(October 4 – written by Nancy)
We left our hotel in Chilecito after a typical Argentinean breakfast – a cup of coffee, a couple of rolls (with jam and butter) and a very small glass of juice. Thankfully we planned ahead and had a few extra sweet rolls from the bakery and bananas to supplement our breakfast as we had our first real climb in Argentina today.
The climb was over Miranda Pass, a climb over the mountains that started about 18k from Chilecito. I think we almost forgot what it felt like to have to have a long climb as we were both surprised at how slowly the kilometres ticked by. The climb was about 30k, with gradients up to 8-9% keeping us in low gears. Contrary to the last few days we actually had a tailwind today as we turned west for the first time in a long time. The scenery up the climb was pretty stunning – lots of layered red rock studded with large cacti. The Miranda River runs through the mountains and as we climbed we could see it far below us. There wasn’t a ton of water in it but more than we have seen so far in Argentina.
The road up the pass seems to be quite an engineering feat. It sits on the side of the mountain, held up by large concrete blocks that spill over the side and hold up the road. The upper side of the road often has large concrete sections as well to hold back the rockfalls that must occur frequently. It was all very impressive and gave us lots to look at as we made our way slowly up the road. We finally made it up to the top just after 1pm – there was even a summit sign. Actually, there were two summit signs, the second one appearing just a few kilometres after the first one after a slight downhill and shorter (obviously) uphill.
We had a few potential options for our destination today. We had read of a hostel part way down the other side of the hill, at about 60k but weren’t sure if it was really there or what it shape it would be in. The next town after it looked to be another 50k, which was doable, depending on the wind. When we came over the hill our tailwind disappeared and we seemed to have a developing headwind. And it was chilly – first time in Argentina that we have been cold riding! The top of the pass is 2040 meters so it makes sense that the temperature was lower, but it hasn’t taken us long in Argentina to forget about the temperature changes as you go up and down.
We came down the south side of the mountain and eventually came up to Los Tambillos, where a policeman at a police check stopped us to have a chat. He wanted to know where we had come from, where we were going, all the usual questions. The hostel we had read about was just up the road so we stopped to see how it looked. The nice owner showed me a room, which he still had to clean, but it was relatively nice for being out in the middle of nowhere! There is a little store and restaurant attached to it, hot showers and even Wi-Fi so it seemed like the right thing to do to stop rather than make another 100k+ day to the next town. Turns out that Andy (the British cyclist that we met the other day) also stayed here – I expect this place sees a few cyclists during the year.
It was a nice change to be off the bikes relatively early in the afternoon with a chance to just hang out. There is literally nothing in this pueblo other than a couple of houses, the police station and this place so there’s no real sightseeing to be done. Dave keeps complaining about how heavy the dinner bag is so I think we’ll cook our own dinner in the kitchen area of the hostel to use up some of the food. I doubt that will stop his complaining but we’ll see. (Junior editor’s note: for the record, we have a package of mashed potatoes with us that Nancy’s mom brought to Baja, Mexico. We left Baja on 2/Jan of this year. Those potatoes are getting close to their expiration date and may soon need to apply for their own passport. Ok, they are not that heavy, but how many mountains do I have to haul those potatoes up!!!)
Tomorrow we have planned another day close to 100k but much of it is downhill and we have a better wind forecast. We hope to make it to a winery/hostel that we’ve read about but are not sure they will have room. We hope it all works out, if so, we’ll take a day off there and continue our Argentinean wine research.