Part Fifty One – Into Patagonia

Well it’s certainly an interesting sensation to finally be pedaling through Patagonia. The land is flattening out towards the pampas as I have left the last of the high mountains behind me. Am tempted to think of this as the final leg of the journey but even a cursory glance at the map reveals that there is still quite a way to go before I find myself in Ushuaia (about 3,000km). Still best therefore to keep the minor destinations ‘chunked’ so I don’t get overwhelmed by the distances. A troubling lyric that comes frequently to mind is, ‘the last mile is the hardest mile’ (Smiths).

Yet the country to come will be interesting.  From the city of Zapala, from where I write to you tonight, I will now cruise down through the Lake District of Argentina before crossing back into Chile for a bit of pedaling along the Caraterra Austral and then I cross back into Argentina to continue down towards Tierra Del Fuego. In theory this will take about another five or six weeks.

For some odd reason I decided that it would be a good idea to study early modern literature while I traveled. This was a moment of inspiration that struck, somewhere in Ecuador I think. This now means that I spend a good slice of each day while pedaling through the Argentinian countryside thinking of weird and wonderful new ways to reinterpret the witches in Macbeth. Quite an interesting departure. If all goes according to plan I will qualify for a University of Oxford T-Shirt sometime next year. All very exciting.

Northern Patagonia flat lands

With each day on the road south I am adding to the huge database of fascinating insights and accumulated knowledge from this trip. For example:

– Steven Seagal movies are much better in Spanish

– Never ride through South America with a Rohloff Hub as if they stuff up (eg. a bearing wears out), you are a long way from help. Refer the photo of the bike with its Shimano XT drive train.

– Never attempt to study from distance while you are bicycle traveling. You find yourself in an endless state of worry as to whether you will find a viable internet connection in the towns down the road.

– SPAM and other related meat products are just not very good and over consumption can make you feel quite ill. (definitely not the quality of the Buffy Burger)

– It takes about a year on the road to perfect your camp pasta and sauce. Mine is now verging on the edible.

– The average touring cyclist swerves around approximately 100 cow, horse, yak, llama or bear turds on the side of the road every day. That means that on this trip I have swerved around about 30,000 turds.

New Shimano XT drive


Part Fifty: Mendoza – Central Argentina

‘Part Fifty’ eh?! I must really be doin’ some hard travelin’. Either that or I just keep on writing. When the copy is just this good it is very difficult to stop!

Will be on Route 40 for a good few of these 4,000 kilometres.

Am in the lovely lovely city of Mendoza. Tree lined wide avenues, coffee shops a-plenty (with delicious mini-chocolate-cakes), top quality BBQ grills and lashing upon lashing of tasty red wine. Couldn’t really ask for more. I’m no wine expert but a few months here and you couldn’t help but develop an educated taste (and associated nauseating vocabulary) for the stuff. My own four days here is merely enough time to quaff some “very passable” Malbec to wash down the grilled cow innards and then fall about the place a bit – but there it is.

The Argentinians themselves continue to delight with their cool calm friendly demeanors and sophistication. (Not as sophisticated as your humble bicycle touring correspondent of course but getting right up there).

It is raining. This would not, in and of itself, seem that strange. It is just that there have been so few rainy days on this trip that seeing the rain fall is indeed most strange. I have passed some sort of climactic divide between the arid north and the not-so arid central part of Argentina, and I’m pretty happy about that. I might now be able to somehow rid myself of all of the desert sand and dust from the altiplato of Bolivia and desert of northern Chile that has engrained itself so in my very being and infused itself in every orifice to such an extent that it is difficult to know where it stops and I start.

Being in this part of Argentina affords one the opportunity to engage in one of the great pleasures of traveling. That is, checking out the wondrous beauties of the local cities. I refer, here, of course, to the vast numbers of majestic Renault 12s that populate the streets here.

The Argentinians in this part of the country have a great love for aging European cars (something to do with wanting to be European according to the guide book). The rare and wondrous Fiat 1500 (late 1960s) wagon even made a fleeting appearance. I was not quick enough to get a snap shot of this illusive beastie. The Hillman Imp even made a showing in Mendoza (a car for which only my elder brother could ever have any love or see the scantest slither of merit in). So what of all of the car critics who wrote the hapless Renault 12 off? Well they are now dribbling their yogurt down their bibs or were a chilled worm meal long ago. All the while the mighty Renault 12 powers on to ever more miraculous feats of person transport and mediocre performance. “Has the power to weight ratio of a schlummocking elephant seal” was most unkind. “Is really shit” seemed a bit harsh. Regardless, I am unreliably informed that Argentina has one of the largest Renault 12 car clubs in the world.

I have been sampling a good few of the Parrillas (BBQ grills) from Salta through San Juan and now here in Mendoza and I am rapidly coming to a conscious conclusion that I have somehow understood innately for some time but have just never formulated into a clear succinct academic thesis, but here goes: ‘Vegetarians are idiots’.

Why would anyone willingly go through life without experiencing the absolute pleasure of eating a really good English pork pie (with loads of jelly). How could you forgo the joys of being served up a sizzling grill of various bit of cow (some usually hidden away in sausages). They can have their mung bean munching for many thousands of years of omnivoric behaviour can’t be wrong. While I’ve got the teeth in my head, (teeth that have been painstakingly developed over the millennia specifically to gnaw away on a tasty parrilla and such tasty morsels as cow intestine) I’ll be doing just that.

[Any veggies reading this who are now taking umbrage can gum me].

In Mendoza however, the gastronomic delight continues well beyond the BBQ grill. In honour of my bicycle trip the local owners of Kingo Burgers have in-launched The ‘Buffy’ Burger. It has all the flavour that people the world over have come to expect of the original Buffy Burger. Now, however, it’s ‘New’ and has an extra layer of Grade E – ‘fit for human consumption’ meat and a bigger egg! Lovely!

Fired up on Buffy Burgers, I now head towards Patagonia and the last stages of the Pan-American ride.

Grade ‘E’ fit for human consumption!

Promo shot for the re-launch of The New Buffy Burger. The best $3.50 you will ever spend!