Fin del Mundo. Argentina 2006
Of vineyards, gracious people, friendly dogs, painted badlands, lush forests, epic climbs, really epic downhills, and great new friends.
The trip to
The last night in Cafayate we had an Argentine barbeque, which means lots of beef. Rick had made the acquaintance, from the campsite next to us, of a couple from
We rode out of Cafayate, I think all of us regretting that we had to leave, but realizing that some great sites and experiences lay ahead. We rolled along mostly flat roads with vineyards all around and down a slope to a rest stop in the sleepy pueblo of Tolombon. It seemed to be built around the wine industry and had national historic buildings and a quaint central park. The curious thing was how quiet and abandoned everything seemed and how ill kempt the central square seemed. The quiet could be explained by siesta time. The trashy square was unique in my observations as we meandered through the north of
Rolling on we made our way down long stretches of fairly flat roads and soon could see in the distance the foot hill ranges of the Andes with two snow capped peaks on these first days of autumn in the southern hemisphere. Two obviously fully loaded bike tourists approached and we learned they were Betsy and Katy from
That afternoon we arrived at our destination, Quilmes Ruins. This is a restored indigenous settlement from centuries ago. They have built a hotel among the ruins in a manner to make the modern buildings blend with the ruins around them. This was our first direct exposure to the indigenous cultures but would prove to not be our last. To get to the hotel and ruins required a very tough gradual climb up a wash board, loose gravel, rocky 5 km road. It was a hot afternoon and getting to the destination was a welcome relief. We enjoyed a cold beverage and then found our way to first class rooms in the hotel and a welcome shower (ducha). The hotel was built among the ruins so immediately outside our room, there they were. The main area of the old structures was up the mountainside. After we cleaned up some hiked into the ruins. I stood and watched some llamas stroll down out of the bush and down to within 10 feet of where I stood. They are quite interesting creatures. Dinner in the hotel was forgettable but the wine was not.
After a good night’s sleep we had a simple breakfast in the hotel and then rolled back down that rocky road and on to a day of nearly constant climbing up to our next destination, the Observatorio at Ampimpa. Along the way we stopped for lunch at Amaicha del Valle and the Pachamama (Mother Earth) Museum. They had the most beautiful artisan gift shop that I saw on the trip and the museum looked quite interesting although we did not go through it. Much of it was in a courtyard outdoors next to the gift shop building and we could see large statues and icons and stonework through the fence and gates.
We rolled a short distance to some shops and someone said we should get some wine for the evening meal at the observatory. This resulted in two teams of eager group members headed in different directions to seek out such a commodity and so it happened that we hauled a total of 9 liters of local red wine up the mountain. The 5 liter box of Malbec that Rick and I found was certainly the more convenient packaging however.
The ride up was a good steady climb. Not steep but relentless. But a steady slow pace and soon you find you are at the destination and feeling good about what you just accomplished. Christian, the keeper of the observatory was at the gate to greet us. He is a professor and a student working for his doctorate at the University in
A typically late Argentine dinner of rice soup, chicken, salad, bread and fruit, prepared by Christian, was enjoyed by a hungry crew. Some of us were too tired to do dishes so got our turn after breakfast in the morning. I think we might have had the harder job since the night crew left a few and we had to finish them all so we could depart without leaving an impact on the facility.
The area of the observatory is home to some plants which produce prodigious amounts of thorny burrs. Not too big but big enough to flatten a tire if not promptly removed. This resulted in some more flat repair practice and in some of us carrying our bikes down to the main road. So there were several trips up and down to get bikes and packs all in position to leave and start the day’s climbing to the top of the mountains, over the pass and down into the lush valley, leaving the arid desert climate behind. Halfway there we stopped for lunch at a Catholic shrine. This one, unlike most of the roadside shrines, which are numerous, was a building with a shelter to get out of the sun. It was a sunny day but as we were now around 9,000 feet elevation, cool. The vistas on this climb were awesome with sweeping views of the valleys and mountains all around. The roads were good and the traffic very light. There were occasional homes with a few goats and chickens around. My sense was that these were true subsistence farmers. Probably having enough to feed the family and perhaps making some local crafts to sell in the valley communities of Amaicha or Tafi.
We got to the summit of the pass, about 10,000 feet. On the way we continued to see llamas, burros and goats wandering. At the pass was a small stand with local crafts manned by a mother and her four children and a llama tied to a post. We bought a few things, gave the kids some cookies and a hacky sack ball and then, when the llama decided to empty it’s bladder near our bikes, ended our nice respite, checked our brakes and started the 12 mile descent to Tafi del Valle which we could see in the distance next to a large reservoir lake. The ride down was long and spectacular with several spots where the brakes were tested so we could stop to capture an image on film or memory card.
In Tafi we stopped to acquire the food for that night and next breakfast. We basked in the warm sun of this dusty but inviting farming and tourism/artisans’ community. The homes around and some of the facilities in town belied a community with some wealth, at least of a middle class, and not overwhelming poverty.
After our break we progressed down the road to El Mollar, on the other side of the lake and under the cloud bank which extended into the valley from the mountains on the other side, where the lush forests grow. We left the sun for a misty cool fog. Christian had suggested a location to stay which was a new one for Rick. He is still looking for the ideal destination for this leg of the trip. We ended up in a campground with a soft grassy tenting area and shelters for cooking and eating and it worked out great. Koa and I rode into town to get some beverages and he had this long conversation with the store owner which covered everything from poverty in
This was the day of the awesome downhill. Yesterday was just a warm up. This one followed a rushing white water river through lush forests and around numerous switchbacks and ran out on to the humid sugar cane growing valley where we would spend the next two nights in Yerba Buena, suburb of Tucuman, capitol of the namesake province. On the way down was a great little artisans’ outlet where most of us made some purchases to strap on to the back of the bikes. We also passed ‘Fin del Mundo’ (the End of the World) where the road appears to drop of into nowhere. We rode on past the lunch hour looking for a good place to stop because, in contrast to other days we had not supplied ourselves with food to make our own lunch. We ended up in Famailla where the 9 of us overwhelmed a little café but got our food eventually and meanwhile got to watch the midday community activity which included countless trips around the town square on motor scooters or bicycles each with a rider and a passenger.
After lunch we endured a stretch on a busy highway until we could turn on to quieter roads and then rolled into Yerba Buena, where after ice cream we followed our host Santiago Aragon through the streets of this city of contrasts in poverty and wealth, quiet and noise to our home for the next two days in a wonderful private home hostel on a quiet street. It was a couple blocks off the main drag and we were able to make good use of the cities shopping and eating attractions.
The first night we went to dinner, an art opening of an artist friend of
Our last day before the travel day the morning was spent packing up the bikes and everything else in the mirror image of the day two weeks before when we did not know each other and were unsure what lay ahead. This day we were buzzing around and joking and got it all done pretty efficiently. Some of us despite ourselves. The afternoon started with some lunch down the street and then some naps and shopping and wandering. Before packing Koa and Phil had actually gone for a ride into the mountains just outside of town. They said it was great riding. As we walked the main street there were frequent riders obviously dressed for serious riding headed out in that direction.
Our last night in
In the morning we loaded all the bikes and bags into
On reflection, it is hard to imagine how the trip could have gone much better. For Koa, maybe having a current passport may have made it better, but maybe not. As a group it seemed we could hardly have been more compatible. We rode well together, helped each other out and socialized well. It was immensely enjoyable. A large part of this can be chalked up to Rick’s management of the whole process. From the day of preparation and packing, to the trouble shooting during travel, to the group process which kept us all in touch and communicating, to the guidance and direction to keep us moving and not least of all, to the on the fly bike mechanics, it is hard to find where he missed a beat. It is hard to substitute for experience and judgment and he has them both in quantity.
Thanks to everyone involved, including the board of Two Wheel View for supporting the idea of this trip. I know it will have an impact on the lives of all the participants and no doubt on Two Wheel View as well. Ciao.