To follow our progress on google maps via Pavinski Traveller, click here:

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


We were THIS close to taking a bus. The constant anguish and mental trauma of dealing with unpredictable winds and weather had us tied in knots. Do we go, do we stay, do we hitch, do we bus? But, after some serious curb-side deliberation, we decided to play the wind lottery again, and go for the final 1-day 120-km stretch of Ruta 40 into Mendoza. As usual on this portion of the trip, the major challenge is that the distance between point A and B is so big, and so ridiculously desolate, that you really need perfect cycling conditions to complete it. Otherwise you find yourself midpoint in the desert, bracing yourself against the wind, wondering what the h you’re going to do now. But the wind gods smiled on us this time and the final 120-km went without a hitch (if we don’t count the flat I got about 2 kms from our target hostel...which we won’t). A pre-dawn start, actually a pitch-dark start (we had to pull over and wait 10 mins because we couldn’t actually see the road yet), kick-started the day and we rode like it was the Tour de France. So ya, a very pleasant turn of events. We rolled into Mendoza under sunny windless skies a few days ago.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that it has been pouring rain since our arrival. But hey, not so bad given the alternative of perhaps being in a tent in the desert, or some hole-in-the-ground hotel in some hole-in-the-ground town. As they say, it could be a lot worse. The hostel that Amy found on the internet (a skill she has sharpened to a point) is fantastico – a beautiful colonial-style house just outside the downtown core complete with gourmet kitchen, courtyard, pool, and of course, a huge asado (see last post). All for the ghastly price of 24 bucks a night for a private air-conditioned room. So while it’s pouring out there, we’re cozy in here. Oh no...not another glass of wine...I really shouldn't...OK just a splash J

Mendoza is a big deal for us. First because it essentially marks the end of our cycling journey through Argentina – from here we turn right (west) towards the Chilian border, a stone’s throw away. Upon reflection, we can’t say we’re entirely unhappy about that. While Argentina has proven to be our hands-down fav, cycling-touring through the parched and endless nothingness of this part of the world has been trying. As the saying goes, a change is as good as a rest, and we’re looking forward to a change of scenery...and a change in wind direction hopefully!

The other reason Mendoza is a big deal is because we’re here for a month and a bit. Amy’s parents are flying in at the end of March for a visit, so we have until then “to play”. And, there is a A LOT to do around here. The two biggies for us are (1) wineries, and (2) mountains. This is ground zero for the Argentine wine industry. Approx 70% of all the wine in Argentina comes from Mendoza and area. Then there are the Andes – second highest mountain range in the world – just down the road.  Add to that, Aconcagua – the highest mountain in the Americas and one of the “seven summits” – is just around the corner. It’s like having the Rockies towering over the Okanagan. Hmmm, what should we do first!?

So far, Mendoza seems like a wonderful place...a lovely mid-sized Argentine city complete with endless walking malls and central plazas lined with palm trees. Although, we haven’t seen it other than under cloud and rain. Yesterday we didn’t even make it to the main plaza before torrential rain forced us into a cafe for cover. Again, could be worse...the cortado mediano (espresso with a shot of milk, medium cup) and flan were delicious. However, an interesting twist in our dealings with the mercado negro (black market money thing) is upon us. It would seem the chicos on the street here do not like small bills, and are only interested in 100-dollar bills. We stockpiled our U.S. cash from ATMs in Sucre, Bolivia, which delivered it to us in 20-dollar bills. Well, NOT GOOD, according to the money guys. “Hard to sell” they say. I suppose if you are an Argentine converting your life savings into dollars, you don’t want a stack of 20s. Long story short is that our 20s are hard to change here. When we do, it’s at a lower rate. But hey, we’re still beating the official bank rate by a mile, so no biggie. The malbec is still 3 bucks a bottle!

So now what? Kind of a holding pattern for the next few days. In between the steak, wine, and cortados, our biggest challenge is to gather up intel and launch an attack on the Andes. There are a few options for getting into the mountains here, and it will take us a few days to organize ourselves. We need more gear, lots of food, transportation to the trailhead, fuel for the stove, maps, directions, permits, etc. Easy stuff when it’s your backyard, but a rather daunting task when in a foreign city you know nothing about. MEC...where are you?! J

A few days of holding steady is good actually. It will give this bad weather pattern time to pass. And, as the guy at the gear store told us, time for the snow up high to melt. Yikes! Ah well, that’s what down jackets are for. The next few days will also be critical for Amy. As mentioned last post, she’s going through a bit of a rough patch with neck and back pain. It’s been going on for a week or so, and we’re now looking for some kind of medical help. Chiropractics don’t seem to be a “thing” here. We have her booked with a physio tonight. We’ll see where that goes. Fingers crossed that she’s ready for the mountains in a few days. More on that and other Mendoza fun soon. Adios.

Now this, my friends, is a cortado mediano.

Friday, February 21, 2014

A few days in San Juan

Weather woes. Go/no-go. While things, including weather, have been fantastico these past few days in San Juan, this morning – the day we chose to get back on the horses – is overcast, windy, and looking stormy. Based on our luck with the weather lately, and lying in a nice bed in a nice room looking out from our nice private balcony, we decided to stay put and see what tomorrow brings. If we were looking out the door of our tent in the middle of the desert, we would ride. But hey, why run away from a good situation. The coffee’s on, better go have a cup and chill J

Feb 21, 2032. The city of San Juan Argentina....
....has been evacuated in the post-nuclear world.
OK whew...that was just siesta.
So San Juan. Kind of a nondescript city living in the shadow of the more infamous Mendoza just down the road. Locals like to tout that their wine (and everything else) is far superior to that of Mendoza’s. I guess we’ll find out. It is pretty darn good here! Walking around town the other day in the middle of siesta felt like one of those post-Armageddon movies where the streets are empty following a nuclear holocaust – no one left alive, just the cockroaches.  But you know, it’s grown on us, and feels like home. From the corner store guy where we buy our wine and pasta, to the chicos working the front desk here at the hostel, to our new friend Mauricio – a permanent resident of the hostel – it’s a fine place to live the dream and pick up some Argentine lingo. It’s also been a good opportunity to get Amy’s bike – an apparatus in constant need of adjustment and tweaking – back to center. The chico at the bike shop could have adjusted the front derailleur and straightened out the back wheel wobble blindfolded. He knew what he was doing, and refused to take my money. With a wave and a “suerte” (good luck) he sent us on our way. Nice. 

Unbeknownst to us, Argentines might just be the friendliest people in the world. At least twice now, going to the corner store for a single tomato or potato, it’s just a wave and a “nada” (meaning “take it”). Since arriving in Argentina we have been invited to more group dinners than we can count. Interesting situation though. “Dinner” here means 11 pm at the earliest, then drinking wine into the wee hours. The other night we begged Mauricio, who wanted to cook for us, to serve at 9 pm. No way. Earliest we could negotiate was 9:30, which turned into 10:30. Then we had to beg him to let us go to bed at midnight. To him the evening was just warming up. We’re learning to keep the group dinners to a minimum J

Speaking of group dinners, we lucked into one of Argentina’s most famous meal customs: the infamous asado. Otherwise known as a b-b-que to us, but much more. Like everything here, an asado isn’t just a b-b-que, it’s an event. Step one is the shopping in the evening, say at 7 or 8 pm, for fresh ingredients which are half a dozen varieties and cuts of meat (which we haven’t learned yet...there are dozens), along with an array of veggies. Around 10ish or so, a fire is made in the asado – a large brick b-b-que prominently displayed as a badge of honour in the courtyard (I’m sure a man ain’t a man here if he doesn’t have a big asado). To the fire is added charcoal. After a couple good hours of wine and other fine spirits, when the coals are good and hot, the grill -- a large metal apparatus operated by a chain and wheel system – is lowered into position. The meat and veggies are place on the grill hovering over the coals. Unlike our b-b-ques which tend to be high-heat, fast-grilled, to sear in juices, Argentines opt for the slow-and-steady method – thus permitting it to take longer and provide more wine-drinking time. Some time, say midnight or so, when the asador (guy in charge) gives the thumbs up, everyone sits down and digs in. Buen provecho! (bon appetite!)

As purists, you won’t find a propane b-b-que within the borders of Argentina. As far as we can tell, they aren’t aware of their existence. After shamefully admitting to owning one, then trying to describe such an appliance to Mauricio, we had to google it and show him images from the Canadian Tire catalogue. His look was disbelief, shock, and horror. He just kept repeating “why?” over and over. Looking like he was going to cry, I turned off the computer. It’ll be a cold day in hell before propane b-b-ques make their debut in Argentina.

OK, windy day in the city. A cortado (espresso with milk) in the plaza maybe later. Actually, Amy has been struggling with back and neck pain lately, so hopefully we can work on that day. Poor little Amy. Not having a lot of fun with that these days. And, hopefully tomorrow will bring back that searing desert heat (and calm winds!). It’s a 2 or 3-day ride to Mendoza, which with any luck, should go smoothly (wind dependant). More on that soon. Chau.

A man and his asado

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

San Juan...good to be out of the rain

Not exactly the image of sun and desert heat we have been painting lately, we rolled into San Juan a couple days ago under a blanket of torrential rains and floods. Rolled in on a bus that is. Despite our best attempts at heading down a new route from Chilecito, the weather – mainly intense and constant headwinds combined with torrential rain – brought us to a virtual standstill. It’s one of those “can’t stay here, can’t go forward (not in any reasonable manner anyway)” situations. Hovering in a middle-of-nowhere hole-in-the-ground waiting for things to break just isn’t how we want to spend our time. Apparently, and according to the corner store guy where I bought our 3-dollar malbec reserve last evening, this part of Argentina hasn’t seen real rain in seven years -- then it rained for 4 days straight. Flooding and washouts are everywhere. In fact, our 5-hr bus ride turned into 9 hours due to a detour caused by a huge highway washout that took out 3 transport trucks.  As they say, you can’t control the weather.

Day one out of Chilecito was going swimmingly as we were out of town before sunrise and cruising down a slight downgrade. By 9 am we were 50 kms into it, and looking like the day was all but sewn up. Then out of nowhere the headwinds slammed into us around 9:30 am. What?! That’s way too early! Usually we have until 11 or 12 before the wind starts to pick up. By 10 we were crawling along like two slugs in a neck-and-neck race. Exhausted, and realizing we weren’t going to make our destination for the day, we found a small settlement in the middle of the desert that was just off the road. Downtown “Los Colorados”:  a collection of mud-brick house with a population of approx 43. Any port in a storm as they say (but we’re saying that a lot these days!). The guy who seemed to run the village graciously allowed us to camp in what looked like the village communal area. Shade and water...basically life support for humans in this environment.

Not so bad, really. Then the rain started. Hmm. Doesn’t seem like much of a desert these days. It rained all night. We woke to wind and drizzle. It was still dark, so we rolled over and enjoyed the sleep-in. Then it was light, and decision time. Do we go forward, or stay here in the rain in the middle of nowhere. We rolled the dice, packed up, and headed into the wind. We lost this time. After a few minutes it started raining, hard. Oh, and of course, the wind. Lots of wind. We pushed through it for a few hours to a dot on the map called Patquia – centre of the universe. Like a couple of soaked cats, we found the only place to stay in town. It had a roof, and a bed. Perfect. Any port in a storm as they say! Next morning the pre-dawn alarm went off. In my boxers I sneak outside for a look. Drizzle and wind. Hmm. Back into bed, wait until light. Not much change. Roll the dice again. Lose again. Head winds right from the word go. After a couple hours of going nowhere, the call went out: abort mission, return to base. Long story short: let’s get the first bus outta here! Which is what we did.

The nearest big town for us was San Juan, a mid-sized city of about 500K sitting about 200 km north of Mendoza on Ruta 40. So via the magic of bus travel, here we are sitting pretty in a lovely house-like hostel in San Juan. Feels like we’re living the song: “...we’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name, it feels good to be out of the rain...” Argentina’s turning out to be another country of extremes. In between towns and cities is relatively harsh. Basically nothing there but sand and scrub. Nada. We’re both surprised with how wide-open and endless the landscape is here. Very much like the U.S. southwest with its endless scrub deserts. Then after a few days of dust and wind and camping in the desert, we get to a town or city, like San Juan, and wham, we’re back living the good life. Steak and red wine for dinner; chilled chardonnay in the courtyard. It’s another head spinner for sure.

So ya, the Argentine life. We both agree that Argentina is head and shoulders the best money-for-value place we have ever been. It’s the best of everything at developing world prices. Argentines are romantics. Everything is old school, takes time, and is done right. Having a coffee in the plaza comes as an espresso shot, with biscotti, and a shot of soda, all delivered by a waiter in a white shirt and black bow tie. Steak comes from a butcher who carves off a fresh slab in front of your eyes and to whatever thickness you desire. Beer comes in a one-litre bottle so you can share it with your friends. And everyone is your friend. The unthinkable would be to walk through a door without a “buenos dias” to everyone in the room – complete strangers or best friends, no difference.  Life is just “good”. Es la vida Buena.

On that note, San Juan is Argentina’s number-two wine area, second only to Mendoza. Naturally then, we have a lot of work to do here. That’s basically the mission for the next few days: R& and wineries. There’s a string of wineries just outside town which we are planning on making a run for on our bikes. It should be a fun bit of day riding with unloaded bikes. Although, on the way back they should be loaded with wine! J Amy may never leave willingly. More soon... Hasta la proxima.

Now that's what I'm talkin' about!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Ruta 40 – hot hot hot!

Well that was easy. Not! The celebratory cerveza upon arriving in the central plaza of Chilecito – another notch on our belts along Argentina’s Ruta 40 – was well-earned. The past 10 days or so from Cafayate have been more of a desert slog than either of us had imagined. Or, either of us wants. It’s pretty much akin to crossing an ocean where islands of trees far off in the distance are your targets. Add an endless road that goes off into infinity, laser-beam like sun, zero water or shade, and head winds that obviously don’t want you to get where you’re going...and you pretty much have cycle-touring Ruta 40 in northwest Argentina. The single biggest challenge is simply that pit stops (human settlements with food and water) have become farther and farther apart, to the point where a day of riding often isn’t enough to span the gaps. All in all, it has become more of an ecochallenge than anything else...which, as previously discussed isn’t really our objective here. No wineries? We’re outta here! Time to head more inland to greener pastures (I can see them in google versus brown...looks much more inviting).

The decision to head more inland away from the deserts of Ruta 40 has been made easier by the fact that the next stretch of road on Ruta 40 – a mountain pass that climbs 1000 m of stinking-hot rock and desert – is closed due to rock slides. Thank god. So ya, decision made. We’re still heading south towards Mendoza, just a bit of a detour.

The town of Chilecito, or should we say, the oasis of Chilecito, is a decent sized town of 30,000 inhabitants smack in the middle of a furnace of rock and desert. One of the funniest things here to us is the absolute quiet and stillness of the afternoons. Perhaps due to the more intense heat and sun of mid-afternoon here, the siesta takes on new meaning. After arriving yesterday in the middle of the day, finding a place to stay, and washing up, we thought we would stroll the streets and perhaps find a place to eat or drink or even shop for groceries and wine. We just haven’t learned yet obviously. Not a creature was stirring, “not even a mouse” as the story goes. It was also Sunday, which might have made it worse, but man, not a sole on the streets, not a store open anywhere. It’s like our 3 am. Although, the big exception is ice cream shops. They are open in mid-afternoon. Perhaps it’s a law to keep the lunatics out on the street at 3 pm cool? Either way, it’s good for us. With half a dozen varieties of dulce de leche (caramelized sweeten milk; very popular here), and a buck for a monster cone with toppings, our favorite chain is Grido.

As they say, “when in Rome” after satiating our developing ice cream addiction we returned to our air-conditioned nest for some down time, then crawled back out of hiding around 7 pm. The plaza was waking up and the chairs and tables from the morning shift were being put back in place. We ended up having a wonderful dinner of beer, pizza, and salad in the plaza (luckily this place opens their kitchen early at 7 pm).

An interesting result of the Argentine schedule is the invention and insertion of another daily meal they call Merienda (dating back to their Spanish roots). It’s a snack – usually a drink with sandwiches or finger food – right around the time we usually have dinner (hence the open kitchen).  That then gets them through to 10 or 11 when they have dinner. Makes sense. Between lunch and 10 pm is a long stretch. I think anyone in that position would invent a meal to fill in the gap J

The 3-day ride from Belen  Midday temps are in the mid to high 30s at least. Another interesting challenge to getting through these areas is the daily diminishing window of morning cycle time we have. Rule number one in hot climates is get up early and be on the road before sunrise, then shut it down by noon or so before it gets too hot. The head wind adds another factor here. It seems like the time the wind starts picking up is getting earlier and earlier. It now seems like we just get going and we can feel the head winds picking up. It makes for stressful decision-making. Do we continue into the wind, or camp now to save energy? However, camping early can be painful given the heat of the midday sun. We were in that situation a couple days ago when we ended up in a small village (oasis) at about 11 am. Kind of early to stop, but then, continuing out into the desert only to be ground to a stop by the winds in the middle of nowhere is not fun. So we ended up camping, and interestingly, on the side of a soccer pitch that el presidente of the village soccer club graciously permitted. It was a long hot wait for that sun to disappear behind the hills. Not really “camping”, more like waiting.

Next morning, after a rather hot and sweaty night, we awoke to gale-force winds. Great. Now what do we do? We can’t ride into gale-force head winds all day. But we can’t stay here (gracious as el presidente was). Decisions decisions. It’s always about decisions. Critical decisions. One would suppose that’s why they call it “adventure”. In the end, we rolled the dice and headed into the wind, hoping that our situation would improve. There was no plan B if it didn’t. Another miracle ensued, and it did indeed get better, and we rode through the morning and into town just in time for last call in the plaza (that would be 2 pm). A fine tasting brew it was! Btw, have I mentioned that “a beer” in Argentina comes in a 1-litre bottle? Brings on yet another meaning to having “a few beers”. At a buck-fifty a litre, no complaints here.

So a couple of days of R&R to take in the town winery (Bodega La Riojana – “bodega” means winery), a little sparkling torrentés in the courtyard followed by steak and a nice bottle of malbec, perhaps another evening in the plaza (ah, the Argentine life...hard to beat), and we’re back on the road. This time Ruta 74 -- hopefully in the direction of greener hills and valleys. As always, more on that soon. Adios babies.

My thoughts exactly

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ruta 40 – into the deserts of the northwest

Rain day. Our plan was a pre-dawn start to beat the heat, but the sounds of thunder and lightening, and torrential rain put that plan on hold. This is desert country. Why ride in the rain? Besides, this is also flash-flood country and desert storms can be dangerous. We have already had to hitch one ride to cross a deep and violent washout...and that was on a beautiful clear day. Good news for anyone following this blog, because now I have today to write this J

Leaving Cafayate was hard. It was just that perfect mix of small town, great accommodation, and fantastic wine. Our daily schedule consisted primarily of slow mornings, wine-tasting afternoons, followed by chilled rosé in the courtyard for cocktails. Hard to beat. But alas, the dream must be kept alive and we launched into the desert after about a week of R&R. We’re in a bit of an “in between stretch” at the moment. Between Cafayate and a place called Chilecito (next wine town) is a long open desert stretch – about 500 kms – with not much in between. The challenge has been to determine where the pit stops are, if any, so that we can replenish our water and food supplies. Carrying enough water has become a serious consideration. The midday heat has also become serious. Oh, and the wind...after about noon the headwinds can pretty much bring us to a stand-still. All in all, a rather challenging area for cycle touring.

We’re about midpoint through this section, in a place called Belén – a small sleepy middle-of-nowhere town. But, big enough to have ice cream shops and a cheap hotel with air conditioning (loving the air conditioning!). Wild camping has become a necessity because of the distance between towns – an interesting challenge in an often treeless landscape. It’s funny how things you don’t think of become critical. For example, trees...or just one...anywhere. We got caught on that one a couple days ago.

Heading into a long hot open stretch around noon turned ugly, when after about an hour the wind picked up to gale force making forward motion an exercise in futility. OK, let’s camp. Hmmm, not a piece of vegetation higher than our ankles in sight. Without shade, “camping” in the midday sun would be at best brutally hot and ridiculously uncomfortable, at worst possibly deadly. Ok, we have to find a tree. Any tree. “My kingdom for a tree!”. Not going to happen any time soon. In my mirror I could see 100-lb Amy getting tossed around in the wind, and losing ground. But then miracles happen, and we spotted a dwelling, with a couple of trees, far ahead in the distance. We pushed through and into our refuge, which was in fact, a small store with cold beverages – and the only human structure on the entire 100-km stretch. Shade and cold beer! (but first a 2-litre bottle of frosty-cold orange Fanta...I think it was the first orange Fanta either of us had ever had, but wow, did it taste good). We couldn’t believe our luck. The family graciously allowed us to pop-up our tent under one of their trees. Amy collapsed into the hammock and closed her eyes. She was a tired little puppy. Any port in a storm as they say. Lesson learned: do not rely on chance while cycling through a desert!

So, a rain day in the desert. Fortunately we are in our little air conditioned oasis at the moment. We shudder to think of what life would be like on the open road today. Flash floods everywhere we imagine. Interesting life here in small-town Argentina. At great risk of sounding like an intolerant foreigner, I am officially prepared to announce that the Argentine daily schedule has evolved from being a fascinating cultural element, to a major irritation and pain in our butts! It is incomprehensible why this schedule exists. Nothing stirs before 8 or 9 am. More than once we have packed up and left our accom at 8:30 am without a sole in sight (i.e., no reception person, no people anywhere), unlocking the front door, and letting ourselves out into empty streets. Things appear to be generally open for a few hours later in the morning, but then wham, everything shuts down about 1 pm for “siesta”, and remains closed until 5 or 6 pm. There’s another fluster of activity in the early evening until 8 or 9 pm, except restaurants, which don’t even think of opening until after 9 pm. We have no idea when the streets go quiet again, since we are never up to see it. No one posts their hours. Even when they do, or someone tells you what time they supposedly open or close, it’s as if whoever is doing the opening and closing, will get it to whenever they feel good and ready. It’s Kootenay time, times a hundred. Why would anyone go to a restaurant at 9 pm, when that’s their posted opening time? Silly gringos...come back in an hour.

All of this has been virtually impossible for us to acclimatize to, and is a nightmare for our schedule of: up-early and hit the road, get to town in the middle of siesta, then wanting to eat or buy food and bevies in the afternoon (which can’t be done), and then get to bed early (without supper). Argentina is an entire country of people living life as an ER nurse on night-shift.

OK, enough ranting about the Argentine schedule (happens at least once on every cycling blog on the internet; as one guy wrote: “why have a store, if it’s only open for a few hours a day?”). The people are wonderful, the weather is glorious, the roads are generally excellent (except for one patch of 40 km of loose gravel...ended up in the back of a pick-up for that one), accommodation is great, and the wine is fantastic.  Overall, life is pretty darn good. And the ice cream, forgot to mention...delicious!

Tomorrow, assuming the flash flooding is over, we continue south and “getting our kicks...on route 66”, er, Ruta 40. Chau chicos!