Posted: Fri, 27 March 2009
ALTO GRACIA to RIO TERCERO
We biked out of the nice, quiet town of Alto Gracia (meaning
“High Grace”, and named for the Jesuit estancia formerly located here) on a
clear, cool morning. It remained sunny
all day on our long, but beautiful 82 mile ride to Rio Tercero. There are 5 rivers flowing east out of the Sierras
de Cordoba. They have acquired
interesting, yet appropriate names. They
are actually called Rivers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.
We are cycling to the town named for the 3rd river that flows by our
destination town of Rio Tercero.
Did I ever mention
roads have NO SHOULDER? Today, there
were many times that I wished they did!
It can get a little tight in traffic.
We began climbing
from the get-go. “Rollers” they were
called by Michele in his pre-ride talk.
We experienced these HILLS for most of the day. A photo-op was taken at the “10 percent
grade” sign. By the end of the day
these” rollers” amounted to 4516 feet of climbing over 132 km!
We passed several
camp sites and signs for “adventure camping” opportunities in this resort, or
“get-away’ region near the big city of Cordoba. We didn’t stop to check them out—we were
having too much fun on our own adventure!
There was nothing
there to make me think I was home, but I was surprised to see the sign for the
town of Ville Ciudad de AMERICA.
I love Argentine
dogs!(so does Mary) They are not the best looking
dogs, in fact most are kind of ratty looking mixed breeds. BUT…they do not CHASE us (too often)! They just meekly watch us race by. Maybe I’ll bring one home!
At the 33 km mark
we saw the first of many lakes—actually reservoirs with a dam holding back the
run-off water from the Andes and the Sierras.
They are beautiful lakes that obviously attract tourists and provide hydro
We have been
looking forward to seeing the town of Villa General
Belgrano, a now quite famous storybook German town in the middle of
Argentina. It is the town where German sailors arrived
after their ship the Graf Spee was sunk in the Rio de la
Plata in WWII by the British Navy.
The shipwreck sailors were accepted by Peron and settled in
Belgrano. It has developed into a
replica of a German village as many more Germans came here to settle.
The architecture is
right out of Munich. The stores, restaurants, and hotels all
reflect the image of a “little Germany”….even
down to the cuckoo clocks. When Dan and I were riding through the streets of
Belgrano, we were spotted by Bob, Walter and Fritz having coffee at a
café. We joined them and discovered that
Walter had found a local beer named “Cerveza Fritz”. Fritz rode out of town with a bottle (full)
in his backpack!
At the 92 km mark
near the Valle del Dique (dam) we stopped at the dam holding back a big
beautiful lake. The van pulled up
immediately with cold Gatorade. It was a
pleasant stop…and another great day on the bike!
Posted: Thu, 26 March 2009
REST DAY IN CORDOBA
Our shuttle bus departed Alta Gracia this morning for a visit to Argentina's second most important city, Cordoba. It is also one of its oldest. Fine examples of Spanish colonial architecture can be found in the city center. We found it to be a beautiful, interesting and busy city.
Cordoba was one of the most important Jesuit centers in Latin America. The need to train priests led to the foundation of a Jesuit college in the city, which in 1621 became the University of San Carlos. The Jesuits also maintained farms and grand estancias to earn money from the produce sold. This was then given to the University and used to promote the education of the citizens.
Here are some post cards from Cordoba:
The Manzana Jesuitica--"Jesuit Block".
We stopped for a cappuccino in a coffee shop.
We walked through an open air museum dedicated to the "disappeared" people removed under the anti leftest military dictatorship of the 1970's and 1980's. Portraits of those "missing" were identified and hung on a line for viewing. A day of Remembrance for those never found was observed nationally on March 24.
The cycling group enjoyed the day in historic Cordoba.
Posted: Wed, 25 March 2009
MINA CLAVERO TO ALTO GRACIA
LAST BLOODY SIERRA!
Today’s ride was
accurately promoted as a “climb day”. It
was all of that! In our path to the
east, and to the pampas of Argentina
was the last range of mountains we would have to cross. Oh yes, we will do some climbing in Uruguay,
but the Sierras de Cordoba mountains
represent the final range to be crossed.
We would actually
have 2 major ascents on today’s ride; the first was the Sierra Grande. It was a demanding 55 km slow “march” over
the course of 3.5 hours. But the scenery
was post card perfect National Geographic quality.
We climbed 4400
feet to an altitude of 7300 feet above sea level. WOW!
We stopped for photos and 2 flat tires, but mainly pedaled in a
comfortable spinning mode. It was not an
excessively steep grade of ascent, but
we surely burned some calories in the effort.
The road was
bordered in part by high pampas grass with its tall plumes. We would look down into the green valleys and
rocky gorges below as we climbed. It is
always fun to look back down the mountain at the progress you have made on the
winding road you have climbed.
These mountains are
truly amazing! The rock formations, the
vistas below, cycling in new territory, all remind me of what a great adventure
is this Andes Expedition.
We were greeted at
the top (or what we thought was the summit at 45 km) by a large statue of Padre
Jose Gabriel Brochero on a donkey. It
turned out, however, we had another 10 km to go to the peak.
The descent was 40
km of downhill racing controlled by the occasional leveling out of the road.
We turned off
highway 34 at the 90 km mark onto a quiet country road toward Alto Gracia.
After a few initial rollers we again began a climb. This was the Sierra Chica—“the last bloody
Sierra” of our trek across South America. It was extremely steep, but, thankfully, only
over a distance of 10 km. The descent
into town was sweet! We covered a
distance of 125 km today with 5729 feet of climbing. A good day’s work!
It is a thrill to
be able to look back proudly over the past 25 days and recall all the high
peaks we have climbed together as a group, and know that they are behind
us. They will remain always on the list
of the “accomplished”.
Posted: Tue, 24 March 2009
VILLA de SOTO to MINA CLAVERO
Today’s ride had enough variety to
please any cyclist! We have gratefully
left ruta 38 for the quiet country roads of Cordoba Province. We biked 116 km (72 miles) to the small
mining town of Mina Clavero
(pop 5000) on enjoyable rolling hills, through small towns, and surrounded by
interesting scenery. We also climbed
over 2800 feet today on these hills.
Dan’s quote was “We were rolling uphill”.
The weather was
fine all day; sunny, clear, comfortably in the 70’s, and complete with a
“pushing” tailwind on the final leg.
The “rollers” kept
coming at us for at least the first 30 km.
It was a pleasant change from the “flatlands” of the past few days. The number and size of some of the communal
parrot nests lodged on the electrical poles were surprising. Often they fly out of the nests squawking
loudly as we approach. The small,
sometimes isolated, houses we see run a wide range of style, size, and
quality. Although, we have seen a
substantial upgrade in the apparent well being of the people here since
entering Cordoba Province.
south, through the town of La Higuera, we could not help but notice the focal
point of the town; a PINK church dominating the landscape.
In this area of
past volcanic activity were several cone shaped volcanoes in the Sierra de
Cordoba range. We had them in sight for
much of the ride.
We rode through the
interesting towns of San Carlos Minas at the 40 km mark, and Salsacate at
60km. I love to cruise through towns
such as these and just observe the human activity. I think, however, our small pack of “gringos
in spandex” offer more of an unusual sight to the towns people than the
Poor Fritz! He is having such a bad time with “saddle
sores’ that he even reversed the bike seat to provide different pressure points
when he sat down. (Carefully check the photo) That is what I call West Point ingenuity!
I was very happy to
see a few “real” gauchos riding their horses, wearing the traditional
“bombachos” (baggy trousers) and red neckerchief. Beef cattle grazing in the pampas grass was
also a sight I had looked forward to experiencing and photographing.
On a hilltop above
our destination town of Mina Clavero, Dan and I
stopped for a photo of the Translasierra
Valley and the last ridge
of mountains we will cross on this expedition: the Sierra de Cordoba. That
challenge comes tomorrow!
After a great
descent into town we came upon a beautiful gorge and river.
Cycling in a
foreign country….you never know what lies around the next corner!
Posted: Mon, 23 March 2009
CHAMICAL to VILLA de SOTO
A major storm blew through Chamical and
this region of Argentina
last night. I had just “hit the sheets”
of my tiny, low single bed when I heard the violent rattling of the tin roof of
our hotel. A heavy thunderstorm with
high winds bent the trees and dropped 20 cm of hail on the nearby city of Cordoba. These quick, violent storms I welcome during
the NIGHT—not during our cycling day!
I felt a bit out of
place yesterday afternoon at the Esso gas station coffee shop in Chamical. I
was there with my computer working on my website, as it is the only place in
town with wi-fi internet. There were
probably 25 other men of all ages crowded into the coffee shop as well. Several
TV sets hung from the walls….all tuned to the big soccer game involving “BOCA
JUNIOR”, (the BEST soccer team in the world, according to Javier), the
professional team from Buenos Aires. As
they cheered every good play, I typed…..25 soccer fans and 1 “nerd” in the corner.
Today’s 90 mile
ride East to the town of Villa de Soto was a fun day on the bike! With Bob in the lead, we cycled in a group of
6 to 8 for the first 100 km of the ride.
Last night’s goat dinner may have energized us all, as we were off to a
quick start on a long distance day.
I rode with Mary
and with Walter for part of the ride.
They are usually “up ahead”, so it was fun to ride with almost everyone
The landscape was
grassy flat plains initially, and then a more arid vegetation mix of cactus and
scrub thorn forest with a predominance of the Algarrobo tree. This area forms the biggest eco-region of Argentina with
its semi-arid vegetation. We could see
ahead the last mountain range we will cross—the Sierra de Cordoba—which awaits
us in a few days.
I took Bob’s
picture at the “entering Cordoba
Province” sign at the 78
km mark. It is Argentina’s
second largest province in terms of size and population.
In the “one horse
town” of Sarrezeula, we stopped and ate our pre-packed lunch in the shade of an
At the completion
of the ride, after a hot shower, we walked to a nearby restaurant for a late
“protein booster” lunch. A 1928 Model A
Ford provided a good photo-op.
was capped off with a local musician playing guitar for us on the patio of our
Posted: Sun, 22 March 2009
LA RIOJA to CHAMICAL
The bell tower at the Cathedral in Rioja
signaled 7:30 am as we passed by on our bikes on our way to Chamical, Argentina. We had a 142 km (88 mile) ride ahead of us
through the desert-like red earth plains, as we prepare to leave Northwest Argentina for the pampas.
A steady and pesky
wind from the southeast bothered us most of the day. We were again on the now familiar “ruta”
38. Fritz, Dan, Javier and I pace-lined
steadily in the wind.
The ride could be
described as “no climbs, no curves, no shade, and no scenery”…a flat 88 mile
route in the sun for 7 hours. The
distance and conditions made it a challenging ride; the main reason we all came
here to bike.
The landscape did
change to a very arid one. The river
beds were as dry as a bone. The desert
produced low, sparse vegetation, red dusty soil, and heat that cranked up a
At the 90 km mark I
had my 3rd flat tire of the trip, and changed it in the desert heat.
The Gran Hotel
Victoria in Chamical has
a name more impressive than the hotel itself, but it is comfortable, and
welcoming. Our group has a goat dinner
planned tonight at the hotel.
Comment: Javier explained the background
of the new type of roadside shrine we are seeing. The “Difunta Correa”, a woman who died in the
desert, but whose child survived and was found feeding at her breast, is
venerated locally for being able to perform miracles. Passers-by leave water bottles at these
shrines and ask for her powers to answer their prayers.
Posted: Sat, 21 March 2009
REST DAY IN RIOJA
POST CARDS from RIOJA
On our rest day in Rioja, one of the first cities founded by the Spanish in 1570, we relaxed and visited some of the sights in town. Join me, and have a look at this Argentine city.
On a morning walk I visited the Convent of Santo Domingo, one of the country's oldest places of worship. The original church was built in 1623. It has been rebuilt after an earthquake, but the original wooden door remains. It
is home to The Virgin of Rosario, a much venerated figure locally, and paintings in the traditional "cuzco" style.
I was interested in the local police, some of whom travel the city on a bicycle.
A rest day is always a day for doing your laundry and visiting a bike shop. That is what Mary, Walter, Fritz, Dan and I did in the afternoon, but first Polo and I made a call on a couple of artisan craft stores.
I saw a gaucho riding his horse down the street in Rioja.
In the evening Fritz and I went to mass at the convent of San Francisco. The people of La Rioja have a great devotion to the image of Nino Alcalde, which is located in the church.
San Martin, the independence fighter known as the George Washington of South America, stands proudly in the park in the main square of Rioja.
We will be back on the bikes headed for the plains of Argentina in the morning.
Posted: Fri, 20 March 2009
CATAMARCA to LA RIOJA
The only variation in today’s long, hot,
tiring ride was cycling in city traffic.
We departed Catamarca at morning rush hour and entered La Rioja during
afternoon “siesta”. Otherwise, we were
cycling the straight, flat, LONG “ruta
38” for 98 miles.
The GOOD NEWS is;
we are enjoying some exciting cycling in Argentina! We are picking up a little of the language
and customs. We have seen some
breathtaking scenery, and are making good progress in our trek across South America. Buenos Aires here we
The scenery today
was similar most of the way—low trees, some cactus, and scrub bush on both
sides of the road. It is a dry
region-almost desert-called “monte”.
However, early in the ride we passed large commercial orchards of olive
trees. This section of northeast Argentina is
the heart of the country’s olive oil industry.
Our views to the
west were of 2 ridges of mountains. The
furthest was a much higher range. They
are the Sierra de Ambasto mountains, but we did not have to deal with
them. Our challenge today was
endurance—98 miles in heat and an annoying headwind. It was a day to put your head down and pedal!
We took plenty of
water and the van stopped 3 times to give us Gatorade, water, ice and snacks.
They are on the ball!
This was the view
Dan had for half the ride. I was
directly behind him the other half…a 2 man pace line to diminish the effects of
cattle, and sheep again grazed at roadside.
There was very little traffic, but it was like a raceway, as cars flew
by, but gave us plenty of room on the
right side of the road. I called it “Argentina’s
Autobahn”, as there appeared to be no limit to the speed of cars and trucks.
Rioja seemed to
never arrive, only markers showing the distance in kilometers remaining to the
city—the Capital of Rioja Province. At
3:00 pm, 7 hours into the ride, we entered Rioja at a gateway to the city.
After 7 consecutive
days of long rides we have earned a rest day in Rioja. Yahoo!
Posted: Thu, 19 March 2009
CONCEPCION to CATAMARCA
The legend of “Gauchito” lives in this
part of Argentina.
We continue to see many roadside monuments dedicated to this “unofficial”
Patron Saint of Argentina. The shrines are all different, but all are
meant to pay respect to the “good works” of this “Little Cowboy” of long
ago. The story states that Gauchito
performed a miracle by granting a wish in return for a promise.
Those who believe
in his powers still ask for his help (curing a sick family member, for
example),m but must promise to make a positive change in their life. When the wish is granted, a monument is
constructed for all to see and pay their respects.
Another symbol we
see often flying outside of shops, in buildings etc., is the flag of the Native
people of Argentina. It is a colorful and proud symbol of the
heritage of a large block of Argentines.
Today was booked as
“the longest ride of our Expedition”, 177 km (110 miles) of mainly flat riding
to the city of San Fernando del Valle de Catamarca. It turned out to be a bit shorter, closer to
100 miles, and not all that flat.
We enjoyed the good
road conditions the entire distance. We
were headed due south on National highway 38 from Concepcion.
Bob was in the lead pulling Fritz, Dan, and me for the first 70 km. We were in agricultural lands growing
soybeans, sugar cane, and tobacco. The
highway had a wide lane for bikes and scooters separating us from the fast
As we entered Catamarca Province we began to climb. Bob moved ahead, leaving the 3 of us to
finish the second half of the ride. The
climb was more significant than we expected.
We climbed for 17 km to an elevation of 3600 feet at the top, an
elevation gain of 2500 feet! We were in
the clouds. A moist fog covered the
road. Our visibility was diminished. A
flagman in the fog slowed the occasional car or truck.
We descended from
the clouds on a great run down the mountain.
A short stop at a gas station/convenience store for lunch at the 100 km
mark left us with another 60km to Catamarca.
It turned out to be
a much better and quicker final leg than we expected. The sun was out and the afternoon winds
picked up. A strong tailwind pushed us
to speeds of 50 km/hr for long stretches.
We entered the
Provincial Capital city of Catamarca. With today’s ride we have passed the halfway
point in terms of mileage and days.
Posted: Wed, 18 March 2009
AMAICHA del VALLE to CONCEPCION
“El Infiernillo” means “Little Hell” in
Spanish. It is also the name of the pass
over the pre-Andes range that we must cross today. We are told that it is the same pass used by the
Spanish conquistadores to enter Argentina
as they traveled east from Peru. It is well named!
We began the 3500
feet climb immediately upon leaving the hotel.
We climbed from 6500 feet elevation to over 10,000 feet. It was a 3 hour slow, steady uphill effort,
under heavy gray clouds, at 10-11 km/hr.
One major problem for us on bicycles was the HORRIBLE condition of the
road. It was chopped up, rough, potholed and bumpy the whole way.
We passed groups of
children waiting for their school bus.
During the day we would encounter cows, horses, burros, pigs, sheep, and
hawks on the roadway. As we climbed and bounced along trying to avoid the worst
potholes, Fritz said “Adventure cycling; It is good for the soul…but I’m not
sure it’s good for the body”. Amen.
The vegetation at
lower elevation today was desert-like with sparse trees and hills covered with
cactus. This would change dramatically later in the day at higher elevation.
Riding with Fritz
and Dan, we looked forward to the long descent after reaching the summit. In the thinner air at the top a llama awaited
us (and all travelers) at an artisan shop. I got up close and personal.
We were at about
cloud level at the summit and enjoyed the view.
The descent down
the mountain was disappointing for one reason—the poor condition of the
road. It was unpaved for a long
stretch. It was a jarring ride down
into the resort town of Tafi del Valle.
After a quick lunch
in a bus stop structure outside Tafi, we
began another descent of 50 km (we dropped over 8,000 feet in total
today). At one point we were in the
clouds—it was like a wet, heavy fog passed over us. We descended through the cloud forest heavy
with green vegetation, tall trees, gorges…. and bad road. There were numerous switchbacks, hairpin
turns, and tight curves for miles and miles.
We hammered at a
good clip the last segment of the ride into the town of Concepcion after a long and tiring 145 km
ride (92 miles).
For me at least, it
could have been a GREAT ride. It had all
the elements—a big climb, a challenging distance, long descents, and great
views in a changing environment. BUT, it
fell short—the road conditions for too much of the ride were too poor!
We will be out on
the road again tomorrow!