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September 24, 2006

Moving along in Argentina

Finally, finally a new entry....

But first...

Two sets of new photos posted

New Google Earth kmz file of my current route (opens in Google Earth)

Also, if you haven’t already, please visit my Heifer International gift registry and help bring chimneys to Peru!! Thank you!!

Back to the journey...

It has been difficult in the past few weeks to try to keep up with the journal and the web site updating. Going from the Gringo Trail back to riding has been fantastic and I am now riding with a wonderful couple from Ohio/California – Art & Judy – who got a hold of me through a mutual acquaintance in Uyuni, Caroline. Riding in Argentina has been just fantastic despite the crazy headwinds that I seem to hit in every canyon. The riding has been beautiful, the people open and friendly, and the food fantastic.

The first two day of riding in Argentina were spent riding in the Puna which is the Argentinean equivalent of the altiplano. The sun is hot, the air is cold, the terrain is mostly level with a slight descent as you head south and it was very “tranquile” riding. The drivers in Argentina smile and wave and beep at me to give me support in my endeavors. It is a change from Peru where the beeping is a mechanism to a) get your attention or b) to warn you and driver coming in the other direction that there is an obstacle (me) in the road ahead. It is pleasant.

The wind started picking up on the second day of riding as I entered the Qebrada (the Gorge) and left the Puna. The scenery, beginning in Tres Cruces (along with the nice police check point) is very dramatic. The mountains have been folded into waves and over the eons the rocks have worn away to present multicolored hills topped by massive slabs of rock jutting into the sky as high mountains. The mountains are deceiving, they don’t look very high, but they disappear into the haze as the day ages and you cannot focus on them because of their heights. The Quebrada is sort of a gorge which forms the link between the Puna high altiplano and the valley where the department capitol of San Salvador de Jujuy is located. As the day progressed and I rode towards Humahuaca, the wind began to pick up and I brought out the headphones.

Normally, I don’t like to ride with headphones because you cannot hear the wind and the birds not to mention the cars behind you, but this wind, this wind was beginning to become difficult to ride in. The music can help to get your through the difficult parts as will as provide memory clues later to remind you of certain moments and the struggle that you went through in those moments. For instance DARE by Gorillaz came on as I was beginning to curse the wind, but the song gave me the urge to keep pedaling, and the there was The White Stripes – White Blood Cells, the Humpers – Live Forever or Die Trying, Johnny Cash, The Gotan Project, Dwight Yokam, and the list goes on. Each song was perfect for the part of the road that I was on - a struggle, but a good struggle. It felt good to be riding again, wind or no wind.

As I arrived in Humahuaca the afternoon had progressed to 4 pm and I sat perched on the top of the hill above town and debated descending into town or attempting to try to find a place to camp above town where there would be few amenities, the fringe element to deal with and no internet. Yikes, no internet? I headed down into town and followed the signs to Hostel Azul which was located about a mile down a dirt road – obviously not catering to tired bike tourists and…it was siesta time. There was no one at the desk and after peering through the window and seeing that a single room cost 100 pesos (about $34) I headed across the street to an International Hostelling location called Posada El Sol and got a bed in a very nice smelling, pretty dorm room. It was refreshing to have a nice smelling room even if, especially if, it was a dorm room. The next morning I had breakfast with the two Spanish women who were spending a month traveling around Argentina and the owner of hostel practicing my Spanish and learning about their travels.

Humahuaca to Puramarca was a distressing day of beautiful scenery and just incredibly awful headwinds. These were days spent alone in my head, listening to music to get me through the day. The wind must blow hard up the Quebrada all of the time – the trees grow bent – in the opposite direction that I was traveling. Another interesting thing about this stretch of road was that there were absolutely no distance signs along the way for about 50km. Normally, this would not be a problem, but with diversions needed due to the wind, it became an obsession.. As I approached Tilcara, a place where everyone suggested visiting, I realized that it was again siesta time. The archaeological museum that I had wanted to visit was closed, the stores were closed and the wind was increasing. I sat and ate dulce de leche on bread and orange and decided to push onward to Puramarca – location of “The Hill of Seven Colors” or some name like that. After a grueling 15km of being pushed backwards while pedaling downhill I reached the turn off for town. It was a brief 3 km uphill, but the dreadful wind lessened as I gratefully moved away from the main valley.

In Purmamarca, at the Pastos Chicos hostel I met the most wonderful people, ranging from the man at reception who ended up cooking all of us a delicious dinner of empanadas my second night there to Adriana and Monica, two Argentinean women traveling with their daughters. Also in Puramarca I got my first real interaction with Argentine men. As I was sitting in a little restaurant on the square, minding my own business drinking a café con leche in the afternoon after the “Day of Viento” the waiter came up to me and said something. Now, I actually understood the gist of what he said, but I decided that playing ignorant would make him stop – it’s very hard for me to take a compliment – so I had him write down what he said. Bad move. The note that I got read as follows, “Nunca vi una mujer tan Hermosa com usted.” This approximately translates to,”Never have I seen a woman as beautiful as you” Okay, very nice, but how does one handle this florid compliment gracefully? By playing dumb and saying thank you and getting the hell out of there was my method. As I said, I don’t handle compliments well, but it did make me feel good!

Anyway, upon my return I met Monica and Adriana who very kindly invited me out to dinner with them. I had a great time; they made me feel very welcome into their little group. While the dinner wasn’t so great – locro (a stew made with beans, corn, and bacon type meat) the humitos (tamales with corn and cheese) were delicious. Adriana invited me to spend the following day with her and the girls on a grand adventure to the Hot Pools at Termas de Reyes. After three days of wind I decided why not – I could just afford another night at the not so cheap hostel.

The next day really was a grand adventure. After gulping down my breakfast (the ubiquitous café con leche and round, biscuit-like crackers with mermalada) I tried to get money from the ATM, but I had none left. Unfortunately, David was out of town and could not get money into my account and my Visa secret code apparently doesn’t work - so much for setting that up ahead of time. The four of us, Adriana, the two girls, and I, headed down to the bus station to get the bus headed towards Jujuy. The deal was that we were to get off somewhere outside of town and get another bus, a micro, which would take up to the Termas. This information was only obtained through Adriana asking everyone she could find for directions to the Termas. First, we had to wait about an hour for the bus so we wandered around the plaza where at 9:30am there already were bus loads of Argentine tourists buying up everything in sight much like a bus load of American tourists at Wall Drug. When the bus finally came, we rode down into the valley looking out of the windows like a couple of kids and then we were dropped off, unceremoniously, on the side of the road at an interchange with the instructions to cross over to the bus stop and wait for the micro. Many a micro passed while we waited, none of them heading to the thermas. Finally, after getting waiting times of 5 minutes, 1 hour, 2.5 hours a cab passed and agreed to take the four of us up for the same price of the bus.

Upon arrival we secured lunch with a semi-surly man at the food stand and hit the pools. The air was cool, but the water very warm and there was a great view of the mountainside in the valley. I have to admit, it doesn’t beat my best hot springs experience ever – New Mexico in the winter, waterfall, watching the snow fall onto the mountains – but it certainly hit the spot. We swam, lunched on meat and salad, and returned to lounge in the water some more barely catching the micro headed to Jujuy. In town, we had a fortuitous connection and immediately go on a bus back to Puramarca. There was some tension for if we had missed the micro we would have been stuck in Jujuy for the evening. That evening for dinner, the guy at the hotel (I’m embarrassed that I cannot remember his name) made dinner for all 5 of us and his family (wife and a beautiful little girl) and we sat around and had some nice wine and conversation and delicious empanadas until we were all nodding off to sleep. Monica had had just as much of an adventure heading of into the salt flats near the Chilean border. She returned happy, exhausted, and bright red – her sunscreen wasn’t enough protection against the bright, altiplan sunlight. I slept like a rock that night.

The bike ride to Jujuy the next day was uneventful except for the fantastic descent into the Valley. The winds were not so bad out of Puramarca in the morning and I was battling with my frame wobble until I decided to just remove the very convenient handlebar bag. Surprise, surprise, once the bag was strapped to the back I had very little wobble. What a bummer because that meant the I would lose the convenience of the bag – camera had to be packed, snacks had to be packed, everything had to be packed, but if it would stop the wobble until I got my new headset (which finally arrived two weeks late on 23/9/06) so be it.

I don’t really know how to describe these descents from the Andes. They are incredible, exhilarating, long downhills where the wind truly whistles in your ears, you can see the terrain laid out below you, the flora changes drastically, and you just feel an incredible sense of elation as you glide around the curves keeping speed with the cars - just amazing. Once in the valley, I now knew the back way into Jujuy, thanks to the bus ride on the prior day, so I took that to avoid the freeway. As I was gazing back at the mountains that I had just descended, too quickly from, I glanced out of the corner of my eye, a couple riding North on the freeway parallel to my back road. I shouted out in English and Spanish, but they were gone. I found out later that they were most likely an American couple heading northwards.

As usual, the ride in was not nearly as sketchy and difficult as it looked like from a bus or a car and I had no problem making it into town. For the first time since I arrived, I utilized the local tourist information center to find myself a hotel. And it turns out they had all the prices of all the hotels and the one I had been planning on using had upped their prices – probably due to their presence in the travel guides (it’s a problem). I ended up in a very pleasant, not exorbitant, real hotel in the heart of the city and even got directions out for the next days ride. After showering, getting a beer and eating a sandwich and cookies, I set out to try to convert travelers’ cheques only to discover that in Jujuy, all the banks were closed to customers after 2pm. This was a little embarrassing when the men in the bank wagged their fingers at me in a “no, no, no you bad little girl” kind of way. I had no cash and David still had not been able to get my deposit through. My only option seemed to be to wait for the banks to open at 9am the next morning until I discovered a little kiosk that would change my US dollars (which I was also running out of). But money is money and the nice man fortunately, they did not ream me on commission and they really only kept a few pesos. I celebrated with a café con leche and a marathon journal writing session. The next day to Salta would be a long one, my longest yet, and I wanted to be refreshed for the journey, so I stopped worrying about calling MBNA collect (the street phones would not let me make international collect calls), stopped worrying about the headset that was to be in Salta when I arrived, and stopped worrying about money since I now had some. I relaxed and enjoyed the coffee and the hotel and the warm evening air.

September 03, 2006

New Photos and a Brief (I think) Update

Hello all. I have not gotten my massive, descriptive blog entry ready for posting but I though that I'd fill you in on a little bit of what I've been doing.

Two sets of new photos posted

Also, if you haven’t already, please visit my Heifer International gift registry and help bring chimneys to Peru!! Thank you!!

Having given up riding for Bolivia due to altitude I decided to take some side trips. The Salar de Uyuni was a fantastic journey into the largest salt lake in the world. During the dry season, which is now, there is no water on it, but that is a good thing as we got three flat tires. Imagine how that would be in a few centimeters of water. Just last week they had a snowstorm out there with people being left at the border without food, jeeps turning over, and drivers not being able to see where they are going. I'm glad I went the week before!!

I left my gear in Uyuni and went light for about a week and traveled to Sucre which is just a wonderful city to hang out in. I saw the dinosaur footprints that were discovered at at cement factroy and are the largest collection of footprints of different species in the world. Are you noticing a trend here? Largest, highest - Bolivia has a lot of very cool things but the Bolivian people are very, very poor - at least most of them.

After chilling in Sucre for a few days I retraced my steps and visited Potosi. I have to admit that I was museumed out but did go on a tour of the mines - which is one of the main attractions in Potosi. It was a little weird seeing these men push three quarter ton carts filled with ore through the mines. They do this 10 times a day over a distance of 3 km to and from the drop off point. The conditions aren't very safe either - ladders go up and down all over the place with only a "watch the hole" to warn you. I went becasue my grandfather was a coal miner. Well, I also went because I wanted to.

The bumpy ride back to Uyuni was delayed by a day by a nationwide traffic strike so I ate my way through the day with a nice English couple, John and Lucy. It was fun. The ride back to Uyuni was pretty miserable without the nice Frenchman and his family to talk with so I amused myself by watching a woman from Buenos Aires harass the Amayran woman sitting in the aisle. The woman in the aisle was leaning on the woman on the seat which would have annoyed me too, but I probably would have grunted and made gestures and asked her to move a little bit. This woman, who even speaks Spanish, just kept shoving her packpack into the woman. It was really quite sad and I periodically glared at the woman in the seat. Wimpy, I know. Sitting in the aisles is illegal too.

The I arrived back in Uyuni, which at that point didn't have any power due, most likely, to the high winds blowing over a pole somewhere, bought a train ticket for a 2:30am (!!!) train and settled down at the Minuteman restaurant (run by a fellow American and a wonderful place to get delicious pizza, cookies, cakes and to have some good company for a few hours). While there I met Catherine (from Copacabana), Emma and a few others and we traded Salar stories and kept each other awake while waiting for the train. When the Minuteman closed we headed to the dark station to wait out the next three hours. I think we all fell asleep with out heads on the table. Emma ended up in a sleeping bag on the floor.

The train ride to the border had some great views (when I finally woke up at about 6:30 when they turned the tv on at high volumn). Once we arrived at the border town of Villazon, I collected my crap off of the train - yet again the bike made it safely and Emma and I headed to the border of Bolivia and Argentina. We breezed through leaving Bolivia, but it took 3.5 hours to get into Argentina. We could not figure out why, but we think that the immigrations guards took a siesta. The border is supposed to be open all day, but I guess you are not going to hassle an immigrations officer. When I finally got to the window I was laughing as I though that they, like all other immigrations officials here, felt the need to cram another stamp onto the only two pages with stamps on it (they actually didn't) but the official was very creepy and made fun of me laughing. Whatever. I'm in Argentina now with 90 days.

There is an immediately different feel in La Quiaca - the building are made of brick and concrete, there are stores with things in them, the bread is different, breakfast is crackers and jam, dinner is really after 8pm.

My first two days of riding have been great. I am now in a little town called Humahuaca after riding about 82km downhill, but against the wind for much of the afternoon. I found the internet cafe, uploaded pictures, did a little update and now my friend, I am going to drink a well deserved beer!

Take care.

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