El Campo

On March 20, 2013

Cycling out of San Juan was quite a long climb. There was a large mine of sorts right out of town with quite a few trucks on the highway for a Sunday. There was also the largest concentration of road kill and associated smells that I’ve experienced. I suppose the hot weather doesn’t help. I was fascinated with how Argentina just let their railway infrastructure decay. With most of the “semis” (AKA trucks circa 1980 with what looks like large pickup engines pulling more than they should) in major disrepair, trains could really help the economy. There lots of produce that just can’t make it to market due to inadequate transportation. The amount of produce on the side of the road from flying off trucks is startling too.

I made camp the first night in an abandoned and roofless train station over 100 km from San Juan. The perfect cyclist camp. I noticed the Belgians stayed here as well (remember them from Punta Arenas? They’re ahead of me after taking a bus to Santiago skipping a large section). I climbed on top since I had time and I need some climbing in my life. I think my muscles from my arms went to my legs. Also it is way easier going up than down, quite different from cycling.

The best part of this campsite? Sunrise. I was a mere 14 km from rain so I was lucky since I didn’t have the rain fly on!

The next day I rode the whole day more or less. Two trucks rolled out of a dry riverbed full of manly men. They told me I was crazy in the head after hearing about my trip. I stopped for a refill of water at a kiosco. I usually end up explaining what I’m doing to most everyone I meet, and it seems like people are more surprised at my age (22) than the trip itself. The man at the kiosco was no different. The road here can be very poor. Many times sections will be washed out and they just make a gravel road around the bad part. They don’t build bridges in the desert since most of the time the river beds are dry. Instead they put cement rather than asphalt in the river bed so there are many dips in the road. These are usually full of sand, gravel, and potholes leaving one lane to drive on.

Once again I had a nice roofless house to call home for the night. It was located near a mine deep in the mountains and only a couple meters from the highway. Good thing there is no traffic this far along Routa 40. Most people go through La Rioja if they are going north. In fact, there is no transportation north of Chilecito (the town I’m in). I had a room to sleep and a room to cook.

Again, the best part? Sunrise. I love sunrise, but only when camping. Otherwise I’d be sleeping.

The next day I rode to find groceries. Just a 10 km detour off the highway. I did talk to a few old men. Just brushing up on my Spanish. I did finally find a dip full of water. After a 7 km climb out of town my bike broke. I fixed it, in the process needing to remove the front derailleur. Detaching my trailer to put the derailleur back on I lost the bolt to mount it to my bike. I searched for an hour in the gravel, eventually deciding to coast back to town to find a replacement (none of mine were long enough). I packed up and moved everything to the other side of the road. As I go back to pick up my last bag I see the bolt, laughing at me. I had thought of so many options to get out of this situation and there it was. I lost two hours but still made it over 100 km that day. After that first pass I could see snow capped mountains. Glorious! Why didn’t all the cars stop to take pictures too?? I went most of the way up a second pass (3000+ m), camping near a collapsing house. I awoke at 2 am and wondered why it was so bright. Turns out when there are no clouds, you’re in the desert, and at a decent altitude the stars are incredible. Best stars I’ve ever seen in my life. Poor photo from being sleepy and not getting out of my sleeping bag.

Today was mostly downhill. I didn’t feel comfortable making breakfast where I camped so I ended up cycling 50 km (mostly downhill) before eating. The road on the way down was absolutely spectacular. Single lane, dirt, cliff-hugging, and fantastic views.

2 Responses to “El Campo”

  • Mark, Still enjoying the pictures and commentary about your South American adventure. (Just wanted to let you know you’ve got some regular readers….you know, in case you were feeling like you were just sending these posts into oblivion or something.) How do you think this trip is changing you? (I mean, besides your leg muscles) or is that too deep for a comment section? 🙂 Take care…Love, Anne

    • I’ll make a post for this. This sounds like an interesting topic to cover, but you’ll have to patient. I’ll work on it 🙂

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