Posted: Tue, 17 March 2009
CAFAYATE to AMAICHA del VALLE
RUINS OF QUILMES
We enjoyed our brief time in Cafayate;
an orderly town square with sidewalk cafes, a good restaurant meal, a great
little hotel….and it’s the WINE CAPITAL of Argentina!
It was a short ride
day, only 68 km south to Amaicha del
Valle, Argentina. Initially we cycled past the vineyards and
botegas of Argentina’s
finest wine producers.
Mary( FL), Dan,
Fritz and I rode through the town of Tolombon
with its yellow adobe church. Flocks of
screeching parrots flew overhead from time to time. At the 26 km mark we left the crumbling road
surface of Salta Province
and entered the Province
of Tucuman where the road
changed (briefly) to smooth asphalt. We
crossed several dips in the road where creeks flowed over it. Some were deep enough to soak our shoes.
How many cyclists
does it take to change a flat tire?
Count them! (We like to help!)
The primary type of
vegetation along the route was the Algarrobo tree, the national tree of Argentina. It leaves are like the needles of a cedar
tree. It does provide some shade along
the roadside when we take a break.
At the 50km mark we
approached the most famous ruins in Argentina—the
Ruins at Quilmes. Here the indigenous population held off the
Incas for 100 years and then the Spaniards for another 100 years until 1667
when they finally were conquered. The
Spaniards forced the population to march to Buenos Aires , a march in which they all
died. Quilmes fell to ruins. The name “Quilmes” is now known as a popular brand of
beer (particularly by this group!) It is
the Budweiser of Argentina.
Outside Amaicha del
Valle we stopped briefly at the Pacha Mama Museo (Mother Earth museum) filled
with anthropological and geological artifacts and some interesting
We finished the
day at 6500 feet of elevation, at a quiet hotel in the countryside with great
views of the mountain we will climb tomorrow.
Posted: Mon, 16 March 2009
CORONEL de MOLDES to CAFAYATE
de las CONCHAS
A geological wonderland awaited us today
on our ride to Cafayate, a neat colonial town famous for its wine and as a base
for adventure travel. One can only
marvel at what Mother Earth (the “Pacha Mama”) had in store for our cycling
expedition over 129 km (80 miles) of stunning and colorful rock formations in
the famous Quebrada de las Conchas—The Valley of the Seashells. This region was formed when the Andes
violently rose from the Pacific Ocean millions
of years ago.
We departed the
town of Coronel de Moldes
at 3600 feet elevation and climbed to 5000 feet by the 100 km mark. It was
comfortable breathing in this altitude range. The clear sunny weather turned HOT
for our afternoon riding. We carried 3
water bottles and refilled from the van when available. The van left a big jug of water in the shade
of a roadside tree at the 80 km point, and marked the road with chalk to alert
Early, at the 40 km
mark “the 5 guys” (Bob, Walter, Fritz, Dan and I) stopped for coffee at the
popular roadside panador, “Posta de las Cabres”. We were not in a hurry because wanted to see
the Quebrada at its best; that is, in the afternoon sun when the rock canyons
show their colorful best.
formations were formed by water and wind at various points in the canyons. We stopped at the “Devil’s Throat”, and the
“Amphitheater”. We climbed into these
wonders of nature only to be amazed at the magnitude of natural geological
formations. I have never seen anything
like what we saw today!
Cycling the quiet
roads of the Quebrada was like a trip through the Grand Canyon or a ride
Just stunning views! We really enjoyed
The sigh says it
all! I couldn’t resist a stop.
glass of wine in Cafayate,
Posted: Sun, 15 March 2009
SALTA TO CORONEL DE MOLDES
Today was a short ride day, only 62 km
to the South, from “Salta La Linda” (called that because it is such a beautiful
city) to the small town of Coronel de
Moldes. Salta was alive with
“late nighters” on a Saturday evening; dining, walking, shopping, and
drinking until all hours.
We biked out of the
city in Sunday morning traffic. It was a
good 10 km before we were in the countryside.
Polo, Fritz, Dan and I (a reunion of cyclists from the Eastern European
expedition) stayed together for 30 km. Walter and Javier later joined us for the
final leg. We passed through Cerrillos
and several small towns enroute. There were many passing cars and trucks for a
Sunday, but it was a good country road---not too scenic, only an abundance of
farmland growing mainly soybeans and tobacco.
We could see a high range of the “pre-Andes” ahead of us, tipped by the
We crossed a bridge
over the Rio Rosario at 33km. At this
time of year all the wide and rocky
river bottoms are mainly dry. We have noticed many soccer fields all over Chile and Argentina . I took a photo of this one in a small village
thinking of the movie, “Field of Dreams”…..”Build it and they will come!”
There were no major
climbs on this ride, just some “bumps” as Michele calls them in his route
description talks preparing us for each day’s ride. There have been some pretty steep “bumps”!
On the outskirts of
the small town of Coronel de Moldes
we saw an appealing “galleria” restaurant, Los Molles, one that has outside
seating on a patio that wraps around the building. We stopped for a good lunch of empanadas, and
The town is named
for the military hero, Colonel Moldes, who fought many battles against Spain in
1815-1820 in the Argentines war for independence.
activities were the most interesting for us.
We walked a mile on a dirt road from our hotel to the “Finca Santa
Maria”. A finca is a large Argentine farm, usually passed on
from generation to generation. Santa
Maria has been in one family for 200 years.
It is mainly a
tobacco farm growing special tobacco for Phillip Morris and British American
tobacco .With our host, Carlos the owner, we toured the tobacco museum, which
displayed old equipment for drying and pressing the tobacco. It was housed in
an old clay adobe brick building that was as interesting to me as the displays.
The finca also
raises goats for cheese production and has some of the Puruvian horses famous
for their prancing style. Carlos also
operates some tourist guest quarters on the property.
A big time barbeque
feast of Argentine beef with all the trimmings, including local wine, was
prepared for us. A good time was had by
A photo of me was
taken today while preparing my blog in my TRUE COLORS: “the U”…the University of Miami. The U of Florida biking jersey recently seen
on the website was just that, a biking jersey with NO ALLEGIANCE attached.
Posted: Sat, 14 March 2009
PURMAMARCA TO SALTA
The route today was
157 km (97 miles) heading directly south.
We left the little town of Purmamarca
(pop 200), and headed for the big city of Salta,
800,000). But, that was only one major change.
A greater change was the contrast from the brown and barren desert of 2
days ago to the green landscape of today.
It was dramatic, and a welcome change of scenery.
We are told that
the normal weather patterns bring moisture from the East- the Atlantic
Ocean. When they meet the
“pre-Andes”, the smaller ranges of mountains preceding the Andes,
they drop moisture there- creating a green and moist environment- while causing
the dry desert region further to the West.
Riding with Bob, Fritz,
and Dan, we moved quickly for the first 25 km.
The “boys” were flying today after a good day’s rest in Purmamarca. We stopped in the town of Volcan to briefly visit (as recommended) an
artisan market selling rugs and sweaters in an old and former railroad station.
When we continued Walter (WA) had joined us, but soon he and Bob pulled
away. They are both younger and stronger
cyclists…and good friends.
trees bordered the road. The hillsides
and grasslands were a brilliant green.
We were losing elevation fast—almost 3000 feet in the first 65 km to an
elevation of 4500 feet above sea level. It was a pleasure to breath normally
Outside Jujuy (pronounced “who-WHO-EE”…. We have a good time with that name!), a major
city, the traffic increased on this Saturday morning. Argentine roads have no bike lane or
shoulder, so we ride inside the white line marking the right edge of the
road. This is generally not a problem –
until we hit heavy traffic- as we did in Jujuy. However, we did travel on some perimeter
roads to avoid some of the city traffic.
The locals were driving mainly scooters and motorcycles and old Japanese
cars and trucks.
We stopped to help
an Argentine motorcyclist fix his flat tire with our small hand pumps. It worked!
The biggest climb
of the day began at the 100 km mark and continued for about 20 km. We were in the country; cattle appeared in
the road, men on horseback riding 3 abreast closed ranks as we approached. We were on a narrow road with many sharp
curves, careful to stay safely to the right. The scenery was green and
refreshing as we looked down in the valley below.
Often we were
shaded on this hot day by large trees at roadside. The curving road that was cut into the
hillside continued, but we crested the hill at the120 km mark and began a
beautiful and gradual descent for 37 km into Salta.
The forests were
thick with trees, and everything was so GREEN!
We were in a “cloud forest”, a sub-tropical rainforest of sorts—where
rainfall is plentiful. A broad river of
brown silt water, flowing rapidly, accompanied us on the right side on our
The approach to our
hotel in the city of Salta
included several round-abouts, a bike path, and heavy city traffic. We arrived
at the Hotel Alto de Balcarce shortly after 3:00pm.
Situated on the Rio
Arias in the wide Lerma valley of Argentina, Salta lies in a mountainous and strikingly
beautiful district. Founded in 1582, the
city possesses a number of colonial buildings.
Capital of its province, it is a great handicraft center. The Museo Historico del Norte was the HOT
museum to tour this afternoon. The city
is alive at night. Our restaurant was
still filling up at 10:20 pm.
Tonight we said
“Farewell and Ciao” to Germano, who returns to Italy tomorrow. We lose a good friend!
Posted: Thu, 12 March 2009
“Puna is the word
the Argentines use when referring to the Andean Plateau—a windswept, stony, and
treeless plain in the Northwest part of the country. Today we cycled 138 km (85 miles) on our last
stretch of this Altiplano. We had it ALL today in terms of a challenging climb,
a soaring descent, and some of the most amazing scenery found anywhere. It was a great day to be on a bicycle!
We left the small
colonial town of Susques
at 8:30 am, passing by the adobe church with paintings and frescoes from the
1670’s. It was cold and we were dressed
for the weather….long- fingered gloves, windbreakers, arm and leg warmers. We took them off in the afternoon sun and for
the long climb, but suited up again for the quick, prolonged descent in the
I rode alone the
first 15 km in the solitude of the desert. The morning air was clear, crisp,
and “thin” at this altitude of
approximately 13,000 feet. I did
not disturb a herd of llamas grazing at roadside. Some of the peaks visible to
us are over 6800 meters high!
the shady, long gorges (quebradas) the “Cordoon” cactus was observed growing on
the hillsides. It looked like Arizona!
At the 72 km mark we
reached the former salt lake called “Salinas Grande”, covering a large area in
white—as if covered in snow. Salt is
still being extracted from the site. We,
of course, had to take a walk on the salt.
Next came the
“assault” on the Abra de Porterillos, a steep switchback of over 25 km. It was perhaps the most difficult climb I
have ever made, considering the distance, the altitude, and it coming late in a
long ride day. We reached the top at
4170 meters above sea level-over 13,000 feet. It was COLD with “mucho
viente”—unpleasantly strong winds fighting us as we climbed.
Our reward was the
longest, most AMAZING descent I have ever experienced. We navigated our way down the 6561 feet
Cuesta de Lipon with some 30 hairpin turns and switchbacks for over 35 km. The scenery was spectacular.! I stopped often
for a photo. I have never seen rock
formations and colors like those approaching the town of Purmamarca,
where we spent the night.
A rest day in
Purmamarca was another bonus for the touring cyclists. On a morning walk, Mary, bob and I crossed a
creek and climbed a rocky hill in town for an overview of the famous “Cerro de
Siete Colores”—a hill of stratified rock in 7 colors. Some bikers later shuttled to the nearby town
of Tilcara to
visit a famous fortress there.
Posted: Wed, 11 March 2009
BIENVENIDOS A ARGENTINA
Several of us arose this morning
ill. The trifecta of altitude sickness,
stomach and intestinal problems, and dehydration took a toll on our group. Our traveling paramedic was a busy man. Only 3 members of group of 10 made it through
the day in excellent shape.
loaded a bus for the shuttle to the Chile-Argentina border, after spending the
night in San Pedro de Atacama. It was a
long ride up to Hito Cajon, and then
another 100 km to the Argentine border.
immigration and customs at the border checkpoint. Those “ailing” were then driven to our hotel
in the town of Susques. The medic tended those in need very
professionally. He has much experience
with altitude sickness from his work with mountain climbers in the Andes. He
regularly took our blood pressure, which can reflect the demands of high
altitude. Mine was always fine.
A diet of clear
soup and white rice that evening was enough encouragement to get me back on the
bike in the morning. I wanted the Llama
stew, but that was out of the question today. Coca tea, made from coca leaves,
was dessert. It is used frequently as a
digestive aid and is supposed to suppress altitude sickness. It is perfectly legal, readily available in
the Andes, and not the processed drug.
I am looking
forward to our 23 days in Argentina!
Posted: Tue, 10 March 2009
CYCLING THE ALTIPLANO
After 2 days in Bolivia to acclimate us to 14,000
to 15,000 feet of elevation, we were ready today to try a 90 km bike ride at
this altitude. Living at 15,000 feet,
and strenuous exercise at that elevation are very different challenges.
I rode all day with
Fritz and Bob. We all began the ride at
the top of Hito Cajon, where we had celebrated our achievement of reaching this
Andes peak a few days ago, before departing for Bolivia. Our route would take us to the border with Argentina-but
not into the country, yet. We would
again return to San Pedro at 7700 feet for the night.
We paced ourselves
well, I thought. We had only minimal
climbs today as we were already on top.
Our highest altitude on a bike was 4800 meters-16,000 feet.
At the midpoint of
the ride we enjoyed the benefit of a strong tail wind—music to a cyclist’s ears! Bob and Fritz rode down the road with arms
outstretched, while pedaling only minimally and sailing along with the wind.
We were amazed at
the sight of a deeply colored blue lagoon, obviously made by some mineral
deposits in the ground. The scenery on
the Chilean Antiplano is the stuff of postcards!
We reached the
Argentine border at the conclusion of today’s enjoyable ride. Once again it was a shuttle ride back to San
Pedro for a night’s rest at lower altitude on the now very familiar route.
The paramedic, I,
Javier and Bob posed for a photo before heading down the mountain.
What will tomorrow
Posted: Sun, 8 March 2009
We traveled 50 km to Bolivia from
San Pedro de Atacama by bus the morning following the Big Climb. The purpose was for us to acclimate to the
conditions of high altitude, and to give us the opportunity to see some of the
most unusual and phenomenal scenery anywhere in the world. We experienced both to the nth degree!
impressive sights to me involved
COLOR: The shades of browns, the shadows
of the wind-carved rocks, the flaming red waters of the Laguna Colorado (the
Red Lagoon), the jade-like color of the Laguna Verde (the Green Lagoon) the
bluest sky imaginable, the snow capped peaks, the white lagoons of borax…and on
changed constantly and beautifully. The
remoteness added to its appeal.
We traveled from
point to point in 4 wheel drive Toyota Land Cruisers over rocks and gullies on
the harshest terrain one could imagine.
We spent the
night in a “refugio” in Villa Alota, an isolated town we explored on foot in
the evening. A refugio is a basic
shelter for travelers in remote areas.
It is “no frills” in all respects.
We slept in sleeping bags in a room for five of us. The “facilities”, such as they were, were
located a short walk across a muddy lot.
I didn’t sleep well, but wouldn’t have missed the experience. We brought our own cook to prepare our
adjustment was difficult for me, but even more difficult for some others. We were living at 14,000 to 15,000 feet above
sea level, not an easy task for a Florida
I asked other cyclists
what their impressions were of our visit to Bolivia. Here are a few of their responses:
Mary (FL) Bolivia was an experience in wild
country, touched by nothing but nature!
Fritz (WI) Thank the Lord for desolation-It is
comforting to know such quiet, peaceful, untouched land exists-the desolation is
touched by pure colors and tone, covered by endless blue sky. Truly a spot not to be missed!
ha dei colori che nossun artista potra mai riprodutte. Chi non verde personelmenti non puo capice, a
Puerto e fuzze l’unies limite.
Carolyn (UT) The flocks of flamingos were a wonderous
Tremendous sights that will not be replicated anywhere on this earth!
Dan (CA) Bolivia?....The real people were in
Posted: Sat, 7 March 2009
OVER THE ANDES
OVER THE ANDES
“ Hito Cajon” it is called. It is 15,000 feet above sea level at its peak
near the Chile-Bolivia border. Paso
Jama, a mountain pass road over the Andes
Mountains scales Hito
Cajon at this point. It is our
destination today. It is the biggest
climbing challenge of our 38 day tour.
This is our BIG DAY!
We knew it would be
a long and arduous day of climbing—7500 ft of elevation gain over 45 km—in a
continuous ascent. The extremely high
altitudes and thin air would increase its difficulty.
At 7:45 am we
rolled out of San Pedro de Atacama and biked a short distance to “ruta” 27, or
Paso Jama, an important pass in the Andes connecting Chile
to Bolivia and Argentina. The challenging climb commenced immediately.
There was no relief
for 7 hours as we slowly and steadily pedaled in our lowest gears. Fritz and I were together all day, joined by
Javier, our Argentine guide, along the way.
Our familiar cone
shaped volcano, Lican Cabur, was at our side shining brilliantly in the sun
most of the day.
passed by as slowly as did the trucks, roaring in low gear. We made short range goals along the way--the
next sign post , the next curve,-- to divide the mountain into “doable”
segments. We could always see long
uphill stretches of the road ahead.
The staff in the
van gave continual encouragement to the riders on our march to the top. We were careful of maintaining hydration and
a sustainable pace. Occasionally we
stopped to slow down our breathing, eat, and drink. We made painfully steady progress.
With only a few
kilometers to go we knew we had made it.
But actually seeing the sign to the entrance to Bolivia, and
the chalk mark in the road indicating the turn-around point was a great
feeling. We had reached 15,000 feet on a
bicycle! We had met the challenge of the
This will always be
a memorable day in our lives. So few
have done what we have done. The sense
of accomplishment is our greatest reward.
Posted: Sat, 7 March 2009
REST DAY IN SAN PEDRO
REST DAY IN SAN PEDRO de ATACAMA
We had and enjoyable rest day in San Pedro de Atacama. The highlight had to be our guided tour of the beautiful area surrounding the city, including the Valle de la Luna at sunset. The Museo Arqueologico and the Iglesia de San Pedro were also popular local attractions.
The pictures tell the story: