It was time to say goodbye to the mountains and with the Andes at our backs we started heading east towards Rosario and the Atlantic coast.
Ads we were heading east across the country it was time to say final goodbyes to our travel companions, Jake and Liam. We had actually already met up with Jake in Santiago for beers and waffles as he was due to fly home. Liam is continuing riding north with his dad so our paths crossed one last time in the tiny town of Potrerillos, half way between Uspallata and Mendoza. After several weeks of riding together it felt like we’d known these guys forever. We’d parted ways a few times already along the way but saying our goodbyes, this time for real, was a strange feeling. I’m sure we’ll be back in Yorkshire at some point in the future and we’ll meet up for a pint with pie and peas!
The ride from Uspallata to Rosario was 1030km and it took us 11 days of riding. Longer than the equivalent bus would have taken but it meant that we were able to see more of the country and parts that we hadn’t initially planned on visiting. It turned out to be a much more enjoyable ride than we had anticipated and totally changed our opinion of Argentina.
What we had expected was the dead straight roads, flat landscape and the fairly sweltering temperatures (by British standards). The wind also played a part and nearly everyday there was some kind of wind, either a head or side wind and this sometimes slowed progress. But compared to Tierra Del Fuego it was nothing!
The roads themselves were remarkably good. Mostly wide carriageways with a smooth surface, but most pleasingly there were green areas on both sides of the road that allowed us to get away from traffic and find some shade whenever we needed a break. As we were mostly riding on main roads we had expected similar levels of traffic to our time riding the Ruta 5 in Chile, but in comparison the Argentinian roads were really quiet! Despite being on some of the main routes between Mendoza and Buenos Aires the riding was surprisingly enjoyable.
When we were planning this section of the ride we imagined the terrain to be the flat, barren pampa that we had experienced in southern Patagonia. Our actual experience was completely different. The landscape was more lush and green than expected and our entire ride passed through agricultural regions. Near Mendoza this meant wine country and vineyards as far as the eye could see. The smells from the wineries where they were processing all the grapes were amazing. As we headed east the vineyards first gave way to peanut plantations and then maize and cereal crops. Fields of wheat, oats and soya so big and flat that you could see the horizon before seeing where the field ended. The scale of the agriculture here was also visible in every town along the road, with huge silos and processing plants being a common sight. For us this infrastructure meant there was a town every 20km and we never struggled to find food or water, another big difference to Tierra Del Fuego.
Each of these towns, from Buenos Aires to Mendoza, used to be connected by a massive rail network spanning the country. Nowadays there are very few train lines in Argentina, mostly in the areas closest to BA and each of the towns we went through had relics of this old infrastructure. There was a big park in every town with either an old station or platform and the station’s sign left to remember when there was once a railway line there. It was great for us because we always had somewhere to sit and eat lunch in the shade. It’s a shame that these lines are no longer in operation but as the roads are so straight here you can drive between major cities in no time.
Due to all of the vineyards around Mendoza, wild camping proved difficult as there were a lot of fences and private property signs. While the temperature is still hot, the days are getting shorter and this meant for a couple of times when we were pitching the tent in the dark. Luckily we always found somewhere to stay, from a roofless abandoned house to a truck stop and behind a toll booth on a peaje. We’ve also discovered that there are very cheap campsites here too, all of which are totally empty as we are out of holiday season again.
We took a short break from the riding in San Luis, somewhere we knew nothing about but left knowing a great deal more thanks to our amazing Couchsurfing host, Paula. What we hadn’t expected was that San Luis is surrounded by hills, lakes and beautiful green spaces within easy reach of the city. Paula took us to some of these places including a race track around a lake (that you’re allowed to drive on!), a reservoir and dam where we watched the sun set and a beautiful mountain road which had signposted mountain bike trails down it. We will definitely be back here with real bikes!
As we were staying with a Couchsurfing host it was more sociable than if we’d stayed anywhere else. We drank mate at the river, went out for a pizza and shared a meal with her friends. Ben also got to show off his culinary skills by making a cheesecake which went down really well and even Paula’s two cute dogs wanted a piece! Gorda and Frida were toy poodles and they were super cool and so fluffy!
Paula is an English teacher at a private institute and as a fellow teacher, I really wanted to see how school in Argentina compared to those in England. Paula thought this would be a great idea and mentioned it to her Year 6 pupils who decided they wanted to show me a slice of Argentinian culture during my visit. I was a bit nervous before entering the class as it had been months since I’d had to stand in front of a class but it took less than a minute for it all to come back. I loved every second of it! From the typical Argentinian food we shared to the folkloric dance ‘El Gato’ that they taught me and a tour of the school, I came away with a better understanding of what life is like as a child in Argentina. Unlike the UK they only go to school 8.30am-1pm during the week and I learnt that even children here drink mate, something I’d never even considered before. The children had also prepared some questions, in English, which they confidently read aloud and I enjoyed answering. Some of the things they wanted to know were what my parents names were, what we eat in England and generally about our trip so far, but they were just so enthusiastic, it was awesome. This is definitely something I am keen to experience in other countries as we continue our travels across South America.
^ 10 points if you can spot Steph!
San Luis was only a third of the way across the country and we had another week of riding until we reached Rosario, the next big city where we would be staying with another couchsurfing host. What we didn’t expect was to receive such incredible hospitality between these two cities. On two occasions we found ourselves in towns, at sunset, without campsites and needing a place to spend the night. Luckily the Bomberos Voluntarios (Voluntary Fire brigade) came to the rescue! In General Deheza we camped in their yard and were welcomed into their station to shower, cook and even be interviewed for the local radio station!
That was random but the next day we had cycled even further than expected and ended up on the doorstep of the Bomberos of Justiniano Posse. They were just as welcoming and we were soon sat in their newly renovated kitchen/dining room sharing mate. The next thing we knew we were being introduced to the town governor and recorded an interview for the local TV channel! We were also honoured to be the first guests to use their new dorm room and we got a tour of the station, even getting to go inside the fire engines and try on some of their kit. It would have been the best school trip ever!
We have said it many times over the last few days that we are so glad that we decided to ride across the middle of Argentina and see a different side to the country. Our experience of Argentina so far has been only in the busy tourist areas and in Patagonia where there are big distances between towns with nothing in between. It was difficult to plan logistics (food and shelter) and the areas we had already visited were more expensive than Chile. The last 1000kms have been all about getting off the tourist trail and it’s fair to say that it has totally changed our perception of Argentina. We have found that further away from the Andes we got, the camping and food were much cheaper. There have been towns every 20kms to buy fresh fruit, pastries and bread each day and most importantly, the people have been amazing. We’ve been shown more generosity than ever before and it’s because you’re a tourist in a regular Argentinian town, so it’s a big deal. Every time we stopped we have had people asking us where we’re going, where we’ve come from (usually one or the other with the same question and it gets very confusing!) and generally curious about what brings us to their town or village. It has been so much better than we had expected and we are so thankful for having been hosted by Paula (San Luis) and Victoria (Rosario – more in the next blog) as they were both so knowledgeable, we’ve learnt so much more about Argentinian history and culture, and if we hadn’t cycled this route we would have left with such a different impression of the country. ¡Muchas gracias por todo chicas!
We’re excited to soon be reaching country number 3: Uruguay. Follow our progress on Instagram and Facebook for more regular updates and photos.
Ben and Steph