To be honest, we're not really looking forward to the upcoming stretch. The impressive mountains, forests and lakes of Patagonia are behind us and the route further north predicts little beauty, drought, long distances, dust and a lot of sweating. In recent months we have become very spoiled with amazing scenery, countless campsites and charming villages. But maybe the route to the city of Mendoza is not too bad. We basically follow the land-long route 40 and where possible turn to alternative roads closer to the Andes.
While we hang out in the wifi zone of the Lago Alumine campsite to get the previous blog and Patagonia video (painfully slow) uploaded, the stray dogs loot supplies from our bag on a picnic table near the tent. The black food bag is now located further in the bushes in a large circle of remnants of packaging materials. The damage: a piece of cheese, two sandwiches, a dozen muesli bars and a bag of muesli. We think we are taught a lesson. In the evening after we have eaten hamburgers from the BBQ, we walk around to gather some wood for a cozy campfire. When we returned, a glass of wine is thrown over and we must confess that there was a piece of cheese on the table next to that glass of wine. Not anymore. There is only a small supermarket where we cannot get stocked up very well and with a lightweight food bag we head further north.
Hernan runs a hostel "Huskys and Horses" near the Chilean border and that is our aim today. We cycle on ruta 23 along a small river and climb to an altitude of 1770 meters. From there we only descend, we think. But we are often wrong these days. Hernan's hostel is just (500 meters) from the road, but also 50 meters higher: 10%. The short steep climb takes us over a cart track to a exceptional place. Hernan is not there and we are welcomed by the German Lucas, Dutch Shorona and English Daisy, all three volunteers who take care of the horses and huskies with which Hernan offers multi-day tours. We can spend the night in a small cabaña, a kind of Hansel and Gretel house between the araucaria trees and grazing horses.
In the morning Daisy brings us some bread, butter, jam and an apple. We'll need to get through the day with that. The first 40 kilometers are a breeze: tailwind, perfect asphalt and almost everything downhill. We enjoy it a lot, the average is above 30 km / h, but we know that the sequel will be different. At the bottom we turn sharply and immediately get the wind from the front. Today is going to be a tough day. We still have almost 60 kilometers to go and the wind continues to work against us for 60 kilometers. At a burnt-out car we find shelter from the wind to eat the bread. Hungry, thirsty and tired we arrive in the village of Loncopue.
The camping municipal of Loncopue is also a football field and rodeo site. There are no other campers. There are people working on the facilities and we suspect that an autumn rodeo is coming, but it will not be today, because we can pitch our tent and rinse the sweat off under a cold shower.
The next morning we count the mosquito and sand fly bites and there's an incredible number. Apparently we were being eaten by night without noticing. What's worse: dogs that eat our food or mosquitoes that eat us? We now find the latter, because the itching is terrible.
The next morning the wind turned 180 degrees. With that welcoming support and with new supplies, we cycle along a river to the village of El Huenca and then up a pass to get to the village of El Cholar. According to our Argentinian paper map, everything is on asphalt, but according to the Austrian App Komoot, everything will be unpaved. We assume, of course, that the Argentinian source is right and that the app from Austria is not up to date. The Argentines were good on the first 8 kilometers, after which the Austrians unfortunately know better what the surface is than the Argentines: ripio, or gravel, or dirt.
In the somewhat desolate town of El Huenca we find a hotel that sells a cold Fanta and when we have greedily devoured it, there is enough energy in us to start the climb of the day: eight kilometers and 440 meters up to 1650 meters. Quite tough and it is already after five in the afternoon when we reach the top. Unfortunately we then still have 22 kilometers to go and only the first seven go down.
When we arrive in El Cholar at sunset we want to find out if there is room in a hostel or cabaña and not pitch our tent. The energy has completely disappeared, we are through it and as soon as we get off the bike we immediately get cold. The hostel is fully booked and the cabaña cannot be found at first, but the owner of a dispensa, a super small mini market, knows the owners and calls them: unfortunately, the cabaña has already been rented out. Apparently still quite popular this remote village, but well, it is Saturday. The owner of the mini market knows another cabaña and jumps into his car to take us there. We can indeed spend the night there, although they probably doubled the price. Well for Western standards $30 is not much. The WiFi works well and we read about the impact the corona virus has on the world and what restrictions have been set. It could have a major influence on the continuation of our world trip. We are however in a very big country, so we might be okay for some time. First get to Mendoza, another 700 kilometers up north and then we will see further.
The landscape is completely barren and rocky when we leave El Cholar but it's quite an impressive area to cross. Almost no traffic and only the two of us as little ants is a boundless and endless area. After 55 kilometers we ride onto ruta 40, the country long road that actually will guide us to Bolivia. We deviate from ruta 40 if we think an alternative route is more beautiful, closer to the Andes or when traffic is getting heavy. At this point we like the ruta 40, because it is paved and that is what we and our bikes are craving for. Only a few kilometers away we cycle into the village of Chos Malal and pitch the tent at the camping municipal.
The campsite is basic, but we get lucky, because the toilet building and showers are just being cleaned. Also surprisingly, the WiFi is good and we are shocked by today's developments regarding the corona virus. We are in a whatsapp group of cyclists in Latin America and it kind of exploded: 225 messages today. We read about what's going on and find some panic among the cyclists. Messages with factual information are interspersed with subjective ("heared-from") messages that create even more panic and fear. We try to remain calm, but it is clear that the countries of South America want to react more resolutely and proactively to Corona than the EU countries two weeks earlier. All countries except Chile have now closed their borders. We are happy to be in Argentina, because that country is big, it has friendly people and the cost of living is relatively low there. If we get stuck in Mendoza, it will not be so bad, because it is a large city in the middle of the Argentinian wine-growing area.
Then we receive reports that one of the northern Argentine provinces has closed its borders to all foreigners. Oops, if the province of Mendoza is going to do the same, we won't make it to Mendoza at all.
We decide to stay an extra day at the campsite, rinse the dust of the bikes again, give our legs a day to rest, but above all to monitor the ever faster developments surrounding the virus. On that day of rest it all goes fast indeed. During the day, they close the campsite. Not that they tell us that, but we see that new guests are refused and the toilet block is locked.
We also read that the province of Chubut, in which Bariloche is located, has closed its borders. We expect that the other provinces will follow soon…, so what to do? It is a day and a half cycling to the provincial border of Mendoza. When it is closed, we probably get stuck in a hamlet without facilities. When we can pass, we also might get stuck in a less nicer town on the way up to Mendoza. We discuss the situation with the French motorcyclist Luc, the only other camper on the site. Luc is a little less aware of the developments and wants to leave tomorrow for El Cholar, where we came from. We decide to sleep on it one more night and then, based on the latest updates, make a decision. When we go to a supermarket for groceries for dinner in Chos Malal, we don't notice any of the craziness in the world around us. A police car meets us on the way to the supermarket, but does not pay any attention to us. We walk freely through the supermarket and are not looked at strangely.
With the hamburgers (yes, again) from the supermarket and charcoal from the petrol station, we return to the campsite, which is now sealed with barrier tape. At first we are stopped, but if we point to our tent further on, we can continue walking. On a sign is a message pasted that the campground is closed till the end of March, so for about 2 weeks. We no longer enter the toilet building to pee, but walk around it. Strange situation, but the barbecue makes up for it.
During the night we are "overtaken" by all kinds of decisions by the Argentine government and there are again more than 100 new messages in the Whatsapp group. It is clear to us that we will no longer make it to Mendoza: domestic traffic between provinces has been shut down and no more buses, trains or domestic flights. In the Whatsapp group, most seems to pack their bags and give it a try to return home in a hurry. Often people are forced to leave their bikes behind and have to pay over the top prices for an international flight. We read that people cannot reach the intended airport (in Santiago, Buenas Aires or Sao Paulo), or that a expensive booked flight has been canceled.
We decided to: 1) stay (sort of self-isolation) and 2) look for a long stay place in Chos Malal. Returning to the Netherlands is not the best option for us. In fact, the health situation there is simply much more serious than in Argentina, especially here in remote Chos Malal. We don't have a home to return to and our insurance covers health care worldwide except in the country of origin. We think that traveling now is the best way to take the virus and spread it. If we would get back to the Netherlands, we probably cannot visit friends, parents and family for at least 14 days. So we'll stay in Chos Malal: by Argentine standards it is quite a nice town with 20,000 inhabitants and sufficient facilities. A (much) larger city like Mendoza or Buenos Aires does not seem so smart to us as a foreigner anymore.
We inquire via whatsapp at a Warmshowers host and at a hostel whether they know if we can rent a house for a longer period of time. They both respond quickly, but unfortunately they do not know places immediately. However, the hostess of the hostel responds that she wants to receive us and that we can then talk about the options together. Somehow she makes us feel good. The Warmshowers host also responds nicely, but indicates that she does not dare to receive us because of the fragile health in her family, but later sends us all kinds of tips and telephone numbers and even offers to host us anyway if we are in good health.
At the campsite, we discuss the latest developments with Luc, the Frenchman. It seems that he now really is aware of the seriousness of the situation. He gives up his itinerary for today, and says he'll try to stay at the campsite. The toilets were open in the morning and a lady has been cleaning them. However, when Roelie finds them locked again after cleaning and asks if she can borrow the key, she is told that the campsite is closed and that we must leave as soon as possible. Okay, that's clear…
We break up our tent and leave for the hostel. We give the hostel address to Luc and he indicates that he comes after us. When we arrive at the hostel, we are warmly received by Karina, the hostess. Later, the host, Nestor, comes up on his motorcycle and he is also friendly, but also serious. He has been well informed about what he is aloud to and what not. When asked, we declare that we have been cycling in Patagonia for three months and have been in Argentina for over three weeks. That is enough for Nestor to receive us with open arms. He immediately invites us for an argentinian lunch: with lots of meat and a glass of wine. We immediately notice that we are in good company with these people. A little later Luc also joins in for lunch and after that we move into the hostel. It consists of a communal kitchen, three bedrooms with two beds each and a bathroom. In the backyard, two large dogs are walking around, a Dogo Argentino and a black Labrador twice the size of what should be customary according to the breed characteristics. In the front yard there are three sweet poodles around, sisters of each other according to Nestor, but we have the idea that they are grandma, mom and daughter. Mommy is in the heat and very h##y. Every morning she rides Grandma and she's been thrashing against us all day. Daughter has a chronic shortage of love and asks us for a lot off affection with her sweet eyes.
The same day with a little help from Nestor we both buy a pair of running shoes, so that we stay a bit fit. Two mornings we run to a park two kilometers away, work out for half an hour on the outdoor fitness equipment present there and then run back again. Really great, but then…
The Dutch embassy in Buenos Aires does what it can to provide Dutch people with information. For example, we are told that the Argentine government has decreed that the hotels and hostels may only accommodate foreigners. This is very annoying for travelers from Argentina, but it is an encouraging message for us, because we and Nestor were afraid that he would have to close his doors by order of the government. So the opposite has now been decided. It is even forbidden for accommodations to put foreigners on the street.
In the evening of the second day of our self isolation (okay, with the exception of the morning run) we reed on the whattsapp group messages that a lockdown will take place in all of Argentina from midnight, for a period of two weeks. The embassy confirms this a bit later and cars with public announcement systems drive through the streets of Chos Malal. So unfortunately, the running shoes can be slid under the bed next to the cycling shoes, because we can only go out the door for the groceries, and not together. The embassy and Nestor urge us to comply with strict restrictions, even though the next day we see that not every Argentine is still following the new quarantine rules. It even leads to funny situations: on the way to the supermarket, Roelie sees four men get out of a parked car and then take position to stay 2 meters apart when crossing the street.
Dans lesson by Karina en Nestor
We are grateful and happy with our place, with Karina and Nestor and also with Luc who, how fortunate, was a chef in French restaurants in a previous life. About our daily activities or routines such as reading, yoga, core-stability, netflixing, learning Spanish, bbq-ing, dancing Argentine style, eating pizza and undoubtedly becoming too fat, we will not elaborate nor keep a blog, then you will all drop out. We blog again when we can move on and are back on the pedals.
For now: adios, ciao and keep safe!