Wednesday 29 December 2010


Today's itinerary was north then west into the Andes to Villavicencio on the Ruta 52 that goes to Uspallata.  First day was the most nearby west route on 13, next day was south to Cacheuta, now we're venturing more north and into the mountains.

Villavicencio also has thermal pools, a little interpretive center with a pet llama for petting, and is famous for bottled water - most of the bottled water in restaurants is Villavicencio brand.  We drove straight as an arrow for probably 30k along the flat plains while gently climbing, then as we turned left into the mountains, pulled over to start riding.  It gradually steepened until we reached the interpretive center.  A few kilometers past that was the thermal baths and a lunch spot where a coke and a large jamon crudo sandwich while listening to 80's tunes was the order.  We split ways here - I went up the gravel road, which is supposed to take 3h to drive to Uspallata up up up over the mountains - the squiggles on google maps made it clear there was a lot of climbing and switchbacks - trying to put as much distance in as possible before the sag wagon came back up the hill to catch me.  I felt on fire and free as a bird, the times in life when I absolutely live for riding a bike.  Beautiful uphill TT, and it worked well enough that I scared the sag wagon on why I wasn't caught sooner.  Beautiful views, giant mountains, rugged feel.  Heavenly.

The approach road was straight as an arrow for miles before this, here we're close to the mountains.

Nice road.  Next to zero traffic.  Few days of riding has both of us a bit more tired.

Interpretive center at Villavicencio.  Notice the road way back on that mountain.  I ended up making it higher than what's seen there.

One ranger station, one interpretive center, one set of banjos.

Oh yeah, and one pet llama.

They sit funny.  It was little.  The rangers petted it.

The map isn't drawn super exact, but you get the idea that you're going up and over some mountains by the switchbacks.

Restaurant with cured ham hanging.  Had a sandwich and a coke, and chatted to the busboy who was probably over 40 but working on his english - and doing quite well at it.

Past the turnoff for the restaurant/thermal baths, the road goes to gravel.

I started time trailing, such a fun climb.  Felt great.  Stopped here just cause I had to get the view of the below.

Not a lot of guard rail.  Nice grade though, pretty easy to push a good gear.

Where I was caught.  Not the top, but probably close.  Thought about riding up further, but it was up into the clouds and some precipitation, didn't feel the need to get chilled, and haven't been bringing any warm clothes at all, just jersey.

Llamas grazing.

Small hike to lookout.



We rode to south and west into the Andes to Cacheuta, which has hydroelectric generation and thermal baths as the main attraction.  I mostly noted it for a road dead-ending up a valley on google maps which had enough squiggles to convince me it was biking delicious.  Nice riding, but the thermal baths were underwhelming (we toured them but didn't stay), and it had a few dingy kiosks at the top and lots of garbage around.  Great valley, great day riding and lots of fun, just a little sad to see the natural environment not cherished a bit more.

Parked along the highway near a police station, then headed south before turning right to go up into the mountains.  Little bit of rain threatening - got sprinkled on a bit - which was nice to have overcast skies for a day as the blazing sun is a bit hot.

Jesus Cristo was inspiring and lifted my heart towards heaven.  I think anyway, maybe close.

Jesus took some off roading to get to which was nice.  This view is down the valley.  Very arid area, like riding around the American southwest.

Argentines chillin' in the river downstream of the dam.

Different bridge than the one with the swimming hole under it, but clearly the graffiti art isn't as high a quality as in Chile where it's actually artful.

Ruta 13 to Uspallata

Ruta 13 is one of the old routes to Uspallata, it's a national highway.  I navigated out through the rougher end of the northwest of Mendoza, at which point the road was the route to the town dump and I couldn't ask the local pack dogs for directions.  The GPS on my phone said I was smack dab on Ruta 13 so I trundled onward.

It's a stark reminder of how tough getting around the Andes was before the long way was feasible with cars with longer ranges.  This is (was is probably more accurate) a national highway.  Traffic consisted of 2 quads, probably a dozen dirt bikes, two trucks, and later in the day when we felt like joyriding, one Peugeot Partner.  This would be entirely awesome to tear around on my Honda XR650L, although it seems pretty easy to drive around this country without signals, so I suppose most people would go right to a more purebred dirtbike.

Oh yeah, but there was also one mountain biker going up in the heat of mid day.  And about 8 coming down, who likely started way earlier in the morning.  This was smart to do solo, as it was more of a deadgoat level of exertion.  

Clearly a national highway.  I'm not banking on much for gas stations to refill water.  I brought three bottles.

Maybe three bottles wasn't enough.

In all seriousness, it was steep climbing for several hours.  I knew the trip back into town would be 20 minutes coast downhill (in the absence of mechanical issues), so I played roulette a bit and kept plodding onward.  I wanted to make this oasis I saw way up on the hill.  It's a hacienda that is privately owned, not currently occupied, but quite nice.  I drank my last drips to make it here then coasted back down.

The view down the valley to give a hint of elevation gain.

The view up the valley which I'm curious to see - but will need more water, a motorbike, or perhaps the Peugeot later in the day to see.

After coasting down a bit, here's a photo showing the valley.  The mountain "center right" towers above the northwest corner of Mendoza.

Brought the Peugeot back in the evening for some joyriding.  It got to be fairly slow going, on my motorbike it'd be a breeze.  Went probably 5km past the oasis.

Rattling along in the car for a while was fun, but it was clear it'd be many hours more, and I thought we could see the switchback waaaay up above where we were... not where this little car wanted to go.

Doubling back toward the oasis from earlier in the day.  Always climbing when heading west, descending to the east.


This city has a very eclectic collection of cars.  Basically anything that has been made in the last 40 years, between American, German, French, Italian, Japanese, Korean and Chinese is here.  VW "things", old Renaults that seem to sit at peculiar angles on their old jalopy suspension, old beetles, 1960's Benz's next to 2011 Benz's, various Italian microcars, and even new Chinese Chery automobiles.  It's a hodge podge.  It requires kids pushing their friends cars out of intersections, and people on the side of roads with the hoods popped doing shade tree mechanic "tune ups" all over the place.  With a climate this moderate, cars can be coaxed to last.  There's a high percentage of "dirt" bikes here like my big one at home, which seems like a great way to zip around in the moderate temps.

There's something about being a great capital of wine and olive oil production that defines a city's approach to life.  It's refined and relaxed.  It's wide open and spacious.  There's also something about having the great outdoors so nearby; dirt bikes, off roading/rally driving (the "Dakar" rally has now relocated to Chile/Argentina) rafting, biking, trekking and climbing are all part of the package.

Just cause cars are on the mind, here's a great clip (of endless great clips) from Top Gear. Everyone knows the entire point of a fast convertible is to "80's" the passengers hair.

Monday 27 December 2010

Christmas Day in Mendoza

Ciudad de Mendoza on Christmas eve.  We're staying right on Plaza Independencia.  Mendoza is beautiful.  Mellow, refined, treed, calm.  Santiago had bustle and felt like a city of commerce, Valparaiso was eclectic.  Mendoza sells wine to the world, and keeps a bit to themselves.  Its drank under treed terraces with varieties of food in an unhurried manner.  There's not too much traffic, not too steep of hills, not too hot days.  The houses and streets are beautiful.

The big park to the west is full of people playing on Christmas day in Parque General San Martin.

It's a maze of roundabouts that give car access to the sprawling park.

The mountain lookout seemed like a great place to ride.  The local amphitheatre is visible below.

At the top there's a bunch of monuments that essentially take pride in defeat of Chile at some point.

This sculpture remembers battles with Chileans.  For how big it is, it's supremely detailed.  

View of Mendoza from Cerro de la Gloria.

I don't need to brush up on my spanish to know that this is a sign I'm gonna follow.

Sweet!  BMX track!  Did a couple of laps on the Ibis.  Good times, but different geometry would be a lot better.

Tree lined cute streets of Mendoza with beautiful houses.

Everything seems ship shape.  Even the shanty's at the edge of town didn't seem as bad as other places.

Sunday 26 December 2010

Los Andes - Argentine side

The Argentine side strikes one as immediately more sparse with less capital investment.  Feels desolate.  Of course I wondered from both sides if this would be bike-able.  Technically, everything is bikable.  This could be done.  The wind and distances would get you though, there's really no places to get a little shade, or have a little stop, or a little refuel.  You'd have to plan for a long, long day self sufficient.  Maybe you could get a car to drop some water at the top.  And if you have the vertical conquered, the wind might get you too.  

The valley is long and at a gentle grade.  We just coast down it. 

Shortly after crossing the border we come to the Aconcogua park.

The interpretive hut is made of stone yet still has howling, vicious sounding cold wind pulling at the structure all the time.  Here's a map of the various routes to the top.

Cerro Aconcogua is in the back.  You can drive a ways to a lake and hike a ways past that too before actual registration and real gear are needed.


Back towards the border.

There's a derelict railroad track along the road.  There's a few small ski areas - one had a magic carpet and two t bars, another seemed to have two or three t bars.  I'd suspect that lifts in the air might not be compatible with the amount of wind this valley gets.

The power line poles are 75% vertical, 20% crooked, and 5% fallen over.

I'm happy because a) I'm booking it in a speedy Peugeot Partner that can get up to triple digit speeds with a downhill grade, and b) the hour plus going through 4 separate paper pushers plus 2 guys who searched the car proved that enough paperwork was in hand to be allowed to cross into Argentina.  This was completed with a level of spanish comprehension of about 10% of all that was said.

Once we show this very important piece of paper a third time (receive on Chile side, show once on Chile side and twice on Argentina side), we're done home free.  I've mentioned before that Chileans and Argentinians look different.  Argentines have a euro spanish/italian look.  The border guard lady who we  handed this too looked like an extra from the girl from the movie Stripes.

Perhaps a more conservative highway commission would deem a guard rail appropriate here.

The bridge maintenance is a bit less on the Argentine side.

This picture doesn't show it well, but the remainder of the valley has a super sharp erosional edge that the river cut out.  It's probably a hundred feet tall, cut sharp and right angled as can be imagined, for 20-30km.

The mountains go red eventually.