Tasting the Argentinian hospitality

Argentinian meat feast, selling the bikes, Fitz Roy and the icy brown doggie…

The sun is shining and we are drying our smoked clothes. Last breakfast in Chile is really disgusting – we were too lazy to wash the knife and cutting board properly an the apples in the sweet porridge taste like onion :D

The captain at the boarder police writes our data into a paper notebook and then he gives us “helpful” directions: “after the farm you’ll cross the fence and the continue in direction to that hill, you cross the bridge, follow the river until that other hill, then 10km through the forest and you’ll find the Argentinian boarder police”.

Fun can start! :) First ford is just behind the police station – it looks like we can just gain a little speed, lift up the feet and get to the other bank, but we end with wet shoes … deep water = resistance => 30cm water = big resistance => short distance+deep water = submerged shoes after starting to pedal when we saw inertia isn’t enough (of course we have sandals inside the bags exactly prepared for crossing rivers)

We meet the owner of the farm – Max and his 8 dogs. He invites us for tea and bread. In his solitaire life here he doesn’t need any clear pronunciation and we have problem to understand him sometimes. But we are lucky, it’s Saturday, his rest day and he offers to guide us to the bridge…

After passing his property we stop at a fence – “this way”. No gate, no visible path on the other side – just put all our stuff to the other side and cross … now we’ve entered Argentina. 3km of spiky bushes, another ford, wet ground with deep mud and a steep slope where all of us push one bicycle.

Finally the bridge. Bridge – really? This is the narrowest and unstable footbridge we’ve ever seen and the railings are fastened with barb wire.

It takes us more than a hour to carry our stuff and bicycles to the other side. In the meantime the youngest dog almost drowns in the heavy stream after he is too scared from crossing the bridge (I can totally understand it) and tries to swim to the other side.

Max gives us last instructions and we say goodbye – he was really big help! Now we should “just” follow the tire prints and follow Rio Mayer but we get lost (the cars probably did also), but after crossing the same river branches 9 times we finally are on the right spot.

The path continues through a beautiful forest, we cross some more streams, lovely fields surrounded by mountains … and we are here! Big sign “Argentina, international boarder crossing” welcomes us. The captain of the gendermeria (police) welcomes us with big smile. He has to watch his horses when he opens the gate to let us in for the stamp into our passport. There is not much traffic here – in the notebook we see 7 people crossed last month.

The road continues down through a valley, around 1st farm, crosses another river, where we stop to give some air to our sore butts. I have snake-bite flat tire and with setting sun we reach a mega farm.

Hugo – a young boss there – takes us to a dormitory for the sheep cutters that it’ll better inside than in a tent … no no no, this won’t be possible – we would definitely have dreams like being inside a sheep herd, but the stink would remain in our clothes for months. We also have a tour in the cutting hall and see all the machines used.

“By the way” we mention since for long time we’ve been looking forward to have the famous Argentinian steak … and our good host invites us for a small tasting … 1kg of meet and 5 eggs. Hugo finished only 7 years of school and he doesn’t have big overview about world. But he knows a lot about animals and his job and it’s great to talk with him. His “simple” opinions on the world come from his hearth and every word is logical, smart and right. He is definitely one of the wisest uneducated people we’ve met.

After a night in tent under the clear sky full of stars a long day in pampa on those “great” gravel roads is waiting for us. The green disappears, we leave the mountains behind and in front of us in inhospitable never-ending brown-yellow flat with sparse plants.

We got used to have every 10km drinkable water directly from streams and therefore we don’t carry much (which is not very responsible here). But we get a bottle of mineral water from a passing car :).

The wind blows wildly – fortunately, today it’s with us and in one moment is strong enough to push us uphill! Two more flat tires and the wheel finally touch tarmac – the famous Ruta 40 (Road 40). After such a long time on bad roads it’s like flying.

Next to a road we see a weird animal – armadillo. I’m trying to drive it to Jan with camera while it’s trying to get to his burrow. Of course it’s faster and our photos are blurry :). It’s a paradox that in this inhospitable looking place are more animals (armadillo, rabbits, ostriches, guanaco…) than in the green Chile.

Next 40km are really easy and then we are invited for a night to road builders and get again a big portion of meat (sausages) for dinner.

Day with big “W” follows – Wind. It’s so strong, that on 20m from the house to the road I fall once to the ground after one gust. Then we change direction and a great ride begins – 52km/h from zero without pedaling with average of 40km/h.

We find a wind lee and pause. Two off-road RVs stop. “Do you need anything? Cold beer?” – the only possible answer is yes :). The situation radically changes behind a curve, with hard effort we do only 4km per hour. I protest, sit in the middle of the road and don’t want to continue. Last 2 hours there was no car passing us – but I swear I’ll get put bicycles to the first one!

And it’s coming – pick up … really little one … I’m waving like hell … it stops! Jan pulls me away – it’s not possible … but I persuade the driver to try it, it’ll work … Jan is still skeptical but in 15min all our bags are in the trunk, bicycles in the back and we sit inside and have a ride for next 300km :). We meet our cyclist friend at the crossroads to El Chalten (Australian, American and German) and the tell us the story about extinguishing fire in fireplace at Tortel.

90km more through pampa to get to El Chalten, the Argentinian trekking capital. Our guardian angels are with us again and we stop a van to our final destination, where we want to sell the bikes.

We find the house of Flor easily. The warmshower (warmshowers.org – hosting network for cyclists) hospitality spirit is palpable from everywhere. There is almost no more free place for our tent on the yard (there are already 8 tents). Flor lives in the house with her 2 sons and boyfriend Mario. It’s small – 3 rooms (one is a small grocery shop), kitchen almost always full of people and bathroom (everybody watches, when it’s not occupied :)). But the mood is very relaxed, natural, cheerful and content … We’ve met many hospitable people, but this is hard to describe to anybody who haven’t experienced something similar.

The main task for next days: print out “bicycles for sale” sheets, clean the bikes and buy airplane tickets. During spreading the announcements in hostels we hear familiar Czech-Slovak language and spend the evening with rock/climber Kvaso and a Czech guy going around the world on an old motorbike – Jawa.

We are sitting in a coffee shop, celebration cake on the table, the airplane tickets in an envelope and the rest of money for the bikes in the pocket … yes, they are sold! We’ve just cleaned them and had buyers – the best ones we could imagine. Alex and Anita – young friends who want to travel. Anita named the bike “Eva” and promised that she’ll take good care about it – it was her dream to have bike like that.

It’s even better than we’ve thought and still I’m crying. We are drinking coffee and I’m remembering what we’ve experienced on the bikes … happiness and sadness, fear and excitement, speed and snailing, pleasant and hard moments… they taught us humbleness, endurance and freedom … showed us the beauties of this world and got us to places where we otherwise wouldn’t get.

Jan hugs me and dries my tears … “Thank you for your almost-problemless duty and be that good to your new owners, too!”. There is celebration/mourner party in the evening – this is the end of the trip. Kvaso also comes and we give him almost all our cash because he’s lost all his credit cards …

Finally we go for a 2-days trek to the Fitzroy national park which begins just behind the house. Its spiky rocky peaks point to the sky and invite climbers from all over the world to defeat it’s steep walls. We come totally destroyed from the trek but enriched inside from the beauty we saw.

Last day we mostly spend with our new cyclist friends from Spain – Anna and Moises. They’ve left their life and went to south America. Once they came back to tell their families, that they are not returning again and want to live different live. Now they are bike-nomads with interesting philosophy, open hearts and big smiles.

It’s 19th of January – tomorrow is our plane back home and now we are sitting in a bus with another 50 people in the direction to glacier Perito Moreno (“brown doggie”). Everything organized – peeing, free time … we want our freedom on bicycles!

The glacier is huge – 5km wide, 30km long and 80m high mass of ice. Every couple of minutes it makes loud crack noises and big pieces of ice fall down to the water. It’s really astonishing and we haven’t expected anything great like this!

We spent the last evening in a camping in El Calafate with another 6 cyclists … cyclists – people who were so close during our trip; people who share the same passion; people who’ve motivated us; people who became our friends.

We don’t have bicycles anymore, but still feel like cyclists … like adventurers … like husband and spouse who fulfilled one big dream and still have big plans. Now we are looking forward to get home again – to see our family, friends and experience real winter and snow…


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