Andes Trail Stages 70-75, Nov 2-7, 2019

Stages 70-75 of 109, days 96-101 of 142

Photos and routes on Strava

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America7,3791,12775,939
Andes Trail7,0931,11872,329X
    Ecuador9123016,265
    Peru2,62251528,702
    Bolivia1,1012227,426
    Argentina2,45635120,036

Missed distance 282km, 3.5 stages (19/20 and 31/32)

Before this block of six riding days we had a couple of wonderful rest days in Mendoza. Our guide Rob described Mendoza as “the most developed city on the tour” and I think he’s right. It’s a wonderful place and our campsite was our best yet even though it was 8km from the center. It was quiet, shaded, had a pool with water, covered roofs with power for each tent, and decent wifi throughout – perfect. Four of us made a champagne breakfast for the staff on the first rest day, a big surprise for them.

After bike maintenance, we taxied into town and had a great time eating, drinking, scoring Pesos from the semi-shady money guys who always hang out near the official money changing places. ATMs in Argentina charge ridiculous fees, at least 15% and up to 45%, so we avoid them on principle. After some nice beer tasting, we had dinner at a fabulous restaurant that would be super popular if it were at home, just an amazing place. Restaurants don’t get going until 8pm and we were there until after midnight, highly unusual for us. Then a 1am skinny dip, what a perfect rest day!

For the last time on the trip we had a second rest day. After a very relaxing morning, we taxied into town for a late lunch/early dinner, at our same favorite restaurant, Josefina Resto. We arrived before the afternoon closing, so it was perfect, sitting outside, sipping fine wine and eating like kings.

Back at camp, more swimming, hanging out; it was the best rest day ever to use a phrase that’s constantly overused on this trip.

For stage 70, our first in November, we had a couple of new riders and it was longer than usual at 143km. We were under orders not to arrive early at lunch due to a long detour the lunch truck had to take, so we took it easy in the morning. Lunch was at 69km, at a beautiful spot, then we had a fast non-stop ride to San Carlos, ending at a very nice grassy campground. Their bar was great, many drinks were had, then a long athletic ball game in the pool. After dinner we walked to the square and found a clothing store that also sold ice-cream so the day was complete.

The only bummer was the massive loud party that went on until 5am next door, but I still manged some sleep. Stage 71 took us down Ruta 40 some more, but since previous versions of the tour, the road had been remade and we got to stay on pavement and skip a long dirt detour. We had some wind but the new route was great, ending at a funny bushcamp under a big bridge.

When the truck arrived a couple of other cars of locals were there, but by late afternoon, it was crowded with families barbecuing and hanging out. We set up our tents on the barren dirt and sought out the shade under the bridge. But soon, the wind switched direction 180° and increased massively sending all the locals away and filling many of our tents with sand. Dinner was in the shelter of the trucks, but windy. It finally died down at night, but sand was everywhere.

We continued south in the morning and at first it seemed like a great day. But after 15km, it was like someone turned on a valve somewhere – very strong wind, mostly from the side. I was riding with a slower group and led the whole way, but Twan behind me was doing just as much work. We cranked it out for 55km, until we turned onto the old road. The next 11km to lunch was really tough, straight into the wind. After lunch, we did have a section with a tailwind, coasting effortlessly at 45, but mostly it was super hard cranking, sometimes through terrible dust. Finally in Malargüe there were enough trees so the wind the last km or two was ok. The campground was pretty nice, with soft grass and hot showers. Here we had to say a temporary good-bye to Wytze, going home to Holland for his mother-in-law’s funeral. A few of us walked him to the bus station and had a little good-bye party in a bar. We’ll miss riding with him but he’ll return soon in Bariloche. Dinner was a yummy barbecue.

Stage 73 took us to another bushcamp, this time in the middle of nowhere. It seemed like an easy day at first, cruising Ruta 40 but at lunch we were talking about how you never know.

And sure enough, it turned out that after the previous Andes Trail tour in 2016, they decided to repave the road from here. So they removed all the pavement and now we were left with 25km of the crappiest of gravel roads. The kind where you sink in so it feels like your tires are flat, and it’s very inefficient and squirrely. But we finally made it (some not until after 5) and set up camp at a funny ranch where a family lived – I don’t know what they do there. I was on kitchen duty after volunteering the previous night and it was pizza night. There was an outdoor pizza oven and we had a long and involved dinner ending way after dark near 10pm. Some riders didn’t appreciate this and had to sleep early but I stuck it out until the end, washing dishes until late and getting a second dessert as a reward.

We had a late start the next morning (which some riders hate) with breakfast at 8. Due to the now unpaved road, the trucks were full of riders who didn’t think they could make it so loading and starting took until nearly 9:45. Then we had 60km of dirt, with some climbing through a beautiful area, but with killer headwinds at the end to lunch. Luckily the gravel was mostly not as soft as the day before. Still it took a long time to do that 60km to lunch. After, we were on pavement all the way to Barancas, with the big excitement being crossing the Rio Barancas which is regarded as the northern border of Patagonia. Sure enough there was a sign.

Then we had our “Welcome to Patagonia” moment. From the bridge it is something like 4km to town which sounds dead easy even though it’s steeply uphill. But that wind! It was a gigantic, full-on headwind. 4km took a long time. And on arrival, it was siesta time with everything closed. Things were looking grim as our hearts were set on ice-cream and beer, but luckily the campground at least had cold beer. We set up, used their wifi (no one’s phone worked in this town), and I even had a nice call home with Grace. Kirsten and Gareth kindly let me shower in their room, as the camp shower (singular) was cold. It was Guillermo’s birthday so we had several special cakes for dessert which was fun. I slept like a rock until 3am, then went to pee and couldn’t sleep more due to the loud party going on next door. These people really like to stay up late and love their music loud. They called it quits at 5am which is right when the dogs and roosters started going off.

Our first day of Patagonian riding had a choice: you could take the Rob route, 94km with 80km dirt, climbing 1500m, or stay on paved Ruta 40 for 122km. He could only say that the wind would determine everything and that the paved road usually had vicious headwinds for the last 40km. The lunch truck took the dirt way, and it looked more scenic on the map so I took that route with nearly everyone. The lack of support on the paved route scared some and only four riders ended up going that way. We left town together but split off right away and started climbing on pretty smooth, nice dirt. It continued that way and the winds were light so we were encouraged. As we got higher, the road became more like just two tire tracks and there were some very steep parts, some with rocks that required concentration. But soon (over 3 hours) we were up at the pass at 2300m for lunch. There was almost no wind and Rob and the crew were amazed. The last two times they were here it was hard to stand and everyone ate lunch in the truck. This time we sat out for an hour, enjoying the warm sun and the “10” views as well as a fantastic lunch.

Then we started a 40km dirt descent that turned out to be the most fun biking in quite a while. We passed a lake full of hundreds of flamingos, amazing lava floes, and even got to see an armadillo up close.

Did you know armadillos can run fast? They look like little tanks with cute armored tails.

Then the descent started for real and it was full speed downhill off-road awesomeness. Twan, Miranda, Winnie, Jan and I just blasted it. It was steep, rough and rocky so 35 kph felt really fast and 40 was crazy. We went up to 45 at one point, flying over rocks, I don’t really understand how the bikes can take this again and again with no problems at all. Well, we could hear all our chains at the end, begging for lube, but other than that, and Winnie losing his water bottles again, the bikes were perfect. I kissed mine at the pavement. We cruised down to Chos Malal, racing to see who could hold the best tuck, and made it to the hotel. It was really nice to get upgraded from a questionable campground to a hotel, especially when we have a rest day here. In the courtyard in the back, Anneke and the crew had out done themselves on snacks. Besides soup there were many types of appetizers, so yummy.

Beers were bought, other riders came in, and then we had showers. Our triple room was pretty small so Miranda graciously upgraded herself to a single room leaving Twan and me with an ok double. In the late afternoon we walked 1.6km over to the laundry place to find it closed. But we bought wine and snacks on the way back as a consolation. After that, it was 8pm and restaurants were open so the three of us ate at a super friendly family-run place nearby. After a big day and a great dinner it was time for sleep!