Cycling above the Clouds

Riding the Andes by Bicycle


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What a Bonanza!

As I rode out of the pass and river valley I shook off any remaining tension from dealing with all that Zonda wind the night before, and simply enjoyed being in this wonderful environment. The sun was shining and the wind was now a lot more manageable. I pedalled into the small town of Calingasta and sought out a cafe to grab a few empañadas for a relaxed lunch.

One brilliant initiative in Argentina is ‘internet para todos’ – or ‘internet for everyone’. In most towns and even villages, the central plaza with have free wifi service so everyone can access the internet. It’s extremely useful for travellers. The cafe was right on the plaza so having been out of signal for the past few days, I checked in and found an email waiting for me from Franck…

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La Zonda

From the two national parks, I had a spectacular descent out of the windswept ‘Sierra del Valle Fertil’ until I turned off to stay at a tiny town called Huaco. This was a quaint and sleepy town, with the first lush green I’d seen all trip. There were some fine horses in the fields and lines of poplar trees made me feel like I was in Italy.  I asked people in the main Plaza if there was a hospedaje in the town, and was directed two streets away, to the Hospedaje of Doña Irma. This was a large house that had been in the family for many years, and I felt like being a guest in her home with all it’s faded glory (and cobwebs!). At £5 a night it wasn’t going to break the budget.

The big descent – this little chap came to say hello when I stopped by the side of the road to take a picture

Horses and greenery for the first time on this journey!

Horse training by bike up and down the dusty village streets


Flowers and vines in Huaco


Faded glory at the hospedaje

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In the footsteps of dinosaurs

Talampaya National Park


I pedalled back into the desert to visit the first of two national parks – Talampaya.  The park was established to protect both the important palaeontological and also archaeological sites in the area. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000, Talampaya contains ‘the most complete continental fossil record known from the Triassic Period’ (between 251m and 199m years ago). In layman’s terms, the fossils found in the park provide a snapshot in time of the origins and early evolution on our planet of both dinosaurs and mammals.

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Superstitions, saints & shrines

Before reaching the national parks I had to cross the Miranda pass – a climb of 1200m over the Sierra de Sañogasta – then cover 250km through more desert. I set off early to give myself plenty of time to enjoy the ride to the top (also as, having had a bit of a scare with the sandstorm a couple of days earlier, I was now carrying 4.5 extra litres of water – which means 4.5kg of additional weight and slower progress). The weather complied with a beautiful day (for once!).

The road up was stunning.

Riding up to the Miranda pass

One of the interesting things about travelling through Argentina is the number of shrines you see at the roadside. I’ve been fascinated to learn about these. Here are the three main protagonists:

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Battling the elements

I took a break from the camping in Belén to stay in a lovely old adobe house, inherited and renovated by an Argentine/Swiss couple. It was over 100 years old and very basic but filled with charm. They got the fire going for me to heat up water for a blissfully hot shower (I was grateful not to be sharing it with soap suds from other people, as was the case the day before at the thermal baths in Hualfin!).

As I rode through the main plaza in Belén, someone shouted out ‘Sarah!’. Continue reading


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Clocking up the miles on the RN40

Riding the iconic Ruta Nacional 40 (RN40) that runs from the top to the bottom of Argentina


The distance is marked every kilometre – reminding me just how far there is still to go!

From Cafayate I had four days of riding and camping along the RN40 to reach the small town of Belén, climbing and then descending 1000m (very manageable) but with very little in between, so I set off loaded with plenty of food and water for the ride. When budgeting for food, I need to make sure I have enough in case of any delays/emergencies (e.g. a serious mechanical failure), but also need to avoid carrying too much excess weight which will slow me down. I’m constantly amazed at just how much food a person needs! Here’s what a typical daily allowance looks like when on the bike:

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Riding through the land of Bacchus 

A treat of Malbec & Torrontes


As I emerged out of the opening at the southern end of of the stunning Quebrada de las Conchas, I started to see the first vineyards popping up.
Whilst the area around Cafayate is essentially desert (I’m still getting used to the sight of cactus plants amongst the vines!), this high and wide plane is a unique and ideal spot for growing grapes thanks to warm winds, constant intense sunshine due to the altitude and most importantly, the extensive underground aquifers that supply this otherwise bone-dry region with water. Apparently the cold desert nights also lead to an extended growing season, and ultimately a more balanced wine. As a result, Cafayate is the second most important wine growing area in Argentina (after Mendoza), producing some of the best quality Malbec (red) and Torrontes (white) wine to be had.  This was a very welcome sign when it first appeared at the side of the road!:

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