Finally I have arrived to Mendoza, which means I’ve left Patagonia behind. Since leaving Bariloche I’ve done about 1300 km, the distances here are very, very long… Mostly the landscape has been quite monotonous, but just north of Bariloche I passed through the “Seven Lake District”, which was a real treat! The roads were perfect, with a generous shoulder on the side of the road perfect for bicycles, and the scenery was spectacular. A lot of tourists, but a nice change from the dry pampas.
When I stopped to rest by one of the lakes, a man came up to me and started to talk to me. He was a tour guide in one of the many shuttle buses traversing the district. He lived in San Martin de Los Andes, and invited me to his house for dinner. The day after I arrived to the town, and by a coincidence I met him in the street. “Alfred!”, he shouted and it was so strange to here someone calling for me in a place I’ve never been before, so at first I didn’t think it was me they were calling for! I had lunch with him, I washed my clothes at his place, and he gave me a tour of the city and helped me buying some things that I needed.
One thing I purchased was shorts with “butt protection”, because I’ve managed to get quite a bad saddle sour that just wont go away. I think I have a cyst, but I really don’t know. The cycling pants actually made the thing worse, but at least it’s a little less of a “pain in the ass” now. I think it’s something I will have to live with for the rest of the journey. What makes it better though, is to use an antibacterial cream, and it’s a good idea to use this as a prevention against saddle sours… Well enough about my behind, let’s move on. In the night we ate home made pizza with two of his friends, Buena onda! 🙂
I left the next day, and that day I met two English cyclists who were going to Alaska! It was very nice with some company for a change, although I had a hard time keeping up with their pace. They had a bit different cycling tactic; While I am trying to go quite slow but for a long time, they were really pushing it and then taking longer breaks. They left me behind many times, but I managed to catch up with them again.
The landscape between Junin de Los Andes and San Rafael was extremely dry. I passed several dried out rivers, and the bigger ones were now only small streams with dirty water. I talked to farmers living in the area, and they told me that the last couple of years it has been very dry and that it gets worse every year. Many animals have died because the lack of water and vegetation, and the harvests of for example soy beans have recessed a lot the last years. By the road I saw a lot of animal carcasses, and my guess is that they died of malnutrition. Earlier in my trip I traveled through the area of glaciers in the south of Patagonia, and many of the glaciers there have receded significantly over the last decades.
I don’t know about any specific research on the causes of the extremely dry climate here, but it’s quite clear that it has to do with the global climate change. This phenomena is encountered in many places of the earth, for example in Australia where forest fires are getting more common, India and other parts of Asia where the drought forces farmers and people living in the countryside to move in to the city to get water and work. All over the world the weather gets more extreme; In Sweden, for example, storms are becoming more and more frequent. Indications of climate change are off course very hard to verify, but all you climate skeptics (and other people too :)) should read “Climate change 2013” by IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) which clearly states that human beings are a considerable factor to climate change. I was recommended by another cyclist to see the movie “Home” by the french photographer Yann Arthus Bertrand. This is a really beautiful movie, and I highly recommend everyone to see it. The movie explains many of the problems with human interference of the environment, but also solutions and development.
When I stopped in a small village to fill up my water supply, a Mapuche indian family invited me to sleep in their house, gave me tons of food and let me take a shower. Hospitality is a really good boost for tired legs!
Because of the drought I once had to drink dirty water. I have water disinfectant pills, but I think it didn’t work that well, because I got really sick the day after. Cycling with fever in over 30 degrees centigrade is not an activity I would recommend, but fortunately I was quite close to Chos Malal and stopped there to rest. I ended up staying there for six days, and I don’t remember the last time I was that sick. Continuing after my sickness was hard, I was weak and it felt like I still had fever. At this time it was not very pleasant cycling, but I pushed the last 700 km to Mendoza without any rest.
The last couple of days before reaching Mendoza were really hot with temperatures up to 36 degrees, which made me carry a lot of water. Because of the heat I always had to drink awfully hot water, so I really appreciated coming to Mendoza and drinking something cold! Before reaching Mendoza I cycled on the “Wine road”, with vineyards and bodegas covering the sides of the road. I was told that this part also would have been very dry if it wasn’t for the extensive irrigation system. I asked from where they took the water, but they didn’t know. Maybe from the rivers I saw that was dried up…
I saw a lot of volcanoes on the way, and because of an eruption, this river is surrounded by walls of volcanic rock.
This beautiful volcano “followed” me for a couple of days on my way to Zapala. Nice company! 🙂
I have decided to change my route. My initial plan was to continue north on “Ruta 40”, but because it’s unbearably hot in the north of Argentina I’m going to cross the Andes and go to Valparaiso, Chile. On that side of the mountains it’s much cooler. On the way I will pass Aconcagua, which is the highest mountain in America! I’m not going to climb it (although I got very interested when talking to a german guy on the hostel who just arrived after climbing it), but I will do some trekking to get some good views of it.
After Valparaiso I will go the Pan American Highway north towards the Atacama desert, and then cross the border to Bolivia. It’s going to be nice to cycle by the coast for a while (quite a long while actually).
I was invited to eat christmas dinner with a couchsurfer here in Mendoza, but I’m quite eager to get going again, so probably I will spend christmas in the saddle. I can’t complain, after all it’s hard to get the christmas spirit when it’s 35 degrees and sunshine!
¡Feliz Navidad Amigos!