In Las Lajas I stocked up with food and left into the vastness of the Ruta 40. Lots of southbound cyclist I had met had taken a bus on this section. According to them it would be just too boring to cycle it. Well, I still have the intention to cycle every kilometer, so taking a bus has never been an option anyways. Remembering Australia, where I cycled over 3000km in the outback and still loved it, I couldn’t imagine being bored so soon out there.
The Ruta 40 or in Spanish Ruta Quarenta is Argentina’s longest road and even one of the longest in the world. It stretches from southern Patagonia up to the border to Bolivia, always parallel to the Andes.
Once I left the town I was surrounded by – let’s say – nothing. It was dry, only little vegetation, sandy and rocky. But I was astonished by the vastness. I don’t know why, but I’m always fascinated from this kind of landscapes, where I’m able to see the road for kilometers until it eventually disappears behind the horizon.
On that day a tailwind pushed me forward, but after 50km the wind turned into a headwind and slowed me down to 10km/h. That was the point, when I realized that I actually had miscalculated my water. My map showed me a few rivers, but of course they were all dried out. I was still not used to that, as water had never been a problem further south over the previous months. I passed no houses either, but there was still traffic, although just very little.
While I was thinking how to get water a family stopped in their car next to me. Father and son got out to drink a liter bottle of beer and to talk to me. By the way the father was still driving afterwards, what didn’t improve my faith in Argentinian car drivers. Without asking they offered me to top up my bottles with cold water and before they left I even got bread and some more groceries, even though I tried to reject, as I was carrying heaps of food. As so often problems just solve itself. The wind was getting stronger and I gave up for the day. Finding a camp spot was as easy as it could be. There were hardly any fences, so it was possible to camp everywhere. Another thing I love about this endless landscape.
There are not many place on the Ruta 40
Into the vastness
Lunch break – hard to find shade
Chos Malal – the middle of Ruta 40
The next town was Chos Malal, what’s the middle of the Ruta 40. Also I had to turn my map of Argentina, what meant I crossed about half of the ninth biggest country of the world. A crazy feeling, just the same distance again and I’m already in Bolivia.
I decided to leave the Ruta 40 for two days and took instead a gravel road along the volcano El Tromen. On the way up the police stopped me trying to convince me to return, as it shouldn’t be possible to ride over that road with a bicycle, only with a four wheel car. Well, I couldn’t really believe them and explained that I’m carrying enough food and water, so I could easily return if I really had to. It’s always funny if people think some roads aren’t possible for a bicycle, in worst case you just have to push. However, after that discussion I was still excited how bad the road will get.
It didn’t get really bad though. It was just a steady climb up 2200m and definitely worth the effort. There were just a few Gauchos riding on their horses and taking care about their sheep and goats. On the top just next to volcano, I stopped at a little hut to ask for water. The guy was obviously really happy to meet another person, what probably doesn’t happen very often up there. He invited me straight into his little hut, which consisted just out of one room with one window with a great view on to the volcano. Unfortunately my still limited Spanish stopped to have a proper conversation with him, but apparently he’s living up there all his live. So different.
He helped me out with water and even gave some grapes.
This one was sitting in the middle of the road. A Tarantula. At that I had no idea, that they aren’t really dangerous. Just big, like a hand.
Before Mendoza I had the choice. I could either take a straight 150km gravel road, the old Ruta 40 or make a detour of more than 100km over San Raphael, but it would be all on tarmac. I chose the more adventurous way. 150km gravel lay ahead of me, I was carrying lots of water as I wasn’t sure about its ability. I just knew about one reliable river and had no idea how many houses and traffic there was. It started as bad as it could. It was sandy and I had to push a lot. Demoralized of that I just did it more than 30km on my first day. There was no traffic at all and the few houses I passed were all empty. I was already thinking to return to the main road, but through my stubbornness I pushed on.
The next day the road got better and I got more motivated again. After another 25km, I could already see the river in a canyon, though the road got worse again. Worse wasn’t actually the proper expression, as it got so bad, that it would have been impossible for cars to move on. Heavy rain probably had eroded an actual canyon into the road. That moment I was smiling, as was still able to continue on my bike, but just until the road literally completely disappeared. Where the road leaded down into the canyon the road got washed away by landslides. I was standing there for a moment und couldn’t believe it. I thought there must be another way around, but the slope was just too steep to push my bike around. In a last attempt I climbed up on the rim of the canyon and walked for one or two kilometers, just to see that the road was destroyed on several points. Of course I could have dismounted all my gear and could have carried around and down the steep slope somehow, but it would have been quite dangerous and would have taken the whole day. After thinking about it for a while I decided to head back. There was no other way. Even if I had been able to get down into the canyon, I wouldn’t have known how it looks like on the other side.
Angrily I started heading back. I passed junction and apparently there was a connection to another gravel road, which was going parallel to the old 40, where I was. But I had no idea about the water situation there and I was already pretty low on water and would just come back to the main road with it. Also I was done with gravel road and just wished to be back on a reliable sealed road. Luckily the way back was more downhill and even through the sand I got a bit faster. At least I had a strong tailwind on the 240km around, what I rode in just two days, so I didn’t really loose time through this adventure and I was still happy to have tried it, the landscape was great, much nicer than on the main road.
A storm is coming
The end for most cars…
…and finally the end for me as well. I had to return.
That seems to be a tradition in South America. Putting plastic bottles filled with water next to little crosses or places of accidents.
Towards the pass.
I wasn’t interested to go into Mendoza, what’s probably just another big city. So I turned west towards the Andes. My first higher pass, the Paso de los Libertadores, was lying ahead of me, as I planned to cross back into Chile. It’s the main road connection between those two countries, as there’s Chile’s capital Santiago on one side and Mendoza on the other. Accordingly there was heavy traffic, especially on the first day of climbing to the little town Upsallata. Some tunnels -short but narrow – made it even scarier. Every time I had to wait for a gap in the nearly constant flow of cars and truck before riding through as fast as I could.
I was relieved that it got better after Upsallata. It was a slow steady climb and unexpectedly not steep at all to the basecamp of the Aconcagua on 2900m. With 6962m it’s the highest mountain of South America and the highest outside Asia. The next morning I watched an awesome sunset with a cloudless view on the snowcapped peak. And then the work began. On the altitude of 3100m all the traffic leads through a long tunnel. Of course it’s not allowed to pass this one on a bicycle. If you don’t want to hitch hike you have to take the old pass road. What I did. Over countless switchbacks and 10km it goes up to 3800m, where a massive four ton bronze statue of Jesus is waiting. On the last meters I could feel a bit of the altitude as my breath got shorter, but around noon I was standing next to the statue. Not alone though. It was the 13th of March and the 122. anniversary of the statue. There were heaps of Argentinians and Chileans celebrating that event. I watched a bit still being surprised, as I thought I would be nearly alone on the top. The way down went fast, as it’s much steeper on the Chilean side. On the immigration I got controlled as never before. I had to empty everything, as it’s prohibited to bring fresh food into Chile to avoid spreading pests and diseases. They even had dogs probably to smell meat. Well at the end and they didn’t find anything and I could roll down to the city of Los Andes.
El puente de Inca. Hot springs formed these rocks.
Sunrise at Aconcagua
On the top of El Paso de los Libertadores
So much fun riding down.