Wednesday, 23 February 2011
After more than a week in the city, Buenos Aires is starting to feel like home to Leana and me. But let me start at the beginning. Arriving in town after dark the previous night. we were keen to get out in the morning and experience this vibrant place. Buenos Aires is a huge city with a population of over 13 million, and the high density built-up area extends way beyond the microcentro (city centre). We walked down busy malls like Avenida Florida with craft markets and living statues, and marveled at the attractive colonial buildings in the historic city centre around Plaza De Mayo, also the famous theatre and Govt buildings. We dashed across the Av 9 De Julio (possibly the widest boulevard in the world, with its famous central obelisco), and stared at the "Pink Palace" where Evita had enchanted the crowds from the balcony (we subsequently visited her grave in the Ricoleta cemetery where people still leave flowers). In the afternoon we sat down at a pavement cafe, and that's where disaster struck - before we could place our order, Leana's bag disappeared from under the table between her feet (glasses, camera, cash, and bank cards: All gone!). So now, while we wait for the bank to send a new card, we're almost becoming citizens of Buenos Aires. (Fortunately Leana could transfer some money to my "poor" account to keep us alive in the mean time - and my sister also helped out). As I've mentioned however, one could be stuck in worse places than this. Besides all the history, there is a new "skyscraper" section towards the riverfront called Puerto Madera. We also visited the colourful La Boca district (and the Boca Juniors football stadium) where we met some famous people and entertained the crowd by dancing the tango. Besides getting around on the convenient subway system, we also took the regular suburban train out to Tigre on the Parana river delta at the outskirts of the city (and had a picnic on the riverbank). From here we're planning to take the ferry across the Rio De La Plata to Uruguay - but we're still waiting for Leana's new bank card to be delivered (and she's ordered new glasses from an optician around the corner). This whole episode is costing a lot of money - not only the hotel and replacement costs, the brazen thief actually managed to use her credit card a number of times. At least the place is colourful and interesting, with cheap Ugi's pizzas on the corner, and the ever present Parilla's (steak houses). I can also understand why people here need Siesta - they seem to stay up just about the whole night!
Sunday, 20 February 2011
The plains of central Argentina are generally referred to as the "Pampas", named after the plumed pampa grass (this grass is also infamous all around the world for swallowing golf balls). From Mendoza at the foot of the Andes Leana and I had to cross the Pampas in order to reach Buenos Aires on the East coast of Argentina. Around Mendoza there were still wine estates for a while, but from there on the roadside scenery was mostly cattle ranches and huge maize and soya plantations. Soon after leaving Mendoza the road deteriorated to a narrow strip without shoulder, which could not accommodate two trucks and a bicycle side-by-side. Unfortunately for us the road was rather busy with trucks all the way, which meant that we often had to fly off into the roadside grass - only returning to the black-top once the danger had passed. The rear-view mirror I'd fitted to my bike in Chile turned out to be a necessity, and Leana also invested in this "life-saver" along the way. However, for me there were other problems - certain ageing parts on my bike decided to retire from duty during our crossing of the Pampas. Within 3 days both my rear hub and the front hub caved in - luckily there were OK bike shops in nearby towns where I could buy the necessary spares, but it meant staying in a room for the following day so I could replace the hub. Regarding the road conditions, San Luis province was the exception, with a dual highway and a hard shoulder on one side (sometimes we cycled with the traffic, and sometimes against it). In that province they even had street lights all the way along the road, the paint colour of the poles changing after every 2-dozen or so (in one instance there was still some red paint left over, so they painted a tree). In Pategonian Argentina and in Chile the wind had been predominantly from the West, so we were hoping for that pattern to continue and blow us all the way to Buenos Aires. No such luck! The prevailing breeze was either from the SE or the NE, and most afternoons it was straight into us from the East. No complaints, as there were practically no hills and the Argentinians along the way are very pleasant people. Besides their friendliness there are a number of things which are remarkable about these people, i.e. they ritually suck on a herbal tea called "mate", they sleep for most of the afternoon (siesta - mostly at home where they have special darkening blinds on the windows, but also in parks, etc., see last pic.), and they love to eat barbequed beef (asado). Along the way we camped in public parks, on the porch of a vacant house, in picnic areas, and mostly at petrol stations (which, incidently have barbeque areas - and showers). One Sunday afternoon we pulled into a picnic area along a small river where half the population was grilling meat over fires - and before we could even pitch our tents various parties had arrived with plates of meat for us (and they all wanted their photo's taken with us). Even the vegetarian Leana consumed some meat ("so as not to offend the people, she said"). One non-Argentinian we met was fellow cyclist Nobu from Japan, who camped with us at a petrol station - heading in the opposite direction. We followed the National Ruta 7 almost all the way, but we diverted to Ruta 8 in order to visit the historical town of San Antonio (where Leana and her sisters had been on an Argentine holiday more than 7 years ago). From there we made the dash for the big city, and after a while the narrow road suddenly turned into a highway (we noticed some signs prohibiting cyclists, but they let us pass at the tollgate and we took our chances). So, in the late afternoon of Tuesday the 15th we sped into Buenos Aires on a 12-lane expressway, boosted by a rare tail-wind like two meteorites in our bright Aussie "safety shirts". Remarkably we made it quite a way into this large city before the highway patrol caught up with us, and loaded us into their van (oh yes, football is a major religion in Argentina, and while we were being removed from the highway our driver exhibited a tattoo on his chest - the emblem of his favourite football team). We were released into the regular rush-hour traffic, where we battled the thousands of busses and taxis for another 10 k's until after dark, when we found a nice hotel in the city centre (thanks to Leana). (Please see following report regarding our stay in Buenos Aires). Daily distances cycled since Mendoza have been:- Las Katitas 106 km; Alto Pencosa 99 km; San Luis 20 km (+30 km lift due to broken bike); Villa Mercedes 85 km; Washington 96 km; Laboulaye 128 km; Rufino 71 km; Vedia 119 km; Junin 58 km; Carmen De Areco 126 km; San Antonio DA 66 km; and Buenos Aires 118 km. Total distance cycled in South America since November last year is 5 575 km. Total distance cycled on this trip since leaving Cape Town on 27 March 2007 is 72 062 km.
Wednesday, 2 February 2011
In order to get from Satiago De Chile to Argentina Leana and I had to cycle across the imposing Andes mountains (also referred to as the Cordillera). Crossing the Andes required some hard pedalling up from Chile - the gradual uphill started soon after we left Santiago, with some big hills closer to the border (one sequence of switchbacks had about 30 bends - each one numbered, but the numbers were increasing as we climbed so we had no idea where it would end!). From Santiago we took the direct highway to the town of Los Andes, and were driven through a 3km long tunnel by the highway authorities. At the top of the mountains there is another tunnel at an altitude of 3 185 m, where we were also taken through by van from the Chilean side (the border is in the middle of the tunnel). In the following 2 days we cycled through a number of shorter but narrow tunnels - the Argentinians obviously aren't as concerned about our safety as they were in Chile. We also passed a number of ski-resorts on our way up and down on both sides (strange to see the deserted hotels, unused ski-lifts, and exposed stony slopes where there is a thick bed of snow in winter). The descent on the Argentinian side of the "Cordillera" is spectacular desert-like scenery, and we also had a good view of Aconcagua (the highest peak in the America´s). The road on the Argentine side was mostly downhill almost all the way to the city of Mendoza where we are now. Mendoza is a pleasant city with wide leafy streets and attractive plaza's, and is also the centre of the Argentine wine region - which reminds me of an over-sized Stellenbosch in SA. We'll rest here for a day or two before heading East across the Pampas in the direction of Buenos Aires. Distances cycled since my previous report from Santiago were:- Los Andes 81 km; Portillo 51 km; Puente Del Inca 40 km; Uspallata 71 km; Potrerellos 58 km; and Mendoza 72 km. Total distance cycled on this journey is 70 970 km. Total in South America so far is 4 483 km.