Sunday, 20 February 2011
PEDALING THE PAMPAS
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.