9 September 2012

Argentina - September 2012

02/09/2012

So I have missed a few days in my blog update. Two days were spent at Iguazu Fall's and there are enough photos to make any further text redundant. I sat on my posterior all of yesterday conducting further research. Today I am heading off to Posadas on a bus. There really isn't much to say about such low key day to day stuff. Tonight I will stay in Posadas and then gear up in the morning for the border crossing into Paraguay followed by a short 20km cycle to the Hotel el Tirol. A few days birding before tackling the road proper for the first time in weeks. Am rather looking forward to getting back on the bike, my legs are starting to feel a little slack without the now familiar pedal work. My elbow seems to be in pretty much the same state it was in last week and even that of 5 weeks ago. So no amount of rest or drugs has had much impact. Will carry on with the anti-inflammatories for a few more weeks before making any further decisions. 

One decision that I have now confirmed - I will not be cycling to Patagonia. Yes, I know I am now going to be missing some amazing scenery etc, but this trip is about maximising my bird list. Travelling thousands of kilometres for a relatively small, albeit important set of birds simply doesn't tick the work/time/expense/reward ratio box. I will use Patagonia as a go between when I need to leave either Peru or Colombia. In these countries, I will have to break up my stay to revalidate my visa - I simply will not be able to traverse and bird these countries in under 3 months. So Patagonia has now become a destination that I will fly to and scoot about in a hire car over 10 days or so instead.

Arrive in Posadas and realise that I have left my helmet under the hostel bed in Iguazu. First time that I didn't conduct a leaving inspection and I ended up forgetting something. Will have to find another tomorrow, being Sunday there is nothing open at present. Cycle off to find the hostel which happens to be at the other end of the town. I find the right street, but cannot find the hostel. A group of dodgy looking young men occupy the corner at the end of the street. Look very much like a band of drug dealers, decide not to ask for directions and turn around. The numbers are wrong, the address had to have been around the dodgy blokes. Back down the road where an elderly chap tells me that the hostel is indeed where the 'gang' are sitting. Park the bike and see that not only does this hostel not a have a sign up front, but it's street number has been painted over too. One of the gang members gets up and introduces himself as the receptionist. 

Indeed far from being a drugs gang, the group outside are the ubiquitous 'hangers on' that always accompany the staff working at hostels. They still look pretty unsavoury, so I get my bike inside and out of harms way. The 8 sleeper room is full tonight, so I will be on the top bunk. The chap underneath is a Frenchmen of some description - he doesn't seem to speak, a German couple and a Yankee. Showered and cleaned, head off to find somewhere to eat. It is barely past 19:00 and nowhere seems to be open. Back to the hostel for some more emails and revision for the trip to Paraguay. At 20:00, I venture back out and this time there are a few places open. I find a decent looking pizzeria and have a Lomito - large thin steak covered in ham, egg and peppers with a decent salad and fries garnish. No beer allowed, so a Fanta Orange - an entire litre of the stuff. Very few restaurants serve 'chica' sizes. The Frenchmen has also come to dinner here - he seems to have an unhealthy interest in some of the young kids running about the restaurant. Seen this all before from the dodgy old Brit and German tourists in Thailand. These 'things' need their brains re-wired or at least have some of their anatomy chopped off for the well being of everyone else at least. Unlike Thailand, I cannot see anything dodgy happening around here - family is big in Argentina and parents are rarely far from their own kids or anyone else's. 

Birding by bicycle is a little tricky to begin with. It is necessary to have enough neon colours to allows cars to see you, but too much to scare the hell out of the birds.

The you must have the appropriate gear to hand. My binoculars and camera fit quite snuggly into my handlebar bag. Although you won't get much more than a 70-300mm zoom lens and small body in there - hence my decision to by a compact Nikon D5100 body.

It goes without saying that birdwatchers look a little odd in the first place - try doing it with cycling tights on! It has provoked some interesting stares and no doubt even more interesting 'in car' conversation by passing motorists!




The remainder of the evening is spent preparing for tomorrow. Sleep is diabolical, every time the Frenchman moves, the entire bed squeaks, mosquitos are everywhere and these beds were built for the locals, not taller Europeans. The two rotund Germans compete in a 'who snores the loudest' competition - the women wins by a stretch. I know that there is no breakfast in the morning, but even if there was I wouldn't touch it. This is comfortably the worst accommodation I have stayed in all tour - even the abandoned shed in Uruguay was better than this.

Speaking of which, there shall be no more abandoned buildings - the recent Hantavirus issues in the US have reminded me of yet another microbe that would like to kill me given the opportunity. 

03/09/2012

Up at 07:00 and head off to the shops for a few additions to the food pannier. Pack my gear and sit down for a cup of coffee before leaving. There is some clean looking sugar in the kitchen which makes for an improvement on the sachet powder stuff I am currently using. Bad hostel, bad night and my morning nose dived immediately - salt is what that stuff was. Of course, what else would have remained clean in this place. Twat.

Remake coffee with powdered saccharine. Having regained some colour, I pay up and leave. First port of call is a Farmacia - I need more drugs. Get another 20 tabs and then have a problem with the price. Pharmacist says 'cinco' and I'm sure I have missed the first part of the number. She repeats and this time holds up her hand to show five. There is simply no way that these tablets cost $5 pesos, they were near enough $80 pesos in Iguazu. So I give her $100 pesos and see what change I get. It was only $5 pesos after all. Maybe I got 'locals rates' or possibly drugs made of re-used cooking oil that the Chinese have just been busted for. No way to know.

Next stop was the bicycle shop I had spotted on my way in yesterday. Means a bit of back and forth is going to be required, but definitely not going to be cycling without a lid on. I'm not concerned about vehicle accidents as much as I am about solo ones, especially falling over. I have had a few near misses in soft sand or sudden holes, but mostly while dismounting when tired. Helmet is not of particularly good quality and there are no colours to choose from. Some piece of cheap Chinese crap, but better than nothing. Also buy some more cork tape for my handlebars. I had wanted to get another neck in order to lift my handlebars, but the only ones they had were of the same angle as the one I currently have. So I will double tape the handlebars to try and cushion the vibration a little until I can get the desired neck - most likely in Cordoba. 

Shopping done, I made for the border. While waiting at a traffic light, an old fellow pulls up on his moped and we have chat. He tells me there is no way that I can cross the bridge on my bike. He continues on about going here, there and somewhere else, but I cannot keep up and soon lose track of what he was on about. As far as I can see, the river is almost a kilometre wide and it had only one crossing on it for hundreds of kilometres in either direction. I'll be going over the bridge thanks. After an age, the traffic lights changed and we bade each other good bye. 

Traffic lights or 'semoforos' in Argentina are quite bizarre. In Buenos Aires they are pretty much the same as the USA, but the rest of the country it is quite peculiar. Instead of having vehicles move bi-directionally as is the norm everywhere else, the traffic lights only allow for one line of traffic to operate at a time. This actually works very well, in that turning traffic doesn't cause congestion. However, it does mean that you sit and wait for up to 3 minutes at some junctions waiting for you turn. 

Interesting traffic observations aside, time to cross another border. Get into the queue for 'Turistas' and patiently move forward. A young lady of the 'Gendarmeria' walks up to me and says 'no bicicletse, prohobido el puente'. So the old fellow was perfectly accurate. I enquire as to whether I can walk across, but get one of those stares that suggests she isn't finding my jokes very funny. On my bike and back into town. I am not prepared for this sudden change in plan. Will have to find a place to stay in town and spend the day planning my new schedule. 


I suppose I may have tried harder to get into Paraguay. I could have gotten the bus over, but for what, 1000 metres only to get out and pack my gear again. All would need to be repeated again on the way out. What it really came down to, was that there were not many species of bird left for me to get in this part of Paraguay now. So with that I spent the morning pedalling around this horrible town (the provincial capital of Misiones believe it or not) trying to find a hostel or hotel. I certainly wasn't going back to the other shithole, decent WiFi or not. 

Found some free WiFi on the rather decent 'rambla' they having running the length of the river. The feed was very slow, so it took a while to get anywhere. Turns out, the only other hostel in town is only a few hundred metres away. Off we go, for the same battle faced at the other - no signboard and numbering isn't exactly in sequence. Either way I find this tiny property that is allegedly a large hostel. Door is locked and reception don't answer to a few loud knocks. I've already accepted that I am going to be having 'one of those days', but come on, it is 11:30 on a Monday morning and there are no staff?

For the first time in months I swear, but not in English. I don't speak much Castellano, but I did master the words 'puta madre' many years ago. Back down to the rambla for another slow browse of the cheap hotels. I find what looks to be a cheaper hotel on my way. Room looks liveable, by comparison to yesterday - I'm sure I would have nodded in approval had this been a communal Venezuelan prison cell. Either way, I am a bit stumped to find that it costs $250 pesos a night. For the same amount of money, I stayed in Puerto Iguazu for 4 nights with a decent breakfast and one of the worlds 7 natural wonder only 20 minutes away! This is Posadas - an egregious pimple of a town/city, damned barrio from what I can make out. 

Time was ticking and I decided to stay where I was rather than try my luck today. Dropped my gear, showered and headed out for lunch. Ended up walking about the town for a good 45mins trying to find a place that was either open or was serving something other than clothes. A decent hamburger for lunch and head back to the hotel. WiFi isn't working... At this point I wonder if I shouldn't just crawl under the covers and go to sleep, for it would probably have been the safer bet. There is some redemption in that another router down stairs is at least working. I start to make some progress on my new plans when there is a power failure. I switch to getting some offline work done in the meantime. The power returns an hour later and I get the remainder of my plans arranged. 

It had always been my intention to leave Paraguay via Posadas anyway, so I could simply have continued as planned. However I was now up against the visa clock. Without a new 3 month Visa, I only had just over two months left before I had to be in Bolivia. So I would have to sacrifice my original plan of going to the Ibera Marshes via Colonia Carlos Pelegrini and head west instead. I would still see some of the marshes, but this was not the conventional route and thus I had little information on what I might expect. I would just have to hope for the best. 

By now it was approaching 19:30 and I was feeling peckish. Off for the customary dinner stroll. I no longer walk at the half march half sprint clip that I used to, more a languid lope now. Up and down the main streets - plenty of ice cream parlours and coffee shops. A hour later and still not a restaurant in sight. I was about to give up and console myself with Maria biscuits and Dulche de Leche when I spot a Chinese. It's a buffet menu too, so I pig out on very good Spanish and Chinese food. Crash upon entering my room, shattered after the crappy previous night and today's heat. 

04/09/2012

Get my gear packed and look forward to breakfast. At these rates, it should be pretty decent for a change. Things hadn't improved unfortunately - 4 slices of stale toasted roll and a croissant. Bugger it, fetch the bike and head off. Town is busy today and manage to collect most of the red lights, but happy to be leaving this dump of a place. My hard shoulder disappears after 10km's, but the road is not particularly busy and the Argentines maintain their excellent driving skills and give me plenty of room when possible. In fact, I never had to leave the road once. The wind is gusting, but for a change it is not into my face. Mostly it is across me, but for a very sweet hour I had it directly behind me. Not wanting to let an advantage slip, I belted along at over 40km/h. Even when the wind was across me, I was still hitting the low 30's. Distance flew by quicker than ever and by 12:30 I had already knocked out over 100km's and reached the town of Ituzaingo. I could well have pushed on, but I wanted to take my time and bird the next section in the morning.
 
I didn't expect much from such a small dot on the map, but was pleasantly surprised. Not only did it have a plethora of accommodation, but looked to have a decent number of restaurants too. I was even able to be WiFi picky, something I don't normally bother with in tiny towns. I found a likely looking place, probably a little too likely - so I was expecting to pay a bit here. Quite on the contrary, for my own entire apartment (BBQ area, queen bed, air con, kitchen, lounge, cable tv etc) only $150 pesos for the night. Never mind the fact that my door opened pretty much onto the river or that I could simply wheel my loaded bike straight through the front door. And the rather large ice cream parlour right next to me. If I wasn't tight on time, I would have stayed another night just for the hell of it. 

Into the shower, then got the washing done. Coffee sorted, laptop out and more work to be done. I had no idea what my accommodation options would be elsewhere, so I needed to get the next section of my tour through the north western Argentinian Andes sorted. It suddenly dawns on me that my entire tour will reach a cross roads within the next two weeks. If my body can handle the altitude, then we are all good. If it can't then it is over, not just the cycling - the whole thing is finished. If I cannot handle extreme altitude, then I cannot bird those regions - and there would be no point is birding if I have to sacrifice so many species to altitude sickness. I'm going to find out soon enough, so no point is concerning myself just yet. 

Onto the laptop and start crunching through vast numbers of trip reports. Bird calls and images sorted. Tomorrow we hit the Ibera Marshes for a string of Tyrants and Seedeaters hopefully. End up wandering around town for an hour trying to find somewhere decent to eat. Many of the restaurants I had seen are closed, probably only open during the summer. I munch my way through a decent Lomito roll while pouring over more trip reports. Had enough Fanta Orange, so switch to Coke tonight and immediately remember why I don't drink the stuff frequently - too much gas. 

Another crash into bed, at least my air con has made the room cool. Can't imagine what these places are like when summer arrives. 

05/09/2012

Early doors today, gear packed and gone by 08:00. Struggle for 30 mins to get out of the town. There is a conspicuous lack of signage and I go around in circles trying to remember where I came in from. Eventually find the exit and get going. The wind is across today, was very much hoping for a tail wind again. Progress is a little slower than yesterday and the road is definitely busier. Not much in the way of birds to start with, but only expecting an improvement once I move off Route 12 and onto the country roads.

Takes a bit longer than expected to reach the junction of Route 118, but luckily there is a decent amount of cloud cover keeping things cooler and the birds are still active. The habitat looks quite crap though, just farm land and hundreds of cows - so much for the 'protected' status of Ibera. I have just on 30km's to cycle before reaching the next town, so plan to go slow and bird the area as best I can. No more than 1km into the cycle and the ‘über’ target species flies across the road. Panic ensues while I try to get my camera out and jump into the grassy verge trying to find said bird. Despite there only being a small amount of long grass, I cannot find him. I traipse around for a few hundred metres in either direction, but it is all recently burnt grassland - definitely has to be in the small grass patch. Try as I might, I never did see the male again - only another brief glimpse of the female. No photo, but I'll take it - Strange-tailed Tyrant! 
Relief washes over me, that was the one bird I was seriously going to regret had I missed it by not going to the conventional sites on the other side of the marshes. With that, the birding activity picked up rather well and a steady stream of new species were churned out - Aplomado Falcon, Greater Thornbird, Rusty-collared Seedeater amongst the commoner species. A small covey(?) of Greater Rhea crossed the road in front of me. Quite baffled as to how they got there - both sides of the road are fenced and they certainly cannot fly. So with some bemusement, I watched as they crouched down, popped their necks through two strands of wire and then the rest of the body simply followed. Not in all my years in Africa did I ever see an Ostrich do such a thing.

A few km's down the road brought me to a large dam. It was about time to stop anyway, so a spot of water birding could also get done. I didn't expect much from this man made feature - I had already seen most of the open water species anyway. I approached the lake to see a rather large river dog retreat to the water - best not get too close to the edge in that case. Despite my reservations, the dam was actually teeming with a host of duck species, some herons and a few Wattled Jacana's. Then I noticed an odd looking Tyrant or Monjita, couldn't work out what it was exactly until a male came and perched next to it - White-headed Water Tyrant. Another of my target species in the bag. Just as I was about to get back on my bike, I noticed a bird shape in a nearby bush. The closer I got, the redder the bird became - another of the flycatcher family I have been after - Vermilion Flycatcher. 

What a terrific day, an absolute stinker the day before followed by a cracker. A whole heap of my target species in the bag. I belted out the remaining 20km's to get to the tiny town of Loreto. It was that small, I very much doubted that any form of accommodation existed - and I may have to continue to the next town some 40km's away if there was nothing here. Fortunately there was a lovely Cabana. Family run, it looked as if the block of accommodation had been put up recently. Everything inside was modern and new. Very friendly hosts and I chatted with Rita for as long as I could keep up. Eventually her husband Marcelo arrived and he also came for a chat. He understood a fair amount of English and was very keen to know how and where I was going. Off he disappeared to fetch a large map and began to run through the pros and cons of the various routes I was looking at. 

I was invited to dinner, but declined the offer for some stupid reason. This turned into an even stupider decision when I walked the towns dirt roads later to find that there was barely a shop, let alone a restaurant. Managed to secure some basic provisions - dinner would be 6 bread rolls with corned beef, mayonnaise and some parmesan cheese. Didn't even get a tomato... Have not done well on the food front today, breakfast was a pack of 6 sweet breads, lunch a packet of lemon biscuits and few Maria biscuits and Dulche de Leche. Hardly the food of champions, let alone endurance cyclists. Tomorrow I will need to see a large portion of pasta!

Time to hit the sack, heat has taken it out of me again today. 

06/09/2012

Up at 07:00 to pack my gear and get ready for breakfast. Service is fantastic, breakfast bought to the verandah of my room. Lovely coffee and some Dulche de Leche on toasted bread rolls. Filled up and ready to go. Marcelo asked to join me for the cycle to the turn off, about 30km's. Would be nice to have some company on the road and also to have someone who knew the route.

Marcelo was on a rather nice road bike and set a fast pace. Fortunately the wind was not against us and I was able to keep up without hurting my legs much. We chatted away about the local area, Marcelo spoke some English and flipped to Castellano whenever he wasn't sure of a word. Marcelo is a free lancer, and wasn't due to be in the office for a day or two and thus cycled with me all the way to the next town. Cycling and talking makes the journey seem much quicker than it would have been solo. In a matter of hours, we had covered the 55km's to Caa Cati. This is another tiny town, but Marcelo knew where to find cheap accommodation for me. I let him do all the talking and soon I was rolling my bike into my room. 

Plans had changed, Marcelo was available to cycle with me tomorrow too. So he he would cycle the 55km's back to Loreto and Rita would then drive him back to Caa Cati in the morning to start the big ride to Corrientes. Now had the rest of the day to kill, so went for a wander through the town to see where things were. There wasn't much to report here, few shops and even less in the way of services. Bought some Vienna sausages, bread rolls and mustard - lunch would be home made. Busied myself on the computer for the rest of the afternoon before taking another wander through town. I rather fancied a large dinner tonight and hoped to find a half decent restaurant. 

I found a good looking spot, but it was still early and not properly open. Strolled further along the road to see what else might be on offer. Not a lot, turned around to make my way back to the spot on the corner when two dogs came dashing out of a side road. One of them, growled and barked at me, but both were positioned on the side of the road and didn't look too interested in chasing me. I walked on as I normally do, expecting the dogs to calm down after I had gone a few metres. The barky dog suddenly made a dash for me and started yapping and growling some more - I have become so used to this on my bike that I did not pay the dog any attention. They run and bark and growl before giving up and going away - but then I felt the bastard have a proper go at biting my right calf. Dog was only the size of a collie, and my calves are quite large - so it didn't manage to get much leverage, but it looked to be a youngish dog and his teeth were sharp. If I hadn't gotten such a surprise, I would have leveraged the dog into a few pieces - but the ‘puta’ scarpered just after biting me. Off to the hotel to make use of my medical kit. The dog appeared to fairly healthy, it was certainly too well looked after to be a stray - but my rabies and tetanus jabs are up to date in any case. Suitably bandaged up, I returned to the restaurant for dinner. 

A 'lomito completo' followed by two Dulche de Leche pancakes. Home and sleep - tomorrow was going to be a long day in the saddle. 

07/09/2012

Marcelo and Rita arrived just before 08:00 and we got set for the journey. Heavy cloud had rolled in over night and the morning was a little nippy. We had barely started cycling when a heavy shower had me scooting off the road to put the covers on. Intermittent squalls continued for the next 15km's before clearing. Most unusually, this weather was coming from the west - a wind direction that was very unexpected. Then again, this is me cycling and the 'head winds' never take long to screw my cycling day. So we were lumped with the cold inclement weather, wet roads and a head wind. Marcelo took the lead and let me cycle in his slipstream for the first sector of 25km's before we stopped for breakfast. 

The next few sectors are the worst on the journey, no matter how far you are planning on travelling. You have only been on the bike for a few hours, you have no psychological targets, you still won't even be half way by the time you stop again etc. I took the lead now and tried to maintain as good a pace as possible, but we struggled to get much over 21km/h. We stopped again after 50km's, both of us struggling with sore thighs and lower backs. At least the son started to emerge and the day was warming. Another 30km's and we could stop for a proper lunch break and at least be beyond the half way point. 

I humped at the front again, Marcelo was struggling after his 110km round tip the day before. Our pace dropped to around 18km/h as a consequence. We made the rest stop at about 13:00 and sat for a some bread rolls, fresh cheese and ham. Stomachs full, the work continued. We stopped every hour or so now to rest for a few minutes. With some relief, we hit the edge of town just after 16:30 - Marcelo lived by the river, so we had the entire town to traverse still. We must have run very red light in the town, but we would still have been there had we not done so. 

Home, shower, change and rest. Despite having travelled further on my tour, this cycle hurt my legs the most. Even now a full day later and I am still hurting. Dinner in town, Marcelo found a decent Parilla for a super Lomito finished off with a large Dulche de Leche ice cream. Didn’t take long to dose off, tomorrow would be a rest day and Marcelo was keen to show me about the town.

08/09/2012

Despite being shattered, we both woke just after 07:00. Sat for coffee and some biscuits before taking a walk through town. It was a little quiet being a Saturday, but most stores were open. We browsed a bit and took in some of the sights. Then it was time for some lunch shopping. Found it quite interesting to compare prices to those of the UK. Most stuff was similarly priced except the meat which was much much cheaper by comparison. Meat is rarely available in a store - normally you can only get it at a butchers here. One of the best quality beef cuts here is ‘bife de Chorizo’, 1kg sells for about $50 pesos (£6.50). A quick check on one of the cheaper British supermarkets shows that even for crappy steak, you are looking at £20 - £30 a kg!

We got back home and Rita had arrived with their young daughter Victoria. Marcelo sorted some excellent steaks and some steamed ‘mandioc’ which is very similar to potato. After lunch we drove to the bus station and Marcelo sorted out the cheapest bus tickets for my journey to Cordoba, including the negotiations about taking my bike. We then returned to town and pottered about at various places and shops before packing my gear into his car and heading to the bus station. I cycled the bike unloaded, as there was no space in the car for my bike too. Although I proceeded to cycle ahead and then down the wrong road, we got there in the end. Instead of simply dropping me off, the family waited for the correct bus to arrive - Marcelo even climbing into the busses storage facilities to make sure that my bike was loaded without being damaged. Lots of hugs, kisses and photos before departing.

Another amazing experience of incredible hospitality and kindness from the people of Argentina. I’m sure this must sound like me droning on now, but it really is amazing. If this had been a rich and wealthy country, perhaps it wouldn’t mean to much to me. Most Argentinians have been through an ‘economic crisis’ their entire lives and money is tight, but they have been only to keen to share what they have with me. For me it is an experience I will never forget, permanently imprinted in my head and on the internet for posterity. I just hope that they getting the same value out of me that I am from them. The day they met and hosted the ‘loco’ foreigner looking at birds from his bike.

So it was, that after another fantastic experience it was time to get on a bus. I really disapprove of doing this, but with time being tight I didn’t want to waste time on what would have been a long and boring cycle for little gain. It is not just that I disapprove of using busses, my vestibular doesn’t agree with them either and I am prone to long bouts of nausea and sickness. 

09/09/2012

I made the 915km, 12 hour trip in the bus without getting ill fortunately. Although this was a night bus, it was a bot like my earlier flights - you don’t really get any proper sleep. We were given dinner, but it was very light and I was rather hungry. Fortunately, at one of our numerous stops a lady got on to sell various cakes and sweets. I bought myself a bag of 12 Dulche de Leche cakes - 4 layers of pastry with thick Duclhe de Leche between them dipped in icing. As much as I love my Dulche de Leche, I only managed 10 of them by trips end. I could care less about calorie intake of sugar intake as most people know, but there must have been huge amounts of both in these. 

Arrived in Cordoba a little after 08:00 and found my bearing pretty quickly. Had managed to book the best hotel in town last evening from the bus. Indeed, this is an excellent little hostel too - glad I booked last night as it is full. Will need a decent sleep tonight, but most of the day will be spent doing further research on my next stretch towards Bolivia and updating various internet things. Tomorrow is the start of what should be my ‘make or break’ sector. The first few days will be a gentle climb from 400masl to 800masl before dropping down to 200masl. It is when I get to the outskirts of the town of San Miguel de Tucuman and turn left to Taffi del Valle that I am going to hurt - from 400masl to 3800masl in a relatively short distance... A fight for another day in the future.




10/09/2012

Didn't get to bed as early as planned. Hostel was packed and before I knew it, I had been chatting with various people until 02:00. Shot upstairs and got my head down, although there was one hell of a snoring competition going on. The old bird below me sounded like her intestines were gargling out of her throat. Part and parcel of the hostel package. 

Woke up earlier than planned and dozed for an hour - it was only 08:00 when I couldn't take it any more and jumped off the top bunk to go downstairs. A few more last minute things to sort out before breakfast and packing. By the time I had sorted myself out and gotten ready, it was already 10:30. Hit the road and managed to exit Cordoba without any major navigation problems. One has to remember that this is a very large city, something I had neglected to consider leaving so late. In retrospect, I really should have stayed another night and had a proper rest. 

Cycling was easy enough, even if the wind was up to its usual tricks. Things soon changed though, as I lost my hard shoulder and the truck traffic became intense. Spent much of my time dodging on and off the motorway. Got stopped my the police for the first time, normally they just wave me through. Although my language skills are improving, they are perhaps contributing to this sudden change in police policy. Upon telling the copper where I was from, he had me pull over for a paperwork inspection. No problems, visa well in date - but they had a good gander through all my other visas too. They seemed to particularly enjoy the Ghana visa for some reason. 

Official fun over with, it was back to the grind. Clearly I was never going to make Dean Funes today, so I would stop in Jesus Maria. Wanting to get off Ruta 9, another option presented itself. I could go sideways and reach Jesus Maria via Colonia Caroya. As it happens, I never made it as far as Jesus Maria as a good hotel appeared in Colonia Caroya. Little bit steep unfortunately, but it would do nicely. The owner was a chef who had travelled quite extensively speaking German and some decent English too. The usual run of the mill things - got the washing done and hung, showered, charged the electronics. WiFi was down, so all the map downloads I had wanted to do would have to wait. Went into town and found an ice cream shop - even in the smallest of towns, you will find one. They are as pervasive as Starbucks, this tiny town had one every two blocks and they were all busy. For a quality cone with two large scoops you are only paying $8 pesos (£1.15). I had a large double scoop Dulche de Leche and also managed to run through the entire limit of my Castellano capability before pleading ignorance on further inquisition. Topped up on the food stuffs for the next week or so.

Back to the hotel and time to arrange photos and bird calls for the next few weeks. Fall asleep while half way through this. Lack of sleep is definitely catching up. Head down stairs for dinner. A very good Cannelloni before getting stuck in conversation with the chef. Made my way upstairs to finish off the work from earlier, but now distracted by the tennis. It is the US Open final and Murray having started well seems to have squandered another Major chance. Turn on the tele to see that Murray might actually have pulled himself together in the 5th set and indeed he goes on to claim his first title. Get great enjoyment out of the fact that he refuses to smile like an idiot for the cameras. 

Time for sleep, tomorrow will be a long day to Dean Funes. 

11/09/2012

Gear packed and ready. Breakfast is decent for a change, but barely touches the sides. Wanting to avoid Ruta 9 and it's trucks, I have come up with a cunning plan to use a secondary road not far from the main one. Cycle through Jesus Maria but cannot locate it. Never mind, there is another chance to get onto it a bit later. 

After exiting the town, the wind picks up strength as is it’s wont. The trucks become a deluge and I spend a very unhappy few hours zigzagging on and off the main road and being hooted at by busses that are too lazy to go around. By 11:00 I have had quite enough and see a vehicle travelling on what must be the nearby secondary road. I cannot spot a likely way to get there, so take the less travelled option through a pea field. Of course I am careful not to damage any of the crop! Fiddle about on a dirt track trying to make the final few hundred metres, but there is a railway line in the way. After some more trundling in the dirt, I reach a paved road that should cross the particular road I am after. I cycle on, but when I stop to check my position I am beyond where the road should have been - and there was no road. Then I remember that I can access the 3G network, so hurriedly enhance my map to see what I am missing. My cunning plan was to cycle on a train line it would seem...

Not being able to download the maps yesterday has cost me an hour of mooching about. So it is back to Ruta 9 for more cat and lion with the trucks. Have wasted an entire hour and gotten no further than I was before, as I cast my eyes down the road, I can still see the pea field. Spend most of the day playing on the gravel and stone edge of the road. All I am hoping is that the trucks stay on Ruta 9 when I turn off onto Ruta 60. 

Much swearing later, I finally make the turn and find that the road seems much quieter and the hard shoulder while not paved has greatly improved. The pace is not exactly fast, but the strong wind was never going to allow for a speedy trip today. Find myself getting rather peckish at 14:00, and with luck a small truckers cafe comes into view. Walk in to find a rather huge, rotund old women drinking beer. She turns out to be the proprietor and I have doubts about eating here. Never the less, she runs through the menu of all the usuals. I haven't had a sandwich in many weeks now and this 'grande' portion seems the deal. All I can say is that I was slightly taken aback when it arrived - ‘grande’ was not the correct term, something approaching ‘enorme’ would have been better. The proprietors size suddenly makes sense! The local yard dogs and kittens come in for a sniff, but are given a decent whack by the owners husband. If ever there was a Yankee hillbilly stereotype in Argentina this was him, the ZZ Top beard and all. So after a rather surprising and enjoyable meal I still had the best part of 30km's to get through. 

My stomach may have enjoyed the meal, but I could immediately feel the extra strain on the bike. My latest plan was to cycle into the oncoming traffic rather that spend half my time looking over my shoulder. This worked much better and I even got confident enough to switch lanes depending on where the traffic was. Progress improved, added a bird to the list as a Brown Cacholote scampered onto the side of the road during an unusual break in traffic. I was now very much in the 'sierras', all around me stood moderately imposing hills. However, unlike their Brazilian counterparts who would surely have paved over the mountains, the clever people of Argentina built the road on the flats between them - genius. 

Rolled into town just after 17:00 and now needed somewhere to stay. While Dean Funes was a decent sized dot on the map, it was quite run down and dusty for the most part. After much circling and a telling off from the police for cycling up a one way, I did indeed find a decent place to stay. I was quite shattered and did not fancy compounding things by leaving early the next morning. Tomorrow would be a rest day. 


Checked in and the usual stuff. A large mirror in the room caught my attention, well not the mirror itself, but what I looked like. My face was caked in grainy salt deposits and I was as brown as a Zulu. I knew I had been cycling on the dusty hard shoulder, but this dirt is grey, not Misiones red. Had another look post shower and my worst fears were confirmed, this was not dirt but the colour of my skin. The sun was quite savage in this area. My cycling tan is not particularly attractive, a two tone of dark brown legs to mid thigh superimposed on luminous British white with further dark brown arms. Would need to come up with a plan for this as I continued ascending into the rarified atmosphere. Went for my customary walk about the town at 19:00. There wasn't much to see, but I figured I would get an idea of where everything was before the restaurants started operating nearer to 20:00. Not much on offer, the few places that were open were quite full for a Tuesday night. Then it dawned on me, Argentina were playing football against Peru in a world cup qualifier. I found a spot and despite their being only one waiter for a pretty decent sized venue, I was served within a minute. 

Not much on the menu, so it would be another Lomito tonight. Argentina concede a penalty within 5 minutes, but the goalkeeper saves and everyone breathes again. As it happens, the game is very scrappy but ends 1-1. I leave long before the end with the intention of getting a decent nights sleep. Have a very comfy bed but find that it is well after 01:00 before I put my head down. It is not that I cannot sleep, just that everything happens so much later than I am used to. I couldn't have started dinner until after 21:00. With spring on the way, this is sure to only get worse. It wont be long before I start taking a few hours sleep in the afternoon like the locals do. 

12/09/2012

Have breakfast served in my room at 08:00. Spend the remainder of the day on the computer, only venturing out to find some lunch at 14:00. I do well given that most people are asleep at this time. Much the same as the evening before, eat in the same place. Stop in at a 'panaderia' for some cake. Decide on two rolled pastry things (Cannoncini) - I reckon they have cream or custard in them, but find to my great delight that they are filled with Dulche de Leche! They only cost $2 pesos each, should have gone back for more. Pack my gear tonight as I intend on getting away straight after breakfast tomorrow. 

13/09/2012

Today I should finally get some birding done. Has been over a week since I went looking for my feathered friends in earnest. First I need to navigate the better part of 50km's before reaching the salt pans. 

To deal with the sun, I had hit on another cunning plan - I would wear my Skins. I had originally bought these tights when I was running hundreds of km's in London. They were supposed to keep me warm, but did nothing of the sort. They are specially sewn compression clothes to keep pressure on various areas of the body for better oxygen flow and decreased lactic acid build up. Knowing that they did not make me any warmer than normal, I figured that instead of lying unused in the bottom of one of my panniers that they would now be the ideal blocker of sun. 

Breakfast knocked back, and one last quick visit to the loo tells me that I need to cease taking the Diclofenac. Blood is a sure sign that you are probably starting to ulcerate. Quick check on the web and I find that I have also been taking double the recommended dose! Definitely no more of that for a while then. Double dose or not, the anti-inflammatories have not made a massive change to the position or strength of my fingers. There has certainly been an improvement, but my fingers are not back to their normal position yet. 

Despite the wind blowing a gale today, I seem to make good time. Perhaps the Skins are helping a little in the pedalling department too? Within an hour I have reached the half way point at the town of Quilino. Then I had another cunning plan - one that would many hours later turn out like most of Baldrick’s plans do. Despite making good progress and there being fewer trucks about, I figured I would be better off taking a different route to the salt pans. I would take the Ruta Provincial 306 before turning north on Ruta Provincial 100 to San Jose de Las Salinas. The thinking was at least half decent - I would get off the main road, be in better habitat and thus could start looking for birds. It was longer, but I was probably going to stay overnight near the pans anyway. What could possibly be wrong with this idea?

I had only gone a short distance past Quilino when I had this thought, so I promptly turned around and headed back to where the turnoff was. There was a large roundabout at the entrance of the town, made of concrete rather than tar otherwise it would have been destroyed by trucks ages ago. This section of concrete also sat proud of the shoulder by about 10cm's. Just prior to taking the turn, a strong gust of wind pushed me towards the side of the road and I compensated by turning my handlebar slightly left. Unfortunately, the gust of wind was much stronger than I could correct for and by the time I realised I was going down, I was half way to the deck already. With my back wheel having been blown clear of the road, my slight turn on the front wheel meant that my bike was heading in two directions at the same time - the back end won and I landed left side flat on the road and rolling a number of times before coming to a stop face down. I have no idea how my feet unclipped from the pedals, but I did not fall with the bike. Falling left is about the worst idea possible (keep in mind that traffic drives on the right here), for that is straight onto the live road - had their been an 18 wheeler behind me, you would be hearing this story told by someone else. As it happens I got lucky and scampered off the road, dragging my bike to a safe distance before righting it and moving to a quieter spot to inspect the damage. 

I was fully expecting to have ripped my shoulder, elbow and knee to shreds. Having turned south, I had the full furry of the wind behind me - I came off at a little over 30km/h. However, all was still intact - the Skins were not ripped and thus I had little to worry about underneath. I had a quick look at my helmet to find that it didn't even have a scratch - does beg the question as to it's purpose if it doesn't even get touched with a fall like this. My bike wasn't so lucky, handlebar lever was bent, both heavily scratched and one of my panniers now has a hole in it. Worse yet, it was my electronics bag. There is a reason that the electronics bag is on the left side, I am only planning on falling to the right! I wasn't going to bother checking if my devices were damaged - finding out now or later would make no difference except to my mood. 

Banged the laver back into it's normal position and got back on the bike. Everything else seemed fine. The front rack took most of the whack on the side of the concrete, a deep gouge above the front wheel reminding me that I was equally lucky not to fall on the edge of the road. Back to the business of cycling. Almost immediately, the bird powers decided to make me feel a little better by giving me another lifer. Lark-like Brushrunner cruising though the towns streets. 


Found the start of the new road I was going to head down only to discover that it was a dirt road. Not bothered by this, as I was half expecting it to be so. The first few kilometres went off without a hitch, a decent compacted sand road and a few more birds to boot - Black-legged Seriema and Spot-winged Falconet. It was after 3km's that my plan started to unravel. The hard compacted dirt road turned into a soft powder interspersed with beech sand. In fact, I have walked many sandy beech roads and they would have been easier to cycle on than this. Spent the next 9km's pedalling at a slow speed with with my cleats unclipped and ready to jump should my fishtailing beast reach its tipping point again. Birding all but dried up due to a combination of intense heat and my concentration being on the sand rather than anywhere else. At least the wind was behind me!

That small comfort soon disappeared too as I turned north again. The road hardened up, into a muddy concrete. Couldn't decide which of the two surfaces was worse - a herd of cattle had walked this way when it was mud, meaning that the road felt like it had been cobbled. Took refuge under a tree to have a bite to eat. Wind blew the bike over, no sooner had I righted it than an even stronger blast blew it over again. The habitat here is called 'Chaco', in southern Africa we would call it Acacia woodland. For every Acacia tree here had the most evil of thorns. Nor was it long before I had that squidgy feel at the front of my bike. At least it was not the rear tyre again. Panniers off, wheel off. Wind blows the bike over, onto it's left side again. If my laptop and iPad make it out alive after today, I shall send Apple some photographs and some marketing splurb. 

The flies have become incessant now too, can barely move without a swarm of them attacking my face. Change my tyre in record time, but forget to check for thorns before putting the new tube in. I am about to start pumping the tube up, when I feel a thorn in the wheel still. Dickhead - just what I need is to puncture the new tube on the same thorn. Can't be sure if the tube was punctured, so having removed quite a few thorns I pump and hope. Cannot get the damn tyre back on as my bike will not stop from falling over. The wind is really pissing me off now, or at least the helplessness of the situation is - you cannot fight wind. Get the tyre on after much struggle. Get the bike righted again and start pedalling, hoping to lose some flies in a hurry. The buggers fly fast than I can move though. A dreaded horse fly has also joined in, at least there was only one of them.
Quite irritable by now, I turn my attention back to the birds hoping to change my mood. There aren't many, but I do find a small flock of Ringed Warbling Finches and a Crested Gallito. There may even be a chance of some photography. I put my binoculars down to get the camera and the wind promptly blows them off, the eye pieces catching my pedal on the way down and dismantling both of them. It is at about this time, that I am thankful I am not anywhere near a high mountain or a major city - for I would sure as shit have thrown the effing bike off a cliff and caught the next plane out. As it happens, I was standing in the middle of dusty, godforsaken road in the middle of nowhere. Put the binoculars back together as best I can for now and put everything back in the bag. Back on the bike and carry on pedalling. 

I seem to have gone through a large amount of fluid today, I probably don't have enough to get me through tonight and tomorrow safely. I decide to skip the salt pans this afternoon - in this weather it is probably quite useless in any case and head for the town to stock up on supplies. Cycle about aimlessly trying to find a 'kiosko'. Takes an hour and three circumventions of this tiny town to find a likely spot. I only wanted a 2 litre bottle of water and small Fanta, but end up with 2 x 2.25lt bottles instead. Strap those to the bike and head back down the dirt road for 6km's to the salt pans. 

The side road to the salt pans has a locked gate blocking my way, so have to get the gear off in order to get the bike through. About 500m short of the salt pans, I find an ideal camp spot. Four poles and a corrugated iron roof stand in front of a brick memorial. There are some of you thinking that I should not have set up camp in front of someone's memorial/gravesite. Perhaps I shouldn't have, but the way I see it, they aren't here to take offence or object and it is useful to someone who is actually still alive. Chew the cud all you like, when I pack up camp and leave at 06:00 tomorrow morning there will be no evidence of me having been here in any case. I do at least have respect for the landowners, in that if I am going to stealth camp, then I do exactly that - leaving no trace of my nights camp, no litter, no mess, no nothing. 

The flies have swelled in number so that it is now almost impossible to do anything without one hand being used to swat the evil vermin. Saddam Hussein’s father in law famously published a pamphlet entitled “Three Whom god Should Not Have Created” - one of those was flies - and I'd have to agree with him. The way I felt this evening, I would not have objected to a DDT spray of the area. Through all this, I did manage to cook dinner and eat on the run and swat. The flies did eventually bugger off, but only as darkness fell around 19:30. [Crumbs, I have been tapping away he for three hours already.]

So a long and eventful day, most of it unpleasant - but I did add some more good birds. Tomorrow will be an early morning start to try and get a few endemic species before carrying on north. If the weather reports are to be believed, tomorrow is the last day of the northerly winds. On Saturday, they switch to the south. Here's hoping. Bed time.

14/09/2012

Got up at the ridiculously early hour of 05:45. Not that the sun rose until almost 07:00. Gave me the time to pack all my gear away and get ready for some birding. Flies awoke just after 06:30 and didn't let up all day. Pushed the bike down to the salt pan and locked it up to an ancient mini train engine made in Denmark. It was still on the rails, although the rails had been cut on both sides or simply eroded away. Most of this area had seen better days, must have been a booming trade many years ago, but now it was just a bunch of corroding metal and abandoned buildings. 

Birds were quiet, but off in the distance I could see the unmistakeable shape of a Monjita - the only question was which one. Hot footed it to get closer and to by supreme delight, here was my number one target, the entire reason for being here - the Salinas Monjita. A species that occurs only near a few salt pans in this part of Argentina. The small flock of around 5 individuals allowed me to get quite close and were certainly not camera shy. Fired off near enough 100 images, first impressions are that I have at least a few very decent images. Now to find the other species I was after, the Black-crowned Monjita. Try as I may, I could find none - just more Salinas Monjitas. The day was starting to heat up, and it was time to get going. It was possible that the Black-crowned Monjitas were still further north on migration or were simply playing hard to get. 

The Chaco woodland next to the road back to San Jose de Las Salinas was much busier today. Excellent views of Crested Gallito and White-tipped Plantcutter as well as two of the seedeaters I was looking for, Black-crested Finch and Many-coloured Chaco Finch. A good finish to the mornings birding, it was now time to stock up on fluids and get a bite to eat. Another 2.25lt Fanta, but no food. Did some running repairs to the bike, the front brake was catching, so loosed that a bit and gave all the moving components a good spray of WD40 as they were full of dust and sand. Gave the tyres a good pump just for good measure before setting off. 

By now it was already 11:00 and thoughts of reaching Recreo this evening were evaporating. So the aim was to go as far as possible before calling it a day wherever I could. The surrounding habitat was still Chaco and there seemed to be enough larger Acacia trees to hook my hammock up to. The day was hot as hell and the wind stronger than yesterday. Battled to get any type of rhythm going, but battled onwards at a fairly respectable speed. I reached the one horse town of Lucio V. Mansilla just before 13:00 and spotted a rather decent little restaurant. In this heat, you don't really get hungry and I needed to remind myself that food is necessary. Three traffic cops had also sat down for lunch, but they ignored me - probably for the best.

After lunch it was back onto the road. A check of the map suggested that Recreo may not be as far as my distance sheet suggested. Then again, my map has been known to bugger up visual distances, so I put the idea to bed for the moment. Another pit stop and finished off the remaining Fanta which was by this stage about 30C, not very pleasant! My next stop had me at the provincial border between Cordoba and Catamarca. It wasn't just a sign separating them either. Catamarca was at least 5C hotter and had no trees for as far as I could see. From horizon to horizon it was just salt pan scrub. Without trees, the full fury of the wind was tossing me about like a rag doll. I was now having to lean at quite a severe angle simply to keep my balance. Speed dropped considerably and I started to feel the dryness ripping at my lungs. The only shade available was from a set of tall poles nearer the entrance to Catamarca Province. I sat and finished one of my water bottles. A sign nearby suggested that on this occasion my map system was accurate and my distance spreadsheet was wrong. Not that I was complaining, I now had 20km's less to Recreo than I had thought. It was only just after 15:00 and I had the best part of 4 hours to cycle the remaining 41km's. On any other day this would have been straight forward. 

I would cycle 10km sectors until reacting Recreo in that case. Just towards the end of the 1st such sector, my calves started cramping heavily and I was seeing mirages. Mirages are not the exclusive property of Hollywood and the Sahara Desert - they are the domain of any desert and I  was most definitely in a desert. Not even on my longest cycles have a started to cramp up or suffer so heavily from the heat. I knew I was in trouble, perhaps I had been for a while without realising it. I desperately needed to get off my bike and out of the sun. I could see a police checkpoint up ahead, this was no mirage fortunately and there seemed to be plenty of corrugated iron covering the area - this would do. Upon reaching said checkpoint, I noticed a better location just 500m down the road. An old abandoned gas station, but it's huge roof was intact and cast a large shadow. I ducked in here, got off the bike and sat firmly on the ground finishing another of my water bottles, luminous stars running through my visual field, even when my eyes were shut. I was not longer able to control the muscle cramps and spasms, couldn’t have stood even if I tried. So I simply closed by eye and hyperventilated for a 10 minutes. 

This was home tonight, there was no way I could go back out into the sun today. Of more immediate concern was my low water supply. I only had 1.5lt's left. Just in case you think that is plenty, I ran a quick calculation of what fluid I consumed today :

Water : 1x2250ml + 4x750ml + 1x1500ml
Fanta : 1x2250ml + 1x330ml
Powerade : 1x500ml

So almost 10 litres. The first time I went for a leak the whole day was at 19:00 this evening, perhaps 200ml at best - the rest went through my pores. I had almost as much salt coming out of me as the was in the pans next to the road. 
I as so shattered, that I struggled to stand up - but I needed to lie down and to do that I needed to  move my bike into one of the abandoned buildings and put down my ground sheet. That in itself was a tricky exercise in this wind, not something I was physically in the mood for. I didn't even bother with any matting, just plonked myself down and dozed. I did start thinking of how I might procure some water, plans were afoot to tap into the air conditioning unit outflow pipe at the satellite pylon next to me. This was clearly not a great idea, so I figured I would take a walk over to the police checkpoint and see if they had any available. Looking at the building through my binoculars suggested that this was a decent sized setup, but I could not see a water tank. I got my two large water bottles together and was about to set off when a car stopped next to a scrapped bus wreck behind the buildings. So I wasn't going to leave my gear until they had gone. Some English! Typically Yankee, they were speaking very loudly, but it was nice to hear a familiar language for a change. They proceeded to take photos of themselves in front of the bus but never once said hello or came over to see who/what I was. Had they been Argentinian, the entire car load including mom would have been over for a chat, share some 'mate' and probably taken care of my water problems regardless of my language capacity. I waved hello in the end and they responded before beating a hasty retreat - perhaps it was something to do with the way I looked.

Never mind, I walked down to the police checkpoint and was greeted by the guard whom I had waved at earlier when passing. The usual formalities of ‘where are you from, where are you going’ etc before he offered me some water. Out of the fridge came a 1.5lt bottle and he grabbed the two larger bottles from me and filled them up for too. Despite offering to pay for the water, he was having none of it. Cold water has never tasted quite so good, as well as the relief of having my water levels stocked up beyond normal capacity. I couldn't thank him enough and while not wanting to sound overly dramatic, he may well have saved me from severe illness or death. I am hardly one for the hypochondriac brigade, but I knew things were not good and the outlook was grim without a large injection of water. 20km's prior to this stop, I had more than enough water, but the change in environment changed things that dramatically that within 90minutes I was in serious trouble. 

By 17:30 I had regained some strength and it was time to set up camp and organise dinner. At least the fly population was manageable around here. Pasta, canned vegetables, tomato sauce and some Parmesan. Without a swarm of flies, I was actually able to eat dinner in relative peace this evening. Gear cleaned, I now fashioned a line over my sleeping spot so that I could hang my mosquito net. Not that there were any mosquitos about, but I wanted to avoid being bitten by any other bugs that might be about and also to keep any floor bound creatures off my as best I could.
The sun was just starting to dip when a large truck pulled under the gas stations roof. A rather typical trucker got out, pants half way down his rather large rear and like me, probably hadn't seen a shower in a few days. First words out of his mouth was, 'hello'. Next words were, 'do you have enough water'? I don't know where they make these people, but it would be nice to spread them around the world. Every time I think I have seen the best of Argentinean hospitality, someone else will go and add to my already steepling admiration.

I could feel that I would sleep well tonight. The body aches from cycling and the sun, nor did I get much sleep last night. Tomorrow will be an early exit, I want to be on the road by 06:45 and into Recreo before the heat picks up. Allegedly the wind is going to be behind me tomorrow, though I shall not get excited until it actually is. With only 30km's remaining, I hope to be in town no later than 10:00 where I shall attempt to find some accommodation that will allow me to check in a little early. Either way, I am quite a mess and need to have a wash! All the good birds in the world don't make you any cleaner. Then it will be decision time as to how I proceed from there. If this is going to be the nature of the environment, I may well jump on a another bus to San Miguel de Tucumán. I could go straight to Tafi del Valle and save myself a massive climb, but I really do want to go up that road. Not because I am a sadomasochist for pain, but there are some decent birds going up that pass - in particular it might allow me to catch my first glimpse of the Andean Condor. Things to think about tomorrow. So while the road is still busy, the trucks never seem to stop - I also have the high pitched chirps of the local bats for company and the odd whinge from a nearby Burrowing Owl. My good sleep seems to have been wrecked already though - the inflatable mattress has a puncture somewhere. 

15/09/2012

The cycle out this morning was greatly improved. A bank of clouds had delayed the suns presence by a few hours. While the conditions are calm, I don’t mess about and reach Recreo a little after 09:00. No sooner had the sun peeked over the clouds and the temperature rose extraordinarily. On the face of it, I was going to be lucky to find anywhere to stay here. While trying to mentally prepare for the 70km cycle to Frias, I decided to cycle some of the other roads in the town first. There were quite a few hotels on one street at least. For a small town, they were not cheap though. I was practically getting two days out of one though. The usual grind of showering, washing my clothes and checking over the gear. Figure the best fix for my pannier is to use the self vulcanising glue and patch normally used on my tubes. This evening would be a busy one - patch the pannier, patch the tube and patch the mattress. 

All cleaned up, I was starting to get very hungry. Found a lovely road side cafe that served a decent chicken milanese. Then it was time to edit and upload photos, get the blog sorted etc. Really fancied an ice-cream in the afternoon but made the mistake of actually going out for one. ‘Spot the Foreigner’ must be the easiest game going - it’s the moron walking through town between 13:00 and 17:00. Having said that, the local ‘Heladeria’ was indeed open and I satisfied myself on some Dulche de Leche ice-cream. I wax lyrical about my favourite food - if you haven’t been bother to Google it yourself, just click the link - Dulche de Leche Life without Dulche de Leche will not be the same - wherever I happen to settle, I will need access to it!


16/09/2012

I set off early this morning. Quick stop in town for some breakfast pastries and a check on the email before tackling the 80km's to Frias. Ride is uneventful and there are a handful of small towns where I stop for the odd rest or drink. I reach Frias just after 13:00 to find it is buzzing with a motocross competition. Scoot into town and search for accommodation. Takes a while, but I locate a promising looking place that has WiFi. Nice and cheap, but WiFi is patchy. 

Head into town to find some food and get some proper internet access. Spend the remainder of the day sorting out photos and the like. Back into town for dinner, nothing fancy - breaded chicken with plenty of melted cheese. Back at the hotel, I am hounded by the neighbourhood’s local kids. They are all very keen to have a chat with the foreigner. Despite not understanding a word I am saying or vice versa, they all find this terribly exciting. I get bored of this very quickly and head off to bed. I’ve clearly spent too much time in Europe where being associated with a bunch of 10 year olds tends to get one labelled or worse rather quickly.

17/09/2012

Not sure if breakfast was provided here or not, but I am out too early to find out. Today is going to be an interesting cycle with any number of possible outcomes. Weather is playing ball, cool and overcast. Start off with a coffee at a local gas station. Not only is the weather comfortable to cycle in, but the wind is behind me for a change to. Tail winds are so scarce that I endeavour to make the best of it and put some effort into the pedalling.

I'm covering ground at a rapid rate of knots, just coming up to my first scheduled break when I see something a little odd coming down the hard shoulder towards me. Normally it is just a local on a motorbike going down the wrong side of the road, but this looks like someone pushing a pram, miles front the nearest town. As I get closer, I see that it is a man running with a cart. I pull over and we chat for the best part of 20 minutes. This is Tony Mangan, an Irishman who is running around the world. Unfortunately, I have never heard of him and thus have no idea just how amazing this bloke is. I'm not going to go into any detail here, only to say that he is currently running around the world mostly unsupported. On average he runs a marathon pretty much every day and has been doing so for almost 2 years since starting his round the world run. See his website for more details (I even get a mention here!, notice I classify myself as a South African - who thought that would ever happen) : http://www.theworldjog.com/blog/?p=5268

Having traded advice on the upcoming road conditions we part ways and continue on our own journeys. Tony has some 5000km left to reach Ushuaia, I have the best part of 1300km's to reach Bolivia. The wind is still giving me some assistance, so put my feet into action again. By 10:00 I have reached the 50km mark and the junction for me to turn off at. Unfortunately I am now heading west, so the wind is no longer going to be of assistance. At least the road is now quiet, not many trucks heading along here. I cycle through a string of small towns stopping on the odd occasion for some photos and a rest. 

None of the towns are large enough to have any hostels or hotels. I reach the town of Los Altos, roughly 100km's into the cycle just after 14:00. There is accommodation here, but it doesn't look all that appealing. My left knee has been playing up for the last 20km's and I am stuck between calling it a day from a health perspective or battling on to take advantage of the benign weather conditions. I know that if I push another 30km's, I will reach a bigger town with better accommodation prospects, and it will also allow me to cut a day from the schedule. My thoughts immediately turn to Mr Mangan - bollocks I think, if this bloke can run that far then why the hell can I not cycle another 30km’s? I decide to push on and take the pain. 

I am now aiming for the town of La Cocha, in the Andean lowlands. Most of the next 30km's of cycling is though flat farmlands at the base of the Andes. The road becomes unusually busy on this last stretch. I reach La Cocha just after 16:00 having cycled 140km's. A local electrician stops for a chat, he speaks Spanish and French of all languages. I don't feel like mucking about tying to find a hotel, so ask him if he could direct me. Turns out that there is a large hotel right behind the YPF gas station. Would never have known otherwise. Don't feel all that bad, but jump in the shower and get my knee covered in Voltarin gel just in case. Nothing exciting going here, so again it is just a quick catch up on emails and then a small dinner next to the hotel. 

The weather report suggests that there is going to be plenty of rain tomorrow morning. I only have 70km's to cycle, so decide not to bother getting up early. 

18/09/2012

Having had a decent lie in, I got loaded up and went downstairs to look for breakfast. Got given a ticket to collect breakfast from the YPF gas station out front. Breakfast consisted of some hard biscuits and a coffee. I bought a packet of biscuits to supplement the rather meagre offerings. Drizzle was still falling, but the conditions for cycling were still good. Got shifting and found that I had a decent hard shoulder to work with for a change. 

The weather changed frequently from drizzle to dry to mild downpour. Certainly this was better than cycling in 40°C heat, the only problem being that my glasses get all watered up and I had to stop every so often to dry them off. 

I grew up in KwaZulu Natal and dad spent much of his life working at a sugar refinery. I got to travel about with him occasionally to see how refineries worked, scoop raw sugar off the conveyor belts and visit some sugar plantations. As such, I became fairly accustomed to the fact that sugar cane typically grey in a humid climates along the coast. Through my various travels, this assumption has been enhanced. However, this assumed fact was to fall to pieces here in north western Argentina. Here at the base of the Andes were huge sugarcane plantations. Sure it felt humid enough, but the nearest sea was probably the Pacific, on the other side of the Andes and Chile. Having experienced sugar mills and refineries, one never forgets the smell associated with sugarcane rendering. The hot water outflows threw up much mist in the cool air, but stank of something very near to human excrement. Unlike in South Africa, the cane is not harvested whole here. It seems that prior to milling, the cane is cut into short lengths of about 10cm and loaded onto the back of huge dump trucks for transport. The trucks are not covered and this leads to much of the cane falling onto the shoulder of the road creating extra 'grip'. Not that I needed any further grip on the roads, I have more downforce than an F1 car, just without the typically associated acceleration and speed. Not that I am complaining about the sugar production, it is wonderful to have proper cane derived sugar as opposed to the crappy sugar beet stuff that is so popular in Europe. 
Sugar cane observations aside, there was little else to look at. I suddenly realised that in pontificating about the sugar cane I had forgotten to stop cycling. I forced myself off the road to find that I had pulled a 40km sector, double what I would normally do without a break. Not that I stopped for long, while the conditions were very nice to cycle in, the air temperature was still cool. Stopping for too long caused me to get very chilly as the buckets of sweat were attacked by the cool breeze. Back on the bike and off to my final 

destination of Monteros. I wasn't sure if this place would have much in the way of accommodation, but it was the nearest base I could find before my ascent of the Andes. The plan was to spend two days here recovering and getting ready for the 'big climb'. Spent two hours moping around the town trying to find a hotel to no effect. Eventually stopped at a 'Remises', local taxi company and asked for some directions. The town has only two hotels, one is shut and the other turned out to be a complete shithole. My two day break just halved. Dumped my gear and headed off to find a coffee shop and some Internet. 

Sat for most of the evening in a lovely coffee shop with good WiFi getting my plans in order for the big day. I just did not feel in the right psychological state to be attacking the mountains though - so worked on motivating myself while reading through reports of other cyclists who had gone up the 'hill' to Tafi del Valle. Very few people seemed to have gone up it, many had come down it - hmmm. 

A last spot of shopping to gear up on energy foods and electrolyte drinks before hitting the sack. Tomorrow would be an early start to give myself as much of the day as possible to climb the mountains. Booked my accommodation in Tafi del Valle too, just to make sure there was no bailing out half way up!

19/09/2012

06:00 - gear packed, dressed and ready to go. The first 20km's should be of little concern, some gentle climbing to start with, perhaps only ascending 150m vertical. The road maintained its hard shoulder for most of the early part. The morning was crisp, but not cold enough to warrant winter gloves or extra jackets. The sun started to poke through the early morning clouds, it would be a sunny day and some wind was expected later in the day - the kind I dream of though, something to help push me along.

No surprises to begin with, stopped to take a few photos of the impending mountains and carried on the cycle. It felt daunting to look at these giants, knowing that later in the day I would be up at the top. No point in dithering, this was a giant shit sandwich and i was going to have to eat it on my own. Just after the 25km mark, things started to get much steeper. Dropped down to my lowest gear (granny gear) and concentrated on maintaining an even pace of around 8km/h. There would be no 15km sector stops here, stops were much more frequent depending on the gradients. Much of the road was under construction, but unlike the rest of Argentina, this road actually had workers doing some construction. In some respects this was no bad thing as it kept the traffic moving a little slower than they might otherwise have been going. Cars and SUV's seemed much friendlier around here, but the busses maintained their ambivalence towards me, often coming within a foot of me when there was absolutely no need. They travel damn quickly in these winding ravines - making me all the happier that I chose the bicycle over public transport for is trip. There is no way I could have handled cruising at 40km/h or more in a bus going around these cutbacks. 

A convenient layby had some tables and chairs, so I pulled over to arrange breakfast. Bread rolls,  Vienna sausages plenty of mayonnaise and mustard. Suitably filled it was back onto the road. The road runs the length of the Sosa River, where it ultimately reaches the Angostura Dam not far from Tafi del Valle. Throughout the cycle, I was keeping a cursory eye on the river for Torrent Ducks and maybe a Rufous-throated Dipper. I had calculated that the major elevation took place within a 25km section of severe cutbacks and climbs. Rather fortunately the climbs never got much more severe than 1:12, so I was able to cycle without needing to push at any point. As the day warmed up and my energy levels dropped, birding became an irrelevance and I spent most of my time concentrating on the road only. Many drivers tonked their horns, waved and shouted their best wishes - which is much appreciated, but equally very difficult to return. I simply cannot take my hand off the handlebar without veering off the road, so hopefully by bowing my head and sticking my fingers out they got the message. 

The forested valleys slowly started to open up, indicting that I must be getting near to the top. I knew from my mapping software that I had just passed the 1700masl mark, so not much further to go. The major cutbacks were also over with now, while the road didn't necessarily straighten out, it did open up much more. The gradient reduced to 1:20 and I was able to move out of my granny gear for the first time in almost 25km's. The higher I went the better I cycled. I had really struggled between 800 and 1400masl, but found that above this altitude I was cycling with much better energy and rhythm. Even my breathing became much steadier. With the forest becoming thinner, I was able to see much more of the river. I started paying more attention to the birds again. After a few near misses (Speckled Teals on the raging river!), I saw what I was looking for. The unmistakeable white and orange thing bobbing in the rapids, a Torrent Duck! Mad panic to get the camera out and a not so stealthy race to the river edge. Gone, no trace of the fellow. Oh well, I would have plenty of time to find more of them over the next few days. 

Back on the bike and more pedalling up the hill. The trees had all but disappeared now, replaced by short grass. For the first time I could feel the wind, and it was good - right behind me. I crested the last hill to see Angostura Lake in front of me. This would be a simple 10km stretch to Tafi del Valle now. I couldn't stop to admire the lake or the view much without getting frozen, even at 14:30 in the afternoon. I was able to rest my legs for the first time all day and let the wind push me towards Tafi del Valle. I stopped in a sunny and secluded rest area just on the verge of town to finish off the bread rolls and sausages from breakfast. 

The previous day I had envisioned quite an emotional arrival after such a climb. For sure this was quite some personal achievement, but it was nothing of what I had expected. Worse, I wasn't particularly tired and my body didn't hurt. Had I really just completed the hardest cycling day of my life - didn't feel like it. Perhaps it was all delayed, the aches and pains would come later I expected (they didn’t - in fact I still feel cheated in some way by this mountain, I didn’t feel as if I had hurt quite enough). 

Checked into the hostel and went through the usual routine of getting into the shower ASAP before heading off to town. Damn WiFi wasn't working. Starting to think that this is the typical practice by many of these hostels, they simply drop the WiFi/telephone bills during the low season. The claimed that the WiFi was working perfectly until only yesterday - sorry that has been heard before and I don't buy it. Walked into town to look for some WiFi and a beer. 

The beer was probably a bad idea after such exertion. Became all wobbly very quickly and stumbled my way home. I was the only person in the hostel this evening, but it seemed half the village had arrived for dinner. Along with a bunch of screaming babies and rabid kids. I was invited to dinner but declined. Headed back into town for more WiFi and dinner. Tried a local food called Tamale - corn mixed with various spices and vegetables cooked inside corn leaves. Very tasty, but one probably wasn't enough. 

Dinner sorted, headed back to the hostel to find a large party in full swing. Am starting to take a dim view of hostels. This particular one is backed by Hosteling International, a supposed indication of quality. However this is the second one of their affiliated hostels I have stayed in and cannot say I liked either of them much. At least I had the room to myself. Sorted through a few photos before falling asleep. 

20/09/2012

Didn't plan on doing much today except having a decent rest. Never the less I was still up at 07:30. Meandered around the house and found myself some coffee. Sat outside and watched the sun start to drench the opposing peaks. A sobering view, I might well be at 2000masl, but these peaks were double what I had climbed. Some of the surrounding peaks reached 4700masl. Worse still, these mountains are just babies compared to some Andean peaks that hit almost 7000masl. In fact, if mountains were measured from the centre of the earth rather than sea level, Aconcagua would be the highest mountain on the planet by some stretch. 


Coffee complete, I could hear breakfast being readied. Tucked into some rather good bread and marmalade. Got cereal for change, perhaps the only time I partake of milk. In went the milk, only it was much thicker than it should have been. This was a very sweet yogurt of some description. Something I didn't know until I had already sprinkled liberal amounts of sugar on my cereal. Fortunately I am not shy of anything sweet!

Took a gentle walk about the town and the surrounding hills to see if I might find some birds. The wind was now blowing very strongly and bird activity was thus quite limited. After spending the majority of the morning moping about and bemoaning the state of the rivers here (rubbish dump sites), I went back to town and sat for a spot of lunch. Exchanged a few emails with my brother who ultimately had me motivated enough not to sit on my posterior and head back out to look for more birds - thanks Adi! While the Angostura Lake didn't seem to get many positive reviews regarding birding, I decided I would take a walk and see for myself. The walk was much further than I had anticipated, but once I had my mind set on reaching the dam, the distance wasn't going to be of any consequence. 


Despite the strengthening wind and major dust storm, the birds did start to show themselves. White-winged Cinclodes on the river boulders. Most unusually, a Plumbeous Rail patrolling the putrid effluent from a small group of houses mid afternoon. Wasn't pretty, but it was another good bird never the less. As the road wound around the river, a large tract of small fruit laden bushes provide the next birding highlight. A large flock of 30 minute Grey-hooded Parakeets. I was able to creep up to them slowly, snapping away as I did so. 

The march continued over barren, rock strewn flood plains towards the dam. I caught sight of some dark specks flying over one of the lower peaks. While very distant, I could just make out the white collar typical of the Andean Condor. Another major species off the list, but hopefully I could get better views further into the mountains. As I got closer to the river mouth, the birds started to fall at a rapid rate - Andean Goose, Andean Gull, Andean Coot, Andean Negrito, Pied-billed and Silvery Grebe. A host of new waterfowl were also added to the list - Red Shoveler, Cinnamon Teal, Rosy-billed Pochard and some rather unusual Coscoroba Swans - what were they doing up here?

I trudged through the marsh getting very muddy and wet in an attempt to reach the road rather than walk back the way I had come. It was starting to get late, almost 18:30 and I figured it would be better to walk along the road if it got dark rather than stumble through the boulder strewn flood plain. As it was, I made it to town before it got dark. Dropped my gear off to find that the usual suspects from last night had returned for dinner again. There was no chance of me being able to make my dinner, so it was back into town for the evening meal. 

Decided that beer was no longer suitable for me, simply too much (only 1lt bottles available) and it was becoming a silly expense in any case. Tonight I would try the local wine, as I am now very close to the heart of Argentina's wine region - I expected it should be half decent. Wine didn't disappoint, nor did the dinner of beef ravioli. Returned to the hostel to find that no party was in progress tonight fortunately. Tomorrow would be a day spent going back down a section of the hill to look for the Dipper.

21/09/2012

Woke up at my usual hour of 07:30 and decided that I would not be going looking for the Dipper today. I would stay an extra night and hunt Dippers tomorrow. I had too much domestic stuff to sort out before I left here. First task of the morning was to get my mountain of washing sorted. I had not seen a lavendaria in town, so it was going to be another hand wash for me. Fortunately the hostel had a large washing bucket, so with some vim I got started with the large pile. The amount of dust and dirt was quite incredible. Got through an entire bag of washing powder that necessitated three water refills. A long washing line just about accommodated all my gear - pretty much every piece of clothing I had barring the stuff I was wearing. Got everything well pegged, as the wind would no doubt start raging in a few hours time. 

Then my attention turned to the bike. Despite needing a big wash, there was plenty of maintenance to be done. I noted that my rear tyre was starting to wear quite heavily, so it was time to switch tyres. Wheels off and bike inverted, the scrubbing started. Mounds of dirt encrusted grease, loses nuts and bolts. Then came the task of switching tyres. Tubes deflated, and tyres removed, I sat and carefully inspected each tyre for thorns and any other damage. Took out more thorns and spikes than I could count, but otherwise the tyres were in decent nick despite the heavy wear on the rear. These were supposed to last up to 20 000km, but I didn't see that happening. I might be lucky if I squeezed 8 000km out of them. Gave the rims a good clean and a close inspection for cracks - none noted thankfully. Tyres back on and wheels reattached to the bike. Some final tweaks of the brakes and she was looking pretty good. It was now well past 13:00 and I started to get a little peckish. I would take a trip into town to restock on supplies and find a small bite to eat. 

I sat at a different restaurant and partook of some very tasty empanadas. Worked my through the various trip reports and a local bird booklet to get an idea of where to look for the Dippers tomorrow. Headed back to the hostel just after 15:00 intent on getting my blog sorted out, had not written anything in days and there was plenty to catch up on. I arrived to find that there were some more guests, even better was the fact that they were from New Zealand and of course spoke English!

Trevor and Mary-Jean Talbot are near enough my parents age, but here they were backpacking around South America for a some months before heading off to England for a working holiday. My blog intentions quickly faded as we sat and chatted the afternoon and evening away. As a consequence of them arriving, it now occurred to me that this hostel served dinner as part of the rate. Twit, I hadn't been listening very closely to the manager, nor had I bothered to read the large sign written in English that stated this. I would stay here for dinner for the next two nights at least. Unlike the previous days, the large bunch of locals did not arrive for dinner, just the three of us this evening. 

Off to bed with thoughts of Dipper chasing tomorrow. 

22/09/2012

Up quite early and even managed to get breakfast in before leaving. The wind was quite nippy still, but I was well covered up. Cycled down the hill to a likely spot where I could tie up the bike before changing my shoes and starting the hike down river. At first there was a convenient cattle track running next to the river, but that disappeared fairly quickly and I started having to boulder hop from one side of the river to the next. Progress was slow, but I was in no rush - I was only looking for one species of bird and was committed to walking this river like a fine tooth comb until I found it. 

Stop along the way to take some very close up photographs of the endemic, but surprisingly common Yellow-striped Brush Finch. Still no sign of a Dipper, but do flush a Torrent Duck - the sod disappears at a rate, no photos here. The river is getting trickier to cross and I am ultimately forced onto the road above for stretches. This is no use in finding a Dipper, but there is no other way around the narrow gorges. It does afford me the chance of finding another a Torrent Duck, one that stays put on its rock while a reel off a few shots. Then it does exactly what it is famous for, into the water for a spot of rapids surfing. Remarkable how evolution caused this duck to spend most of it's life fighting against the raging water while looking for food underneath submerged rocks. Having taken as many photos as I could, I move off to search for the Dipper again. The road traffic has become a procession akin to the M25 on a Monday morning. It seems that everyone in the province is coming to Tafi del Valle for the weekend. 

More miles down the river and I flush a small dark bird. Maybe it is a baby Dipper? Of course I am not thinking straight, this is another highly sought after species that I had totally forgotten about, the White-browed Tapaculo. No luck with photos as the little fellow doesn't stick about, disappearing into a thick tangle. Further down the river I go, I am now starting to think that a bus ride back up might be necessary as I have travelled at least 8km down the hill. It is now almost 12:30 and I am starting to get that horrible feeling - it seems I am going to dip on the Dipper. I eventually resign myself to the fate of of missing this important bird and turn around to start the hike back up. I am just reaching a small 'artesanales', small shop selling local produce when I hear an odd call from the river. Peering over the edge of the road I spot the source of the call. Standing on a rock, flush in the middle of the river is the little bugger I have been looking for. I am quite certain many profanities were emitted at this point, mostly in excitement. I had enough time to reel off a few shots before it shot down the river again. There is no way of describing the relief that washes over you when you finally connect with such a rare and difficult to find species. I have had this feeling on only a handful of occasions - Northern Bald Ibis in Morocco, Gey-crowned Crocias in Vietnam and Spoon-billed Sandpiper in Thailand. 

A little further up, I hear that now imprinted call again. There is now a pair of birds feeding in the rapids. I am now able to stalk up to the edge of the river and shoot away for all that my camera is worth. Having sated my appetite on these gorgeous birds, the hike back up the mountain seems much easier. Get changed back into my cycling gear and start the pedal back up the hill a little too quickly. I barely make 200metres before I am out of breath and my heart is pumping furiously. Slowly Burne, no rush - steady pace. I am not yet King of the Mountains, even with a lighter load. 

Arriving back at the hostel, my plan this afternoon is to tackle the blog again for real this time. I get my images uploaded and sorted before charging my devices. I am about to start tapping away again when Trevor and Mary-Jean arrive back from a day about the town and lake. The blog gets put on the back burner and we chat again until late. Take dinner at the hostel again, some very good pasta. Spend a few hours packing all my gear and getting ready for my departure tomorrow. The experience of this morning has led me to change my early departure plans, no freezing 06:30 start for me. 

23/09/2012

Pack the bike and wait for breakfast to be served. Fill up on some fresh bread and marmalade, and a few strong cups of coffee for further fortification. Say good bye to Trevor and Mary-Jean before starting my pedal to yet higher elevations. If the 1700m vertical ascent had concerned me a few days previously, this climb didn't seem to bother me quite as much for some reason. This was going to be a 1200m vertical ascent starting not at 350masl, but 1900masl. The climb started with immediate effect, there would be no flat section to warm my way into the challenge. 

Straight into the granny gear and the rhythm repeated from a few days previously. I knew that I would have to climb for about 25km's before being able to sit back and free well my way down to Amaicha del Valle which sat at 2000masl. I was slightly quicker today than I had been up the previous climb, averaging just over 8km/h for the first 10km's. Them life got really hard, as an unexpected wind kicked up and started pounding down the mountain. This defied all logic and explanation, heat rises and thus winds are supposed to move up the mountains, not down them. There was no point in arguing the point as this was not the case today - this damn wind was trying to blow me back down the mountain for all it was worth. There were a number of moments where I wanted to de-saddle and push, but I fought on in an attempt to maintain my perfect mountain cycling record. It was difficult to even think of looking at birds while this wind was screaming like a banshee, but I did manage to add a few more Andean species - Andean Flicker and Andean Lapwing. 

Higher and higher the road went. As there were no trees, I could see where I was going for the most part and it was a long way above where I currently sat. A couple of motorists stopped to check if I as 'alright' - I assured them that I was not only healthy but quite sane too. One car stopped and on recognising my limited Castellano immediately switched to English. Again, I assured them I was fine and that had more than enough water. They were keen to advise me not to drink the river water - why I could not work out, it was probably the cleanest water about. Not that I intended on drinking from the river, I had enough liquid with me, but I would heed their warnings none the less. Upon finding out that I was from South Africa, I was vigorously warned to be very careful around these parts. I thanked them for their advice and help before heading off again, but this got me to thinking again about the state of safety and one's perspective on the subject. So I kept myself entertained for the rest of the climb by prattling to the wind about my thoughts on the matter. I may have made for a better read had I recorded this conversation, but i transcribed near enough what I feel about the subject at the end of this blog piece.

(*Contains strong language and not everyone is going to like some of the very pointed and prickly comments - you have been given ‘advice and warning‘ on this in advance.)  




I eventually reached the pass of El Infiernillo (3042masl) just after 12:30. From a South African perspective, the highest road pass in southern African is the Tlaeng Pass in Lesotho, standing at 3250masl, a place I have driven over a few times. However, the landscape is quite different, for the surrounding mountains in Lesotho only reach a height of around 3300m, while the peaks around me were a good 1400m higher than that. So in Lesotho, one gets the feeling of being at the top of the world, while here the altitude is not as significant, you still feel as though you are at the bottom of a valley. For a European perspective, the highest road pass is probably in the Spanish Sierra Nevada. The road running from Grenada up the Pico del Veleta (3,394 meters). 

Never the less, a few photos were taken for record purposes before heading down the mountain towards Amaicha del Valle some 1100metres below. I did manage to get some birding done in this area but dipped on the major target - Tucuman Mountain Finch. Otherwise a host of decent species - the much sought after Steinbach’s Canastero, Bare-eyed Dove, Greater Yellow Finch, Andean Swift, Common Diuca Finch, Plumbeous Sierra Finch, Ash-breasted Sierra Finch and Greenish Yellow Finch and the rare Spot-billed Ground Tyrant. A much better view of a soaring Andean Condor rounded off the birding stop. 

While it might be considered preferable than going up hill, going downhill comes with its own set of problems - mainly a severe pain in the arms and hands. The road had now degenerated into a bumpy conglomeration of patchy tar causing everything to shake heavily too. Not what I needed on an already sensitive elbow, nor on my gear. I stopped regularly on the way down trying to illicit some more birds. As I entered the particularly dry cactus desert of Los Cardones, I did manage a few extra birds - Patagonian Mockingbird, Mountain Caracara and Grey-headed Sierra Finch. 

I finally rolled into the town of Amaica del Valle after 17:00 and sought the hostel I was to stay at. They had not provided a map and it took much searching and stopping of passers by to find the place. Once in, I got a tour of the place which looked rather decrepit, but certainly functional. I again received such wonderful hospitality as I was invited to join the owner and his extended family for dinner. Dinner was indeed wonderful affair of Arabic food, something much appreciated after eating pretty much the same stuff for the last few months. I didn't stick about too much longer after that, falling into a deep sleep. No need to wake up early tomorrow, tomorrow was a day for writing the entire last weeks blog, uploading photos and sorting out my washing.

24/09/2012

Despite having no pressing need to get up early, my body clock had me up at 07:00. Got some coffee on the go before settling down to start tackling the blog. Got the washing sorted by the owners, it would all get a decent machine wash for a change, the first time since Iguazu over a month ago. It has taken 7 hours, but have finally caught up on the last weeks happenings. Little else is likely to happen today as I now tackle the editing and photo uploads. Tomorrow I shall be heading to Cafeyate some 65km's away. It will also be the first time that my wheels touch the mythical Ruta 40. One of the longest roads in the world (5000km's), it is comparable only to Route 66 in the USA in terms of fame. It starts at sea level, crosses 20 national parks, 18 major rivers, 27 passes in the Andes, and tops out at just under 5,000 masl in Abra del Acay. I won't be doing that section, but I'd really like to come back and do some of these massive passes on a road bike some day. It will be another 5-6 days and 450km's in the saddle before I start birding in earnest again at Parque Nacional de Calilegua.

Enough for today!


It seems most likely that I am going to be changing name order. At every hotel, hostel, cop stop, barrier etc I have to haul out my passport for identification. Without fail, the individual reading it or writing it into a register, enters me as Nicolás Burne. I’m going to have to look at an Argentinian passport shortly to see how there names are listed for reference on this. Either they simply ignore the incomprehensible first name and plump for the easier one, or their own passports are set up differently to others. I probably have fewer names than most of the locals, so it cannot have anything to do with the number of names. Not only must I get used to being called Nicolás, but equally get used to the new spelling! Oddly, my surname doesn’t cause any bother, but the pronunciation is interesting. Something along the lines of ‘Burnay’.

25/09/2012

Didn’t have too far to go today, the small matter of 66km’s most of which was downhill. Got my gear packed and then bumbled around for a bit while breakfast was being arranged. Two mugs of coffee and some toast. Again, as with much of Argentina - breakfast is not an effort meal. I suppose, that when you have only eaten dinner at 23:00, you probably aren’t all that hungry first thing in the morning. 

A beautiful start to the day, the sky slightly cloudy but sun poking through in the distance. I had no sooner started pedalling when I noticed that my VDO was no longer working. Off the bike and fiddle with the receiver. Spend 30minutes farting about aimlessly adjusting the distance between the receiver and magnetic knob attached to the spokes. Stupid thing, I couldn’t sit here messing with this for the whole day. Occurs to me just how important the VDO is to me, the things essentially runs my day - when I stop for breaks, when the hills/downhills are going to arrive etc. Everything up the spout now, but I cannot continue to muck about - will just have to guesstimate things until I reach Cafayate. 

First order of the day is to find some scrubby sand dunes. The target bird of the morning is the Sandy Gallito, a north west Argentine Endemic. I find a likely spot after only 8km’s (give or take...). Sit and listen but there is nothing calling. Get the iPhone out with a small mini-amp and play the call a few times. No response. I am about to put all my gear away and start pedalling again when I hear a likely call. Off for a wander through the desert sands. I see what looks to be a small rodent hauling ass with its tail raised like a motorcycle coppers antennae. No rodent, this can only be the Sandy Gallito. Upon closer inspection, I decide it actually looks like a smaller version of a Greater Roadrunner.

Poor thing, not much to look at nor is the call all that attractive. None the less, in birding terms this is a biggy. I get carted about for 20 minutes attempting to get photographs. What started off as such a good bird is fast becoming an irritating little sod. Sprinting from one scrubby bush to the next, never on ‘my side’ of the bush. After an age, he finally takes to a higher vantage point and sings for all he is worth. I am in a good position not to waste this moment of relative motionless and snap away. Finally happy with what I came for, I slink out of the sand dunes and back to my bike. Target of the day acquired, I can now simply cycle to Cafayate. 

The VDO, of its own accord decides that there are no longer ‘too many signals’ and starts reading properly again. I will have to wait until i reach the next town to calculate the differential distance and update my ODO accordingly. I reach the turnoff and a now on one of the most famous roads in the world - Ruta 40. I am now at the junction to the Quilmes Ruins. The Quilmes people were an indigenous tribe that settled in the western sub Andean valleys of Tucumán Province. They resisted the Inca invasions of the 15th century, and continued to resist the Spaniards for 130 years, until being defeated in 1667. Spanish invaders relocated the last 2 000 survivors to a reservation just south of Buenos Aires. This is a journey of nearly 1500km, they did it on foot no less causing numerous casualties. By 1810, the reservation was abandoned. In 1888, a German immigrant built a beer brewery in the city, adopting the name for his beer. Quilmes is rather decent beer of which I partake regularly, it is also part of the largest brewery company in the world, Anheuser-Busch InBev).

There are some more target birds here, so I decide to head along the dirt road towards the ruins and see what I can find, I have sod all interest in looking at some old rubble. I make it about 200m before deciding to hell with that. I don’t do soft sandy roads anymore unless it is absolutely necessary. A small internal argument ensues as to the value one might put on White-throated Cacholote, one of the species potentially available here. ‘I’ll find it somewhere else’, puts an end to that argument. I have no sooner started cycling on the tar again and I bump into the first touring cyclist of my trip. Buffy is a typically tall and broad Queenslander cycling the classic trans-continental route from Dead Horse, Canada to Ushuaia, Argentina. (see his blog here : buff3ysbicyclingblog). We chat for a bit and compare notes, although we are not much use to each other as I am about to turn off Ruta 40 in Cafayate and Buffy is continuing onwards rather than turn towards Amaicha del Valle. Buffy has some very good information on Bolivia and Peru which will be handy to me though, a very useful encounter. So, after almost three months cycling through South America I have met another touring cyclist. 

Take lunch soon after, the clouds are still keeping everything cool fortunately. The surrounding environment looks hostile in the heat and I don’t want any repeat sun stroke performances. Lunch is the remainder of my Maria biscuits and some Dulche de Leche. Have been surprisingly off the Dulche de Leche as of late, although I suspect it has something to do with the the ill tasting petrol infused version I shoved in my mouth last week. To make space in my backpack, I decided in all my Baldrick wisdom to move my cooker (the stove and various parts are folded up inside a canvas style bag - the petrol bottle is in a separate bag) into the Kitchen Pannier. I did this when I left the Cordoba/Catamarca border some days ago having used it to cook dinner that evening. A few days after that I went hungrily into the bag for some biscuits and Dulche de Leche. The remanent petrol fumes seemingly found their way out of the canvas bag and through the plastic box in which said Dulche de Leche is stored as well as making it past the plastic lid and foil seal of the Dulche de Leche storage container itself. Dulche de Leche with a hint of YPF Super is not likely to catch on. 

I am still being careful on the electrolyte front, so down the bottle of Gatorade I bought earlier. Urgh, I know that Manzana is Apple - I certainly wouldn’t have taken that option if Naranja had been available and am reminded why. I used to think I should have entered those stupid reality shows where you get to eat weird stuff like sheep testicles and beetles. I’d win the competition hands down until someone shoved a Mango in front of me. Without question, I do not countenance any of the following fruits Mango, Peach, Papaya, Guava, Apricot, Plum etc (I’ve certainly forgotten a few). I may touch an Apple or a Banana if I’m really desperate, but otherwise I will only eat/drink citrus fruits. 

With that horrible taste in my mouth I fish for a hardboiled sweet. The cycle becomes a mission half way through as the wind has picked up again. Despite the gravities assistance, I am having to pedal down hills to counter the wind. I only have the best part of 20km’s left, so shouldn’t whinge. The surrounds have devolved into sandy, scrub straddled desert. I can now hear Sandy Gallitos calling every few hundred metres. No sign of the White-throated Cacholote. 

Passed one or two small mountains and suddenly the sandy desert gives way to wine vineyards. I am getting very close to Cafayate now. Huge flocks of Green-cheeked Parakeets have descended on a vineyard, no doubt creating mayhem with the fruit. A few of them have landed on the telephone cables near to me. We stare at each other for a while, the parakeets visibly scrunching up there eyes as they take a closer look. I’m getting the hairy eyeball here and a couple of high pitched, profane (I think) squarks before they fly off. 

Trundle into Cafayate and attempt to find the hostel I had read about. Turns out that besides being a centre of Argentina’s wine industry, Cafayate is also a tourist dream. Plenty of various types of accommodation, restaurants and English speaking people. Somehow it has managed not to become a tourist trap though. Probably has more to do with the fact that all the tourist sites are 10-20km’s from Cafayate, so this is very much a base rather than an attraction in itself. Since I cannot be bothered to look for hostels that don’t think it necessary to provide a map, I stay Hostel Ruta 40 instead. How nice to be back in a civilised and professionally run hostel unlike the last few places I have stayed. Greeted on entry, all the usual its and pieces dealt with efficiently. Even get shown where everything is. All for the princely sum of $50 pesos. I have stayed in hotels that charge quadruple that, don’t provide breakfast, haven’t got WiFi and are an absolute tip.

Unpack the gear and jump in the shower. Not the greatest unfortunately, water is tepid - not the nice hot shower I had been looking forward to. With most of my online stuff updated, it is only a few changes to my lists that are in order tonight. Get chatting to Michael, another Australian (2 in one day!). He gives me some good information about the roads and places ahead. Has me thinking of continuing up Ruta 40 to Cachi which I desperately want to do. However, I know this is a long detour for little in the way of birds. Nor am I really in the correct frame of mind to be tackling the mountains again on a dirt road. Resolve to forget about that route and concentrate on the birds! Off for a wander through town to see what I can find for dinner. While browsing the window menus (they exist only in tourist areas), a very portly gentleman introduces himself to me and starts rattling off about tonights specials at the restaurant. I peer inside and note that most of the staff are equally large - clearly I need to have some of the food that they are eating. Start with a few Empanadas (had much better at most places) before the main course of a Bife de Lomo is brought over. I needn’t have to even cut this, it look absolutely perfect. It most certainly is, must be no less that 500g of stunning beef. I once tried to be a vegetarian in my teens, lasted about 2 days as far as I can recall. Although, I am sure that even after 20 years of being so, one would come a cropper in Argentina very quickly. The quality of steak being one reason, the other being an almost complete lack of vegetables. I get excited when I see a carrot in my salad, for there is normally no other vegetable available except for tomatoes.



Stomach well and truly satisfied, I head back to the hostel intent on getting a good nights sleep before I head off in the morning. Things don’t pan out as intended however. I sit and chat with Michael and the two managers until the early hours of the morning. The management couple have only been on the job for 10 days, but they are doing a very good job in my opinion anyway. They are originally from Spain, moving here no doubt to escape the horrendous employment problems facing southern Europe. I don’t know how long they have been here, but they have a half built house not far from Tafi del Valle. Turns out that they were backpacking the north of Argentina and got offered the job when they were staying at the hostel. They get into detail about the job market and lifestyle. Argentina seems to have no problem with unemployment, but a massive issue with inflation. Prices on most things have double in less than two years. Of course, salaries have not matched the inflation spike. I forget about getting to sleep and soak up as much information as I can.

26/09/2012

Despite getting into bed at some silly hour of the morning - sober even, I wake up at 07:00, but the rest of the dorm is still sound asleep. Or should I say soundly asleep as there is a some murmured snoring emanating from one corner. I get up anyway and head off to the kitchen to get a brew on. Must be about 2 °C outside, and the water is taking it’s time. I reconsider my options, perhaps it will be best to stay here for another night. Cheap as chips and has a good WiFi connection. Will give me some more time to get myself better prepared for the next section of the trip. I decide that this is the best option. Much of the days is spent fiddling with bird reports and planning the next few weeks of bird venues. 

At around 14:00 I take a break and head off to town to see what I can find for dinner. Tonight I will be eating in, need to cut down on these restaurant meals - eating into the budget unnecessarily. Couple of tomatoes, a green pepper and 400g of prime steak. I have finally made my first purchase form the butcher - although it doesn’t go quite according to plan. I must have repeated myself somewhere in asking for two hundred grams of steak, as I end up with two, two hundred gram steaks. Still, at $20 pesos this is a complete steal.

I finish off the rest of my planning before taking (another) tepid shower and starting dinner. The tomatoes and peppers get fried and reduced to gravy while the steak gets fried up and cut into strips. I have a large white bread roll which is going to be turned into a steak sandwich. A very satisfying dinner indeed. Now it really is time to get some of that lost sleep back. Turns out that I am the only person in the dorm tonight. I sit and read for a bit and then a bit more. In the end, I read for almost 3 hours before forcing myself to put the iPad down and sleep. I downloaded one of Christopher Hitchens’s books that I had yet to read, ‘Arguably’. Anyone that thinks they are well read, have an excellent command of the English language or can argue a point and win (which I do), should read a Hitchens book. It very rapidly reduces your self estimations and reminds you why no-one has ever been able to hold a candle to this man. How relieved the bible bashers, Tony Blair, George Bushes, Bill Clinton, Mother Teresa, the English Royal Family et al must be that he is no longer here to thump them into the oblivion they all deserve.

Sleep came slowly after being wound up by Mr Hitchens.

27/09/2012

Awake at my usual hour. Get packed, dressed and get a brew on. I am just about ready to go when the lady working the morning shift tells me to wait 5 minutes and breakfast will be ready. So I do, am in no hurry today in any case. Munch a bowl of cereal while waiting for the bread rolls to arrive. They have barely arrived when an obese local tourist nabs the entire basket. I haven’t seen many Argentinians that I would classify as obese, many slightly fat - but this bird is on the very large size. Not that the rest of the party is much smaller. The morning staff are not nearly as good as they management however and the bread bowl doesn’t get replenished until I have started to wheel my bike out. No more stopping and starting for me though, I am off now. Get stopped my some local bikers outside the hostel who want me to take a photo under the hostel’s huge ‘Ruta 40’ sign. I take a snap myself for good measure before heading off.

Today has been pre-assigned as a birding first and cycling second day. I have become slightly annoyed at myself for getting fixated with the cycling once I have begun and not paying enough attention to the birds. This has cost me quite heavily, particularly while travelling up ‘El Infiernillo’ as I missed the Tucuman Mountain Finch. It is now quite unlikely that I will be able to see this Endemic bird anywhere else. With other Endemics on my target list today, I have aimed not to mess about. Despite all that, the next town is so far away that I have no chance of reaching it anyway. 

A few km’s out of town and my first birding stop at some thorny ‘chaco’ like habitat. I’m off to a good start, Stripe-crowned Spinetail and Streak-fronted Thornbird. Further along, I search the grassy fields hoping to pick up Black-crowned Monjita to no avail. The little monster has avoided me at two known sites now. After 15km’s, I decide to have a crack at White-throated Cacholote. The habitat seems good, so off I go with iPhone and Amp in hand playing it’s call. The only response I get is form some Patagonian Mockingbirds. I trudge back towards the bike and notice what looks to be a Flicker pecking at something on the ground. A quick glance through the bins shows that this is not a Flicker, but the much desired Cacholote. And muppet has left the camera on the bike. Haul arse back to the bike and grab the camera. The Cacholote as done a runner though. I play the call again, but there is absolutely no response. This will have to be done the hard way then. I march way through the scrub desert looking for any movement. Then I see it again. To cut a long story short, the Cacholote ended up dragging me around for a good half hour. While very approachable, it never sat still for very long or in a spot that I could acquire an image of it. With much persistence, I managed to sneak up on the fellow and snap away some half decent images from less that 4 feet. I say half decent, in that it still would not sit without some form of obstruction getting in the way or the light being poor. I wasn’t going to complain much, I had some good images and ultimately I wasn’t here to take NG award winning photographs in any case. 

The wind was now kicking up a fuss, but not enough to stop me cycling on at a relatively decent pace. Birding was still good, and another stop in a dried up river bed produced some Steinbach’s Canastero. If I had thought that the Sandy Gallito and White-throated Cacholote had toyed with me, the Canastero’s simply wouldn’t play ball. The nearest I got with the camera was 30feet and even then I never had less than a badly interrupted view. Tiring of this game, I gave up on photography and pedalled onwards. The landscape changed quite significantly as I started to enter the ‘Quebrada de las Conchas’, part of the greater Valles Calchaquíes (Educate yourself : Valles Calchaquíes). Vividly weathered sedimentary mountains, inselbergs, the lot. Spent much time with the small digital camera snapping away like a Japanese tourist. 

Continuing onwards, I came across my first Burrowing Parrot’s. Light angle was no good for any decent images, but snapped a few record shots. Ahead rose a large cloud of dust, the type an SUV normally kicks up when driving on a sandy dirt road. Only, there was no SUV here, this was the result of goats. Besides Humans and Elephants, the goat must be the most destructive creature known to mankind. They are popular farm animals in marginal habitats because they eat absolutely anything. This of course helps desertification no end. I took to completely losing my rag (as I was wont to do) a few years ago when I found that many UK charities were pleading to the bleeding hearts society not to send money to the starving of Africa, but to buy them a goat! I do hope that all those guilt ridden Europeans gave themselves a good pat on the back for purchasing their little African ‘project’ a goat. I hope that aforementioned project sends you regular letters as the Charities suggest they will (if they aren’t already dead or dying) about how they have had to continually move as the Sahara spreads further south, but please send more goats! Dickheads.

Anyhow, the dust storm having moved on one short after a vehicle took the place of native predators and duly ensured that only the fittest survived, I continued to bird. No photo of the White-winged Black Tyrant as it shot by not to be relocated. A distant Cliff Flycatcher finally had himself on my list too. Some dull looking finches turned out to be female Band-tailed Seedeaters, no males could I find. Made a multitude of stops now, as the landscape became more stark and interesting. The damn wind was starting to blow me about now, given that it was only 12:00, I could be sure that the impending hurricane had only just started. I battled on, struggling severely whenever the road went through the mountains. The channeled wind coming blowing so hard that I feared my reflective top might rip. Somehow, despite the wind I saw some movement in the river bed to my left. Managed a few swift shots for ID purposes, I knew it was a Ground Tyrant but had no idea of which particular species. Nor was I going to hang about to check the iPad, the wind was a gale now and even the poor bird was having a hard time standing up.

It was now getting very difficult to maintain a line on the road, something that is crucial when cycling in traffic. This was especially important now, as I could not hear the traffic coming with such a head wind. I knew that I only had a few km’s left to reach a small town, so soldiered on. Onwards and onwards I went without seeing any town, not that it would be possible to miss inside such a tight valley. Consulted the map app again to find that I had already gone passed said town. The it dawned on me, there was no town - that was the name of the area. Unbelievable, the map had never let me down, had never contained superfluous entries. And it picks this location of all places to start messing about. Google mapped this location too, so no doubt there has been some dodgy collusion going on. I audibly shout out a few expletives, no doubt the people in Cafayate some 35km’s away could hear them carried on the wind. 

I decide to continue cycling for a few more km’s and find a likely looking spot to lay down my gear for the night. it is only 13:00, but I am not likely to get much more cycling done as the wind doesn’t tend to die down until after dark. The dry river beds are massive, so while it can’t rain much here, it must come down in a buckets when it does. While no rain was predicted to fall for weeks, one mustn’t take chances out here. There are plenty of good places to camp and equally many very dangerous places to set up. If there is one thing I seriously fear, it is ending up as a finalist for this years Darwin Awards - so there would be no chances taken here. After a few km’s, I come across a tiny village - there is even a derelict shop with the ubiquitous Coca Cola sign board. To think that someone at Coca Cola had a signboard made for a kiosk in Santa Barbara, Tucuman Province, population 35.
Then I hatched another plan. Given that I had seen all the birds I needed to and given that there were no more between here and Calilegua some 300km’s away - I would try to catch a bus. I found a shady tree and unloaded my gear neatly making sure to place my bike in such a way that it would be obscured to the bus driver. I figure that if he sees the bike, then he may not stop, but if he has already stopped, then there is no turning back. I could be completely incorrect in this assumption, but it makes sense to me anyway. The first bus passes me half way through unpacking, which is a problem - I know that there are only 4-5  buses per day... With my gear ready and waiting, I munch on some biscuits before hauling my iPad out and continuing to read as Mr Hitchens takes aim at whatever subject rears it’s head at the wrong time. Finally after many pages, he is reviewing a book that I have actually read. The problem is, Hitchens has read so much that while he reviews one book he continuously makes comparisons to other books of similar style or genre. Either way, I now have a huge list of required reading as well as needing to reread Nabokov’s Lolita again, but from a slightly different view point. Crumbs, I even learn a few things about JFK - somehow managed to miss the detail on just how ill and drugged up this man was, even long before his presidency. In some respects his legacy certainly benefitted from the sharpshooter, for one couldn’t imagine him being so famous had he keeled over form a drug overdose - actually I suppose that is imminently possible.

To save you the trouble of looking this up for yourself - JFK’s litany of illnesses and drug regimes went something like this (as recorded by his numerous doctors - who did not know that he was receiving treatment from multiple doctors mind).

Abdominal pain, problems gaining weight, burning sensation while urinating (nonspecific urethritis) from a probable sexual encounter during college that was never treated and thus became a chronic, non-specific prostatitis. Fatigue, nausea and vomiting (Addison’s disease). This was all by 1946, he wasn’t even in Congress yet.

By the time of the Bay of Pigs disaster, he was taking anti-spasmodics to control colitis, antibiotics for his urinary tract problem and hydrocortisone to ‘boost’ him a little. He was shortly removed from anti-histamines that he took for food allergies and had that replaced with Stelazine, an anti-psychotic drug no less. Another physician noted that during his first 6 months as president, she administered the following drugs : Lomotil, Metamucil, paregoric, Phenobarbital, testosterone, Transentine and Tuinal. Added to this, JFK also saw another doctor on the sly who prescribed him amphetamines to combat depression and fatigue. It is noted that his face was so puffy and fat from all the steroids, that he had a special tan just before his presidential acceptance speech. 

As Hitchens quite pointedly states, it is a wonder that he lived as long as he did. Anyone with notions of what JFK may have accomplished in time should consider that he may not have lived that long either way.

However, I get distracted easily with such piles of new information, back to the subject at hand. It was a good few hours of waiting for the first bus. A few passed, but despite raising my hand, they just flashed and carried on driving. Perhaps they thought I was just being friendly - they didn’t look like obvious tour busses. I would have to wave more vigorously to make sure they understood what I wanted. Finally a FlechaBus, a company I knew was not a tourist bus appeared. I managed to flag him down and quickly loaded my gear. There was not another item of luggage in the bus, so I had no problems in getting my gear in sharpish. The bus driver had that ‘recently affiliated, 6th member of the local 5 man mafia gang’, look to him. He just chewed his toothpick and watched me load. He was as most bus drivers are, quite a rotund individual, as well as being typically short with hair that had been gelled in the local brand two stroke motorbike oil. A pair of dark Aviator style sunglasses completed the picture of the gun toting ‘wiseguy’ I had in mind.

Turned out to be a fairly uneventful bus ride, as I sat right behind and over ‘Lefty two hands’. The bloke might not be ever women’s idea of a dream husband, but I couldn’t help but notice how he made so many of the locals squirm - and he hardly said a word too. I couldn’t hear exactly what he was saying, but it wasn’t half working. Not that I was looking for tips I might add. It became noticeable not long after leaving Cordoba that money and time is not wasted looking for the next Miss/Mrs Argentina up here - and that is a charitable way of putting it. Pity that certain parts of the body cannot be removed for safe keeping while they are not required. I certainly won’t be needing the services of any such organs until Colombia, another year or so away. Speaking of which - that is another topic I am going to filet at the end of this blog. *The fecundity of dogs and humans in South America.
This is becoming a long day! When you have your arse planted in a saddle for so many hours every day, you find that you no longer spout hot air out it quite so much. There is much time to engage ones brain and think about things/stuff - whatever. You have the time and relative un-compromised ability to concentrate on subject from all angles at length. So I arrived in the town of Salta just after 19:00. I already had a hostel in mind, so didn’t fart about getting the bike loaded again and setting off. I don’t ever want to cycle at night in areas I don’t know, and it was starting to get dark now. Shot straight passed the hostel before correcting myself. Nothing fancy, but was able to get my bike in without unloading. Left it loaded in the atrium, taking only the bags off that I wanted. Showered, the usual pasta, tuna and tomato sauce for dinner. Sat down to sort out my lists and make some dramatic changes to my route. Why I had planned to cycle needlessly through the mountains to reach Calilegua I shall never know. There was a much easier ride through farm lands that I adjusted my route to. Bed by 01:00.
28/09/2012

Left Salta just after breakfast. I had about 70km’s to get through, so nothing too stressful. Bleeding VDO was playing up again, so the usual fart and fuck about with the dam thing. Half an hour went by with no resolution, so huffed and puffed and sat on my bike. Then I really did huff and puff as the exit from Salta is a rather sort and steep climb. Stopped at the summit to snap a few images of what turned out to be a massive city. Not that it had felt like that yesterday, but this is what comes about when most of these cities have few buildings over 3 stories, they just stretch forever. 

Immediately, a problem cropped up. I was getting back onto Ruta 9, the terror of a road I had ridden from Cordoba. There must have been 10 signs saying no cycling and some other going into more detail about the fact that you could not cycle, operate a donkey cart or go less than 50km/h. I cycled a small road running along the motorway. Passed by one of the laughable ‘love hotels’ - there actually aren’t that many in Argentina by comparison to Brazil. This is the first one I have seen in ages.

Eventually my road runs out and I am forced onto the motorway, or at last the gravel hard shoulder for this part of Ruta 9 is just as busy as the former section I had been on. The a toll booth appears which means plenty of police and probably trouble for me. I pedalled through slowly with really looking at anyone and just kept on going. Once I was a few hundred metres away I have the pedals some welly and got around the bend. Not sure why I was worried about the cops, I’ve been cycling on motorways for thousands of km’s now without problem. Despite the road being a gentle downhill, I could not move too quickly on the loose gravel shoulder. I stopped for my first break of the day while having a long debate about the industry I used to work in. It is a topic I have rarely considered and mostly completely forgotten about, but today I was giving it a good deal of thought for some reason. To spare you all the detail of what ended up being a good 3 hours of rumination, I am resolved never to involve myself in that line of work again. At about this point of clarity, the hard shoulder suddenly became an actual hard shoulder - such are the mysteries of Argentina’s roads. Out came the headphones, the legs thumped me along at 40km/h while I screeched along to the visceral tones of Hatebreed. Yes, I really did scream along to and at any passing motorist while moshing on the bike. The lat 15km’s ended way too quickly for my liking. 

I reached the small town of General Guemes (incidentally, many of the towns and cities here are prefaced by : General, Colonel, Liberator, Governor, Colony etc). This town was not anything terribly exciting, it looked like one very large diesel mec yard, for one side of the entire length of the main road were occupied by diesel mecs. With some surprise I noticed a ‘hostal’ - clearly not the type found in tourist areas, but bound to be cheap never the less. Exactly what I needed, good WiFi, restaurant to one side and a kiosk to the other. Today there was washing to be done, so showered, shaved and washing started. Quick trip to town for bite to eat. Saw my first obvious hookers on the walk back. I’m glad I had no idea what was said to me as they passed.

Spent the afternoon sorting out a a page for myself on Facebook. Despite dire warnings of ‘Unfriend’ people as I close down my personal account, not many have subscribed or liked the page

https://www.facebook.com/ClaytonBurneTwitchingCycling

Don’t wait or protest in shock horror, the page is being dismantled as I type this - if Facebook didn’t make you delete every single ‘friend’ one at a time, I’d be done days ago. 

Dinner is different for a change as I order spinach cannelloni and receive a surprise when a large plate containing 3 of them arrives. It the bonus of eating where the truckers eat, these little ‘gas station’ style cafes serve big portions at low prices. Well and truly stuffed, I return to my room for another intended sleep. End up watching the tele for the first time in a while, some duff ‘action probably masquerading as a drama’ film with Owen Wilson? and some dodgy Scandinavian bank funding an equally dodgy PLO or IDF missile project - I don’t remember. Despite the fact that it is dire, there is a decent English (non-Yankee) accent to cheer me up. Proper bloody English for a change.

29/09/2012

Up early again. Gear packed and readied, take breakfast at the small kiosk next to the hostel. For $10 pesos, I get coffee and 4 large sticky buns - better than I have found at most places. Filled up on some fuel, I head off for another relatively short cycle of around 60km’s to San Pedro de Jujuy. The road is packed again, but manage to spend the majority of the time on what must have been the ‘old’ road. Someone has very thoughtfully bulldozed sections out, so one cannot cycle for much more than 800metres before having to skirt onto the gravel hard shoulder and then back onto this road. Not that I am complaining, it is better than being on the busy main road and I can thump along to the music of my choice without concern. 

Neither the body or mind is particularly focused on cycling today, sometimes happens when I only have short distances to tackle. Fiddle and fart my way along, even managing to see a few news birds as I add Black-backed Grosbeak and Turquoise-fronted Amazon. Then my legs get itchy. I am not cycling in my Skins today, they need a clean. Sand flies, plenty of the little bastards are having a go at my bare legs. These things must have massive nippers, as they open you up very quickly. The volume of blood is much heavier than that taken by a mosquito. Back on the bike and depart in some hurry. One of the Catch 22’s that one has - the Andes are cold, but there are no little biting, parasite and disease ridden bugs. The lowlands are much more comfortable temperature wise but this is immediately cancelled out by the millions of little flying things that want to eat, bite, parasitise and kill you or if they can’t do any of that, generally irritate you. 

Keep the pedals moving at a sharp clip now. Am forced back onto the road where it gets very busy with truck traffic. This baffles me, we aren’t going anywhere here - San Pedro de Jujuy and Calilegua, that is it, end of the road. No idea, but on we go. Reaching the outskirts of San Pedro, there is a very acceptable cycling and running path which I immediately drop onto. Amble into town, not really sure where I am going to stay. Get lucky and find a decent hotel which is not expensive. This is really useful, as I will need to stay here again when I backtrack from Calilegua National Park. I forget that it is Saturday and every channel on the tele has some form or football on. Get to work on my photos and various other bits and pieces. Towards the evening I pop out to find a bite to eat. There isn’t much on offer, as I have found a hotel in suburbia. The best I can do is a local parilla selling lomitos and hamburguesas. I have a lomito and a dark Quilmes Stout - pretty good actually if somewhat on the sweet side.

Get back in time to see that the All Blacks are giving the poor Argentines an absolute hammering in the rugby. The Argies had looked so good this tournament to, really hope they can win the game against Australia, they have deserved to play in this competition and have so far been unlucky to lose two games they should have won. Anyhow, that is bed time for me.

30/09/2012

The hotel manager this morning has taken a fancy to my bike and proudly hauls out his own bikes. Damn decent road bike and mountain bike, not that he looks like much of a rider. We talk bikes for a while until I motion for breakfast which he sorts out hurriedly. Good coffee and some sticky buns! We chat some more and I have yet another photo taken - must be a couple hundred of these as well as video footage lying about Argentina by now and none of them know who I am... Need to get some business cards printed, cannot keep writing things out, time consuming and I sometimes forget my blog address in any case. 

Another short cycle, but I am not mucking about today. There must be a slight tail wind as I am pushing 40km/h for the first 15km’s. I have told the hotel I will be there somewhere between 12:30 and 14:00, but if I keep this up, I’ll be there at 09:30. Stop for some birding and find a small flock of an unexpected bird, Red-faced Guan. Damned if I can get a decent photo through all the thorn bushes. Have to be dreaming, these birds are not supposed to occur this low down. The red face is not in doubt, and the call is confirmation enough. Will have to make a point of passing this detail on to people more experienced than I for their thoughts. Perhaps the bird descends to lower altitudes in the winter, not that it could be described as winter today. Is going to be a hot one. 

Stop again for an early lunch at a Shell gas station. Rather posh little restaurant for a garage with prices to match. $20 pesos for a bowl of fries! Bloody hell, pick the special of the day which turn out to be a fantastic option, beef tart with salad and some veg even. I have dawdled enough now, so back on the bike and time for some basic shopping. Cycle the last 6km’s to the town of Calilegua to find that the entrance to the National Park is a little further away than expected. Not 5km’s, but 11km’s. Will need to leave early in the morning to get here in time. Tomorrow will be a scouting day to see where everything is and pick up as many species as possible. Will then add days to my stay according to what species I still require. 

Add a few more species on arrival. The garden has a Speckled Hummingbird floating about - the first hummer I have seen in a month. Some loud cackling from across the road reveals a Crested Oropendola, another target bird off the list. Then I hear it - the sound of an Indian Peafowl, what the hell is that all about? Seems as though there is a small zoo across from me, although I am to the back of it, so have no idea really. Could just be someones backyard too. Damn idiots, why on earth would you want a Peafowl here when there are over a thousand naturally occurring birds? As if evidence was required, a large flock of Toco Toucans came in to roost in the trees above the peafowls. At last count I could see no fewer that 20 of the little fellows dragging these huge banana beaks around - very comical.

No comments:

Post a Comment