Northern Argentina: A Race to Get Through It Tupiza, Bolivia to Guandacol, Argentina
Hola good people, Ville here bringing you the next scoop on our Northern Argentina adventures.
For our last full day in Bolivia we had a clear plan: ride till we got close enough to the border of Argentina to cross it early the next day. The first half of the day was spent cruising slightly downhill in a beautiful river canyon, the second half was spent climbing for 15 miles back to the high plains where the winds were ripping. We camped before dark in a giant open sand pit on someone's big property and I got a flat tire from the many thorns everywhere. While patching my tube I decided to change my tire since it was getting pretty bald. I had gotten a new tire in Cusco thanks to the good people at Project Bike Bend for tracking down my size and a huge thanks to K.G's parents for bringing it to me in Peru! I gave my old tire to our friend Camilo, he's been dealing with multiple broken spokes since we've met him and we were hoping my wider tire would help him.
The next day we scarfed breakfast and raced the remaining 10 miles to the border to get to the promised land! We had heard so many great things about Argentina and to be honest Bolivia was not our favorite place. Bolivia has a couple of things that make it hard for touring cyclists : Numero uno, it doesn't have a lot of options for food (rice & chicken or chicken & rice IF you can find a food place in the ghost towns we seldom pass by). Two, the distances between towns are long so you have to haul a lot of food and water with you. Three, It's not that special when it comes to the views, sure Salar de Uyuni (World's largest salt flat) was nice but that's pretty much it.
When we were crossing the border we noticed one thing that bothered K.G and I quite a bit:
When we were greeted nicely and welcomed to Argentina with open arms and big smiles, our Colombian friend Camilo got the third degree from the Masters of the Stamps. " How much money do you have? What do you do for work? How long are you going to stay in Argentina?" We got none of these questions. Camilo is an engineer from Bogota, Colombia...to be honest he's way less of a bum than we are. It's crazy how many more doors a blue or a burgundy passport opens.
On the other side of the border we immediately sensed that Argentina is different from Bolivia and Peru. Less hassle, less animals running around the streets, less honking of the horn, more detail in the architecture (K.G. noticed right away that the windows here are glass set into wood opening windows in contrast to Peru and Bolivia's non-opening glass windows if they could afford the glass), more food and more education. The first thing we needed to find was a bank to get some local currency and so we proceeded to ask some teenagers since they know everything...or at least I did when I was their age. The answers we got were finely articulated and you could sense that the level of education was higher here. After a quick run to the ATM and pockets full of bills( Argentinian fiscal history is a roller coaster) we were heading out of the border town, La Quiaca, since the towns close to the border are pretty dumpy. From the first mile on we were met with an intense headwind, we had to fight this bastard for the next 250 miles until Salta. After a few miles, we took a break at a bus stop and lit some fireworks that I had purchased in Bolivia to celebrate making it to Argentina. As we were lighting them I could sense that this was no longer the part of good old South America where one could do anything and no one would say anything even if you were shooting your automatic rifle into the air.
Argentinians have declared themselves as the Europe of South America...as a European, I have to disagree. Don't get me wrong, they're doing pretty good in South American standards, but there's a lot of room for improvement. Maybe better roads with a shoulder for starters. Roads are better in most parts of Africa. Argentinians seem to trash talk a lot about their neighbors and have their nose up in the air, but right now there is not a lot to boast about. In 2 years the Argentinian peso has lost half of it's value against the mighty US green back. Even Greece has a better central bank! Hopefully I didn't hurt too many feelings in Argentina or Greece.
Our first 12 days in Argentina have been filled with the most boring/repetitive/long/terrible riding of our entire trip, but for the next few paragraphs I'm going to try to focus on the positive things. It's not Argentina's fault that the Northern part of the country is filled with nothing but desert and headwinds from hell. Not bad if your in an air conditioned car driving at excessive speeds, but horrid if your on a bicycle moving as fast as a snail.
Before entering Argentina, our friend Pac-Man (aka Ninja Kicks) and many other Argentinians told us about how much meat they eat and how cheap it is, this has proven to be true. Even if you don't visit the restaurants to see it for yourself, you can witness it on the peoples bodies. Argentinians got way more "Junk in the trunk" if you know what I mean. This has been good and bad for us. We are not border-line starving anymore, but there's only so much red meat you can eat! We're dreaming of salads and seafood but they seem to be only a myth here.
A lot of the towns we've visited seem to be centered around areas that have water, usually we spot the towns from 5 miles distance because they look like an oasis with tall trees and green areas. The small town of Cafayate, south of Salta, was one of these places. Littered with vineyards and cafes that cater to the many passing gringos traveling by car or motorcycle. Since then, Chilecito, was a decent sized town at the base of a giant mountain with year-round snow, so a pretty cool town with water and over-priced hotels. We have struggled with the increase in prices for hotels and hostels to get showers, so we have occasionally opted for the expensive campground (they cost around $12, what we use to get a hotel room for in many other Latin American countries) and have opted to mainly stealth camp in scrub brush sin showers. Sometimes we bathe in gas station sinks. We have also been pushing way too many miles without rest trying to make it through this desert stretch and our health has been suffering.
And my final rant, Argentina, how do function when you are NEVER OPEN??? Literally, we are constantly told that something will open at 8 am. Which is a total lie. We have been lucky if we find anything open by 9 or 10 am. This includes all breakfast places, grocery stores, and the like. Just tell us the truth, that you will roll in and open your shop whenever your butt rolls out of bed. If they are open, breakfast is a tiny grilled cheese sandwich on white bread for over $5. Then, we continually hit towns looking for a place to get lunch or even lunch things, and they are closed for siesta! What hours are siesta? Well, seems like anytime from 1pm-6pm. You want to eat, better save your appetite for after 6pm when things begin to open for the day. Then stuff your jowls with a bunch of meat, hop on your motorscooter that looks like it's being eaten by your ass and head home for your night siesta.
Are we ready for some rest, less sun, less heat, more lakes, rivers, towns and healthy food or what? We plan to hit Mendoza in a few days, hope to take a day off at a Warmshowers host's house and then begin the climb west over the Andes (again and right next to the highest point in the Andes) to drop to Santiago, Chile. Hope that by our next post we have heaps of great things to say about the views, open shops, less heat and water! Until next time, stay classy!
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K.G. & Ville
On a cruise ship, heading north up the west coast to Los Angeles.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” - Hunter S. Thompson
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