CRUISING SOUTH

With Thomas and Tina planning to stick to the 40 through San Juan to Mendoza and me wanting to heading off on a little ‘scenic’ detour, Scott and I headed off together the next day. Having lunch under a tree, we remarked on the size of the thorns around these parts – with water a scarce commodity, all plants seem to have evolved considerable defences. A couple of hours later, having stopped for a drink, I looked over to see a small branch of the aforementioned thorns hanging from my rear tyre, one of them having penetrated right through the sidewall. Pulling them out produced a rapid hissing, followed by a deep breath and the well-practised routine of getting the rear wheel off!

Riding pretty hard on a long barren stretch with the sun beating down, we both found ourselves a little short on water and had to do some rationing. Thankfully, there was a kiosco before the climb in the late afternoon and we sunk about two litres of drinks each before heading on! The climb turned out to be a beautiful curving road (would have been perfection on a road bike) with some great scenery, something which suggested the detour was going to be worth the effort!

Around about here, however, Scott started to have real trouble with his Rohloff hub gears. It’s the same system that I have, with 14 gears neatly contained within the hub of the rear wheel. It’s a clever and fantastically well-engineered (it’s German, after all) piece of kit that offers some unique benefits such as requiring very little maintenance and enabling changing of gear at a standstill. If it goes wrong, however, there is relatively little that you can do besides some basic procedures (one of which, ironically, involves hitting this precision piece of engineering very hard with a rubber mallet). With the issue (where gears would fail to engage and leave him freewheeling) intermittent, we were fortunately able to continue on.

As we rolled into the town of San José de Jáchal, I suffered another puncture caused, it would appear, by no fewer than three different foreign objects! Both of us shattered, and Scott not having slept in a bed for about two weeks, we headed for a hosteria. Taking full advantage of the facilities and checking out at about midday, we headed up the valley towards Rodeo. Searingly hot (mad dogs, Englishmen and all that), we pulled over to swim in the wonderfully cold river…

Rodeo is clearly something of a getaway for the residents of San Juan with lots of cabins for rent. There we found a camping and set about buying produce to cook up a decent dinner. The next morning was taken up trying various basic fixes on Scott’s Rohloff and sending out emails to Germany asking for help! We soon hit the road though and made it to the town of Iglesia, where we found lunch and prepared to take on extra water (as we knew that sources would be limited the next day). To expand our carrying capacity, we elected to purchase 2.25l bottles of fizzy drinks each and replace with water. Not wanting to be wasteful, we attempted to drink these bottles over lunch – Scott’s face perfectly encapsulated how we both felt. Had we had more sense, we might have just asked for some empty bottles! Where’s the fun in that though?!

The sugar crash once we hit the climb was unsurprisingly severe and it was a straight, constant gradient 30km climb, with fairly uninteresting scenery to boot! We were rewarded, however, once we got to the other side with some lovely views…

With the sun setting and clouds of small flies molesting us, we headed for an abandoned mine, which was about the only raised area. Salar-style face protection was required but, thankfully, as the night set in, the flies went to bed too and I was able to enjoy the starry sky…

With a big day ahead of us, we set off at sunrise…

After an initial headwind that threatened to make the day a very long one, we turned a corner and benefitted from a tailwind for much of the rest of the day, spending the night at the campsite in Calingasta.

The mechanicals continued, this time with Scott’s rear (tubeless) tyre leaking air but nothing too major. After a brunch stop in Barreal, and downing the rest of Scott’s bottle of Fernet Branca (nothing like a shot before heading out on a long hot stretch in the midday sun), we set off towards Uspallata…

We had been increasingly intrigued by the variety and numbers of roadside shrines we had been seeing along the way. The ever-present Gauchito Gil, Difunta Correa, San Expedito… the list goes on. Difunta Correa was a woman who died of thirst and people therefore leave bottles of water at her shrines, in what is actually a moderately useful source for the touring cyclist! The irony abounds, however, when the site chosen for such a shrine is on a small ‘island’ between two streams!

It becomes little more than organised littering when it reaches the frankly ridiculous levels seen a few days later on one of the main roads towards Chile…

We soon rolled down into Uspallata, 155km in our legs (my biggest non-descent day to date) and headed for the municipal camping, where a rest day was in order.

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