2011/01/26: 106 km to Estancia Cancha Rayada
Moving south from Malargue took us into barren arid terrain again. At a rest stop just off the road under some rare trees, we discovered a freshly severed goat’s head — no sign of the rest of the body. Later information lead us to believe this was evidence of poaching, a problem since goat meat fetches a very high price in the towns.
This was also the day we saw our first armadillo! I was so excited, I got off my bike to try to corral it so Chris could get a better photo … but the terrified beastie ran faster than I could, scuttling hastily down the road. Who knew they were so quick? The photographer came out empty-handed.
At the end of the day, we reached Estancia Cancha Rayada, where the Diaz family welcomed us into their home. The Diazes are friends of Miguel’s, and he’d suggested we stop here. He had called ahead to warn of our arrival, but they weren’t sure when we were coming. It was wonderful to be shown around a working farm, with cattle, sheep, goats and more. Most of the animals were at higher pasture for the summer. This lovely family with three great children ages 9 to 13, provided us with a delicious dinner, an evening of conversation, and comfortable beds. Argentinian hospitality and kindness wins again!
2011/01/27: 71 km to Camp at Top of Pass
Setting out after strong coffee and goodbyes, we soon met a Scottish couple, Chris and Lesley, travelling north on bikes.
Shortly after this was the start of 40 km of loose gravel, where the Ruta 40 is under construction. It was very hot, and I began to have stomach problems as a result of incipient heat stroke. Long breaks were taken wherever we could find shade, progress was slow, and water ran very short. The last part was a climb on loose gravel against strong headwinds, We walked our bikes and I begged water from a passing motorist.We were both pretty spent when we finally reached asphalt near the top of the pass, and a local rancher gave us permission to camp while handing us two large bottles of clean water. A feast of tortellini and a good sleep was what we needed to put us right.
2011/01/28: 40 km to Barrancas
We awoke to appreciate our relatively green alpine surroundings. Some tail-less furry creatures that may have been wild guinea pigs grazed nearby. Geese hissed and a few chickens inspected our camp. We climbed the last kilometre and started our descent to Barrancas, stopping to thank our farmer friend who was coming back up to the high pasture area in his truck. In Barrancas, we fell into accommodation at midday, feeling a strong need for shade, more sleep, and a shower. We emerged briefly to shop and eat in the tiny village, but soon went back to bed in preparation for a nocturnal departure.
2011/01/29: 128 km to Chos Malal
We left at 01:30h, waking up every dog in the village as well as some chickens as we went. It was strange to ride at night! Being unable to see much of the surrounding terrain made it hard to predict ups and downs in the road, and until you look at a completely new set of stars, you don’t realize how familiar your own night sky has become. A sliver of moon appeared a few hours after we set out; dawn crept over the horizon a bit later. We climbed up over various steps of a wild pre-Cordilleran plateau, dotted with cones of extinct volcanoes. We descended into Chos Malal just after midday, with Chris getting stung by a bee on the way down. We tucked into cold drinks and found cool and quiet digs for another day off that the old bodies seem to need. As we move south and west toward Bariloche, the weather should be a bit cooler. We may take a scenic gravel road suggested by the Scots, which will be a tough ride. If it’s cooler, it should be manageable.