Saturday, 8 October 2011

5 days of bush camp, but now back in civilisation in San Juan

After leaving Cordoba we cycled through the Sierras Chicas mountains and are now enjoying a rest day in San Juan, Argentina. The last 5 days we have endured rather basic conditions with no mobile phone reception and no showers. The toilets were holes in the ground that we needed to dig ourselves. But the scenery was the best so far, simply spectacular.  It was also great to be away from big trucks trying to run us off the road.  Over the majority of the last section we have only seen a couple of vehicles per day, as whilst there is a highway from Cordoba to San Juan, we avoided it completely.  We did however pass a nudist camp that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere.

The distances covered each day ranged from 70km to 130km, but a lot of this was off road and one day was mostly sand and dirt, which made for really tough riding, especially for the heavier riders like myself. Those who brought off road tyres were a lot better off than those that didn't, like me.  The trick on sand is basically to pedal like hell and keep up the momentum to carry you through it.  Once you slow down or stop it is really hard to get going again.

There were some cool downhill sections but they were very bumpy, and despite bending my arms to absorb some of the shock, my forearms were hurting like hell.  Making a fist was also slightly painful.  On some of the downhill sections it would have been easy to slip and fall but luckily nothing like that happened.  The only times I fell it was on the flat - twice because of deep sand and once due to 3 big dogs running towards me at full speed.  The big dogs still scare me quite a lot, especially when they are running towards you and you are cycling completely on your own without a soul in site.  But so far they have always been all bark and no bite.

There was also one point when a cow decided it owned the road and stood in the middle of the road staring down passing cyclists.  For me a cow isn't scary, but for some of the riders it was a standoff and they were unsure of whether or not it was safe to pass.

The temperatures during the Cordoba to San Juan section were extremely variable.  At nights it was often freezing cold (less than 5 degrees Celsius) and in the afternoons unbearably hot (over 30 degrees Celsius).  On several nights we needed to build a camp fire to keep warm, and I learnt 2 new things about building fires.  The first is that it really helps to build a pit as this helps to contain the heat that the fire produces, and the second is that cow dung is an excellent fuel for the fire.  We started the night with a wood fire, and once we saw the miraculous burning properties of cow dung the fire was slowly converted into a 100% cow dung fire.

The night before last Dennis (a Danish guy) and I decided we would sleep out under the stars without a tent.  There was barely a cloud in site, the evening was warm, and it seemed an ideal night for sleeping al fresco.  Others decided to pitch their tents but not to put on their flysheets.  This soon turned out to be a big mistake.  Sometime around midnight the wind whipped itself up into a frenzy and bikes started falling over, in addition to a whole host of other objects that weren't firmly tied down.  It was strong enough to break the poles on one guy's tent.  Despite being covered in sand we managed to get some sleep but when I awoke at 2am with a call of nature I saw strange flashes in the sky.  We were surrounded on two sides by sheet lightning.  I awoke Dennis for a discussion on what we should do, and the conclusion was that we would probably be fine and should just continue sleeping.  At 5.15am James the cook started making breakfast on the tables under which we were sleeping, and so this was our early morning wakeup call.  We had survived our night al fresco unscathed.  Only 5 minutes later though James pointed out a scorpion scuttling across the ground only 2m from where we had been sleeping - thank goodness that thing didn't decide to sting us in the night.

Coming in to San Juan there was a lovely cycle path that continued for around 13km.  Often the cycle paths here are so short that it isn't worth the effort to leave the road and get onto them, but this one sure was.  The morning had been a hell of a slog, battling strong headwinds.  In the afternoon our luck changed and the wind was behind us.  This meant that there were quite a few sections on the cycle path when I was zipping along at over 40km/h.  San Juan is wine country and approaching San Juan we were passing vineyard after vineyard.  I arrived at the hotel on the outskirts of San Juan, took a shower and lay on the bed, content as could be.   A bed and a hot shower was all the luxury that I needed.

The rest day is now over, we have seen the main sights of the town, and now we are rearing to get on our bikes again, next stop Santiago de Chile.....

Start of beautiful descent

Bush camp

The wood fire that soon became a cow dung fire