Mileage - 0
Nothing day really, for a change, Half a day fruitlessly emailing in slow cafe, Bev sun-bathing, little else (PS : Please note record short entry)
Tuesday 6th December
Chos Malal, Andacollo and around
Mileage - 180kms
As we'd decided to stay on another day and risk exploring an area without the guidebook (wow) we headed out after our rather dissappointing breakfast (3 croissants and a solitary coffee...how we've been spoilt before eh)
This area is pushing it's tourist agenda on Volcanoes, so it was another OU field trip in Volanology. Initially a perfect tarmac road lead towards Andacollo, the details I had surfed up the day before proved to be very accurate.
There was the corridor fence to the side of the road that was used in the goat droves, even now, well right now actually, still used. The tarmac road lead through and past glorious mountain scenery, which meant the obligatory stop for video clips and stills of your heroic bikers cast against snowcapped vistas.
Truely this was Marlboro Country. We came acrosss countless head of cattle and goats being driven by gaucho type true-to-life cowboys. These guys obviously live the full life, and a hard one it must be. They humoured us with waves and photographs and we were in awe of their skills in driving such large amounts of animals along so easily.
The mountains round remainded me of colleagues pictures of the Grand Tetons, these, even now, though low, only 4500 ft on road, snowxcapped.
The small hamlets here about are like oasis towns, clustered in valleys with columnular trees, the only tall vegetation in the otherwise desolate landscape.
Friendly locals all wave like used to in Scotland or on moors in years past, better sure when you may need someones asssistance, unlike our insular times.
Andacollo had accomodation that looked good, good food, not mentioned in any of the guides, a forgotten - but far from forlorn - quater of the country. My advice would be, come here, and stay in Andacollo, wish we had. great little place where you could immerse yourself. Hell even at lunchtime I threw myself into helping the locals bump start a car, and the owner of the hotelry had to have his picture taken with the bikes.
We rode around some more before returning to Chos Malal which is a big enough place to have most things, especially if you want clothes or shoes !
Wenesday 7th December
Chos Malal to Lago Aluine, Villa Pehuenia via Ruta 40, 23 and repio Ruta 13
Mileage - 200 odd kms
Leaving Chos Malal the weather looked mixed, still unseasonally cool, in fact the lad at the police check-point (no problems and friendly as ever) said usually about 30 here, nearer 20 but feeling a lot cooler. All liners in and the heated grips in use on and off, until near permanant towards end of day, more of that later.
There were long stretches of striaght road stretching across the now normal plains with large hills all around and occassional high peaks breaching the skyline to the right with their snowy tops. The scenery is so reminisant of all those old cowboy films. Reinforced by the two wheeled gauchos waves to their horse-mounted colleagues...hey, who are we kidding, but there is a link there. Not quite as tacky as those Easyrider murals of course, but we receives as many waves from horsemen as we promote. We do share a limited bond in our mechanical mounts with their four legged workhorses. We both travell with out belongings strapped to our mounts (I do let Bev sit there mind).
The colours of the dusty sendimentary hills remind you of those jars of the sickeningly sweet and yet sharp sherbert stuff that came in layered colours also like those jars of multicoloured sand you occassionally get in tacky tourist shops. Interesting geology all around.
The other thing you note is the ccassional vehicles, or individuals sat by the road side in the most inhospitable locations at the end of long staright dusty roads leading away into seemingly endless wastes. They are the people awaiting the bus to take then from their far distant eastancias or villages onwards to civilisation for whatever reason.
Especially now without the intercom (hopefully only another week until we're up and running again) you get lots of time to ponder life, the universe, and everything. It's still like a holiday now, but at the same time - like every tour I've ever taken - it's like we've been doing this for ever and the 'normal' life was never there. Only the occassional realisation that bills haven't been paid at home, even though we left everything in place, bring ou back to reality occassionally. You can never plan too far in advance is my advice, set all your systems up a couple of months in advance so you know they work I'd advice, even now we have Visa bills unpaid that should have been automated. Still, it'll resolve in time.
To hell with that anyway, what of the day unfolding ?
We battled that insessant wind some more, occassionally I'd see Nik in the mirror leaned over at an accute angle and wandering one way or the other, truely we were weaving our way down the road like little boats on a stormy sea.
A lunch stop, it WAS cold, about 15 (I know, I know, but wait 'til alter before you dismiss it in your wintry hell back home) so we took a break. We had a coupla coffees each and a very large hamburger of good standard for all for under £8.....and that included a coffee for our Spanish friend too. He had walked in and introduced himself. he was here on business (aeronautical) and staying on a few days to visit friends and see the place. He's been the places we had, but running up to Aconcagua base camp and now bound for Bariloche. A fellow airhead owner back in Spain for once he was more interested in our bike than Niks. He was a great and very enthusiastic host and a joy to spend time with, hopefully we'll meet on the road again one day.
So we had choosen a route to take in a couple of lakes near the Chilian border that host huge collections of Monkey Puzzle trees. Our first site of the area, battling up a headwind, was distant smaller peaks with very obviously fresh snow. The trees stood proud like ancient Caledonian pines and for about the 100th time we were reminded of Scotland.
These tress are also ancient and proud in stature. As we rode further in we were shielded from the wind - horah - and the trees grew in number to create one of the most memorable entrances into a new landscape I think I have ever witnesses.
This country is without exception extraordinary. It has hidden treasures that exceed anywhere we've been mile for mile. Our first real view was of basalt towers ith trees huddled in groups all around and a waterfall spilling over a face in a beautiful freefall with the wind only adding to the specatacle. It was like a scaled down version of that one at Yosemite, stunning.
The horizon showed clear wintry weather, and as we have continued south the hills are lower, but more wintry...it was looking like we were about to become very aquainted !
Shortly after the rain started and the temp was below 10. We had to stop to don our waterproofs, and those heated grips were on fully now.
Our junction appeared and we veered off on another dirt road, the first and last of the day. This one, as wet, had difficulties anew. The rocky repio sections were fine, though of course all the embedded polished pebbles and stones aren't exactly very grippy. The problem was the more muddy or clay based sections, very hazardous, and very slow and careful thank you. Some sections felt we were riding on lard !
As we climbed we were passing more and more snow and then enevitably the snow was occassionally on the track. Hmmm....merry bloody christmas ! Anyway the clouds had closed in and we had to badger on relentlessly to get past the higher - 5000ft - ground and on our way down as it didn't look like it would suddenly burst into sunshine anytime soon.
True to when lucks on your side he track descended and became more sandy grit on clay and very good for progress, as long as you saw the soft spots in time. There were secions were the old bike was crawling along crab style sliding sideways. Several heart palpulations later we were nearer our goal.
As the lke loomed into view, and a tarmac road, the rain started in ernest. bummer ! At least we were nearly done. The small matter of accommodation was more problematic, either folk didn't want to know, or it was costly. we took costly but actually ended up getting a better deal chucking us all in together and an evening meal to make it unecceassary to go out again (nice one). Hosteria Al Paraiso gets a recommendation based on the excellent meal they rustled up for us at short notice and the very helpful staff. Spent some time going over the map and the places we had highlighted (they were impressed we had reseached so much, tick for Bev) and gave us some "local recommendations for local folk".
So your global warriors have not been forced to erect canvas and yet again have four walls and a roof. OK it was costly this time £7 each.
So you don't feel we're such wimps I should point out the temp got down to 3 degrees at one point, and the weather is set for 3 more days.
So, this is the South American summer then .....
Thursday 8th December
Villa Pehuenia to St Martin de los Andes
Mileage - 220 kms
We had a huge breakfast this morning. Home made cakes, several, toast, cereal, coffee, home made jams. Just about more than you could eat and they kept asking if we wanted more.
Sadly they had priced the room wrong to us and it wasn't 108, it was 180 so quite a difference. By the time last nights excellent steak etc was added, and 3 small bottles of beer each,the total was 270, or a round £18 each which I guess isn't to bad really but more than we'd have chosento pay, but limited options and it was chucking it down so we hadn't too much room for manoever. It was much more like hotel accommodation though and the people were very nice.
The ride out was on the tarmac for a few miles with a 2km diversion to take in the ski area, which would have given fantastic views if it wasn't for the fact it was very cloudy and about to rain. The Monkey Puzzle Trees are a thing of wonder, quite extraordinary. Common enough site in UK in gardens, but not in these numbers, normally solitary, and most of these are ancient and huge, obviously very slow growing. Many seemed to be in flower.
Not sure quite how, but in silloutte thay often look like something more tropical, like coconut trees. Think it's the fact some lose all but their top growth. Even odder when cast against a background of snow.
All to often the views take us striaght back to Scotland, ironicall at this time of year. This is a bit unseasonal here, but even with all the fun we're having I find myself pining for thr climbing opportunities. Though there is snow here, there is no ice of course.
There are a few lakes here and our drive around was nice though a bit dissappointing for the long views. In places we would have seen much mor edistant views but not today. The snow was lurking in and out of the cloud. Once again we were remarkably close to Chile and as ever had to go through a now standard police check-point. Just a look at the passports and a check we weren't going to Chile and we were on our way again. No one has asked to see the bike docs of any form for ages now, passports suffice. And at least they're all resonable and don't try it on.
A fox ran across the road in front of us at one point, quite large and marked more like a Silver Backed Jackel from Africa than a traditional fox of the UK.
This is certainly another area I'd recommend visiting, worthy of a few days for some walking if better weather at time. Lookef like the second hamlet might have a cheaper hostelry too.
he weather improved to much more sun, and it's more sheltered from the wind down in these valleys to but still preety cold.
Out of the park we again hit some startling new twisty tarmac for several miles then onto another repio that followed a fast flowing wide and very good fishing river. Fantastic quality even though dirt, and in fact recorded the fastest speed, at 118kms, of the day. As the route rose it got rougher, lot's of gravel, at one point a car had gone over the edge onto it's roof. Inhabitants OK and police were there. Still very volcanic with lots of wild rock formations from basalt cliffs to lava fingers and the like.
Another section of tarmac brought us to Junin de los Andes and first petrol for 280 odd kms. A quick coffe and on to here for bed. Found a place for 100 for the three of us, two rooms and shared bath. Awaiting heating making it to radiators and then off to ecxplore town and catch up on mails.
Two argentian reg Transalps and a R80 g/s that beongs to a German operating tours for german customers. Runs out of Salta. look rather worn, but guess up to task.Posted by Simon McCarthy at December 11, 2005 09:16 AM GMT
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