Cycling above the Clouds

Riding the Andes by Bicycle


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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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Gaucho land

From Salta the scenery continued to amaze as I descended then cliumbed back up again through the Quebrada de Cafayate. This is another road passing weird and wonderful rock formations forged through glaring red rock (the temperature has been hotting up now I’ve dropped a couple of thousand meters) by the Rio de las Conchas. Some great names for the rock features that sounded like they’d come straight out of the Canterbury Tales kept me entertained as I rode my way upwards: ‘The Devil’s Throat’, ‘The Toad’, ‘The Plasterer’, ‘House of the parrots’…and the more mundane ‘Aunty Jocelyn’.

Checking out the ‘Garganta del Diablo’ (Devil’s throat)

Stunning views riding along the Quebrada de Cafayate

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Chasing Rainbows

With just over 2 weeks of riding in Argentina now under my belt, an update is well overdue (surprisingly it’s harder to get hold of decent 3G or wifi here than it was in Bolivia or Peru, so updates will be more sporadic for a while).

Unfortunately my introduction to Argentina began with being laid up in a hostal at La Quiaca on the border for a couple of days thanks to a not-so-pleasant bout of D&V. After recovering I set off to ride south for the next 4 months, until reaching Ushuaia right down at the southernmost tip.  Being such a big country, I anticipated spending many days in the saddle with reasonably unchanging scenery, as the miles tick by. How wrong could I be….

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The magic of the Sur Lípez


After the physical and emotional energy expended on riding the salars over the past few days, I decided to jump on a 3 day 4×4 tour to visit Bolivia’s other natural gem – the Sur Lípez region. The alternative would have been another 9 days or so of riding one some pretty inhospitable roads, carrying even more food and water than before, and spending freezing cold nights in the tent. I plumped for the softies option;).

The trip blew my mind. Continue reading