turning right at San Jose de Morro put the wind at my back again, going downhill with another thunder storm chasing me. I could outrun it if I did not stop. For the next 30km I could feel the first drops on my back. Another 10 km I was at Saladillo. For 40 km I had I had not seen a single car until 500 meters before Saladillo. A car pulled up beside me and the woman in the passenger seat was holding one of my cycling gloves out the window. They had seen it fall off my bike 200 meters back and picked it up. I was reminded of the improbability generator In the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy. They also offered me cold water. When I got to Saladillo, had a decision to make. I had already travelled over 120 km and it was later afternoon. I rode through town and found that it offered free camping in the center. However, I was feeling good and there was a strong tail wind so I decided go for my first and likely last century on the ECR. But only 5 km down the road there was a sign that read “camping cerbezas”, two of my favorite things. And this was the camp site. So I pulled in, and was very glad I did. I paid for my campsite and a beer, and met Lautaro and Melisa and I knew I was in the right place.
In 2009 a flood had washed away the campground and the town was now rebuilding it as a dam had been installed upstream. The campground had only been open for three weeks and they were doing an amazing job getting it up and running. They invited me to have Argentian asado (BBQ) with them. Lautaro also said that if I stayed the next day he would take me hiking in the nearby hills collecting herbs for mate, which I am starting to develop a taste for. I figured it would be a great place to ring in the New year. The next next day we went out into the hills and ate berries along the way. For lunch I ate lizard for the first time. It is true what they say. But I could not really enjoy it as I could not get the idea of it out of my head. Celina rescued a parrot that was in a bad way. And a bird that they had rescued a month before was back to say hello. We also saw a poisonous snake. Not one that kills but you should expect the bite site to swell up like a grapefruit. It moved very fast. That night I had a strange visitor in my tent. He really did not want to leave in the morning. The next day was January 1st and I was off to San Luis. It was tough riding at first, a lot of climbing. But by the time I hit the town of El Volcan the surroundings were absolutely beautiful. It was in El Volcan that I first became acquainted with the Goat Head thorn, which would later cause me such frustration. It was near the shrine above. I rolled my bike through the weeds and when I came out the other side the tires were covered in them. I thought that they were not long enough to puncture through but pulled them all out anyway and made my way without another thought. The road into San Luis was downhill and beautiful.
Leaving San Luis the next day I decided to take the old road rather than the highway. It was a little more wild than I expected, a pleasant surprise. I woke up with a tickle in my throat and the hope that it would not develop into more. The old road ended and I was back on the highway, or more precisely on the gravel shoulder of the busy highway. Just outside a town my back tire was flat. I patched the tube and as I was about to put my gear back on the bike, I realized the front was flat too. I thought it a good opportunity to turn the tires around as the treads on the traffic side were worn. I made my way into town and discovered that there was a campground.
The next morning I awoke to a flat front tire, a full blown sore throat and dulled enthusiasm for the Argentinian practice of friends sharing glasses, bottles and mate straws. The day turned out to be one of the more difficult. And about 30 km into the ride I noticed the rear tire was going flat. I pulled over and the front was flat as well. I had to put four patches on the the rear tube and I stopped counting at six holes in the front before I replaced the tube itself (Goat Heads). I took the old highway as it reappeared, but now there were a few vehicles. I tried to stay away from the edge of the road so as to avoid any Goat Heads. I was intent on a hotel at the end of the day as I was covered in salt and dirt. I found one, but when I went to look at the room I discovered it was the type of place where I would feel more dirty after a shower.
I continued to the next town 13 km down the road asked about a hotel, got directions but could not find it and was chased by every dog that I encountered along the way. I got back on the highway and pulled into a gas station and asked about setting up my tent there. The cashier said it was no problem. So I settled in, had some food, used the wifi until 11:00. When I went to set up my tent someone else came along and said I could not. I had camped at a number of gas stations before so I found this unusual. So I was about to get on the bike and ride the two km back to town and try to find the hotel again. But the front tire was extremely low on air, so I was walking. I found the hotel but it was full, so I went looking for a park. It was Saturday night and the whole town was out on the streets. I found a quiet park and set up my tent against a playground so that I could lock my bike up and have the tent door facing the bike. I was just about to crawl in the tent at 1:00 am when a bunch of screaming kids came to play on the playground. That afternoon siesta keeps people up late. The kids left at 2:00 and I could finally sleep. I got up and fixed the flat. I had only 80 km to go to get to Mendoza, but decided that I would split it into two days so that I could try to do some work on the blog and have a couple of easier days. Not long into the ride, Aconcagua came into sight in the distance. I was still 200-250 km away. I was about 20 km in when I saw a sign that said there was a shop just off the highway. I pulled off to get something cold to drink. It was a shop run out of a house in a vineyard. They had a table around the side of the house. I sat in the shade and got talking to the family. Eventually they invited me to stay the night. I decided I would have some more Argentinian experiences rather than write about them. And I got my longed for shower.
The next day I rode into Mendoza with one flat along the way. My first priority in Mendoza was to find something to put in the tires to stop the flats. The third store I saw on the way into town was called San Luis Goma (rubber). I went in. If it is made of rubber you can find it in this store. I found this.