‘El Viento Sonda’….extreme heat and snow

Leaving Cafayate was hard as I felt very much at home at the nice Hospedaje ‘Lo de Penalba’, right on the plaza a couple of houses down from the church. I also haven’t seen the ‘Quebrada de la Conchas’ and will have to come back on another occasion! Even though I had little time I decided to make my way down to Mendoza via some small country routes, biking, hitching and taking buses, rather than taking a  bus direct via a big center like Tucuman. On my first day I got to Santa Maria and on to San Jose de Norte, were I ended up waiting most of the afternoon for a ride. I finally carried on in the last of the day light to the last wee village called Punto de Balusta, where I camped for the night. I had forgotten how nice it was to camp out in a wam and safe environment. I was up before daylight and on the road by 7am…..hoping I might catch a ride through the next 150km of ‘puro campo’. It was a nice stretch of road with only a mine being half way down the road, no other sign of habitation. Mining is a difficult subject here, as mainly foreign companies exploit the land and leave behind polluted rivers and a waste-scape….all while only donating a few schools or similar attributes to the local people. I had to bike 60km before finally one of the three cars, which passed in the 3 hours, gave me a ride to the town of Belen. It was a campervan of a very nice retired Argentinian couple travelling the continent. They were a wealth of information and very kind. After that I than managed to catch a couple of buses and was told to wait for another one which would take me to Chilecito….my destination for the day. I waited 2-3 hours but the bus never came. I asked several locals about it and all told me….si si ‘ahorita viene’ (it’ll come soon). At sundown I gave up and headed for the road and only just managed to get a ride before dark to the town of Chilecito. The guy told me that the bus doesn’t go any longer on Sundays, for quite some time already! It was an exhausting day with lots of frustration….traffic is sparse in Argentina, not many of the very few cars will actually stop, and buses are even harder to come by in these remote little towns. My only hope are the pick up trucks….I love pick up trucks! The other obstacle was the heat, climbing to the high 30ies during the day, …and the wind which would pick up after lunchtime…..from the south!! These conditions made biking in the afternoon very unpleasant! I was on the road early again the next day and made my way up the scenic Cuesta de Miranda, climbing about 1000m via a beautiful valley with lots of cacti and red rocks. I was lucky as the road has been closed for a couple of weeks and only had been open for a few days before closing again for more road works. They were improving the road for the Paris-Dakar race in 2014. There was quasi no traffic and I enjoyed the ride down the other side, took the 20km gravel road short cut to Pagancillo, avoiding the town of Villa Union. From there it was a further 30km to the National park of Talampaya. It was 3 o’clock and the temperature already close to 40 degrees. Nevertheless I decided to head for the park and camp there, but half way a very strong headwind came up and made progress very slow. It was a frustrating battle to the entrance of the park. Winds were so strong I needed help getting my tent up! I was exhausted that evening and thought I deserved a (small) bottle of wine! I fell asleep to the humming of the Ooooommmmm, a meditation congress taking place at this camp. Later I found out that Talampaya is the location of one of 12 discs (high energy fields) in all of the Americas, and the strongest of the three in Argentina. A well known Peruvian spiritual healer was leading the meditation and people had come from all over Southamerica. The next morning I visited the Canyon de Talampaya, a 4km long stretch lined by about 150m high sheer red sand stone walls. The stone formations were amazing and I enjoyed the guided visit. We were back at the visitors center by lunchtime and the temperature was close to 40 than. Too hot for biking and I waited for the bus, but got a ride instead. I skipped the Provincial Park Ischigualasto only down the road but too much of an effort to get to and headed on to St Augustin de Valle Fertile instead. I was on the road early the next morning and had a very enjoyable ride along the foot hills of the Cordillera de Valle Fertile. Finally the many miles at high altitude and all the hill climbs paid off and I felt like flying along at 25km/h on a straight road. The valley was suffering from a dry spell since over a couple of years and the name ‘Valle Fertile’ seemed kind of inappropriate by now. The wind started by lunchtime and picked up quickly….time to get a ride. I was lucky and got one to San Juan nearly straight away, with the first car passing within the last hour or so. I didn’t like the place enough to stay and carried on to Mendoza that same day. This turned out to be a good decision as a famous Argentinian Rock Star, Indio Solaris, was descending on the town and every bed was booked for the weekend. People came from as far as Madrid and I met a nice Peruvian chap who had taken the bus all the way from Lima to attend the concert! Initially I wanted to stay a couple of days in town, but only managed one. I used it wisely and went on a wine tour for the afternoon, which was very interesting. We visited a small boutique winery, a huge commercial one and an olive factory. I most enjoyed the tasting part of course! Unfortunately the temperature had dropped drastically to about 10 degrees and we were back to winter with clouded skies. This was part of a weather phenomenon called ‘Viento Sonda’, which starts of with a very very hot wind followed by a very very cold one with snow on the Cordillera. Not what I needed for the crossing of the Andes on my way to Santiago!!

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