After doing some last minute shopping in Bolivia, ok we bought lunch and a thermos. It was off to the border for country number 16 eeek! We breezed through collecting those all important stamps but it was as we were leaving, trying to manoeuvre our bikes through the crowd when we looked up. There it was, something we haven’t yet seen but dreamed about so for long. A signpost, Ushuaia 5121km – We were on the final stretch, from here it would definitely be all downhill and a sprint finish to the town sign. There would be penguins, it was the ‘End of the World’, maybe there would be cheerleaders? It was our official last country (minus a hop into Chile and back)! 5121km is only 1024 Park Runs*! We will make it home by Christmas! I looked round to see if a could spot a penguin…. Ok, maybe it still is a little bit of a long way, it’s John O’Groats to Lands end just over three and a half times and maybe penguins don’t venture this far North in Argentina. All the same I was excited.
The first shock at being in Argentina was just how clean everything was, the main square even had free wifi, secondly was how expensive. In Bolivia when we weren’t camping we had gotten used to staying in hostels for about £5 a night. Ok, there wasn’t always a shower, sometimes no running water at all, mattresses occasionally made out of rice sacks and if there were sheets it was pot luck as to whether they were clean or not (we had been known to set the tent up inside). But suddenly as we crossed the border late afternoon and were looking for somewhere to rest our heads hostels were £30, food was back to being ‘normal price’. I suppose the money has to come form somewhere to keep the streets clean and provide free wifi.
We were still on the altiplano and it was, erm kind of the same. I am not sure why I expected it to be so different, I mean we only crossed an imaginary line? There were still llamas, it was still desert and there was still a really long way in-between towns, at least the roads were in better condition.
A few things we quickly learnt in those couple of days:
-Argentinians like wine, it’s also really cheap. We’ve found ourselves buying a bottle, say just because it’s a Tuesday. When we don’t finish it, then yes the next day one of our water bottles does contain wine.
-Argentinians like sandwiches, I mean massive sandwiches as big as your head and so stuffed it’s impossible to get your mouth around. This has come in especially handy for Herbie, if there is one other nation that likes a sandwich as much as the Argentinians, it’s the Irish. Although obviously if you are in Ireland it’s pronounced sangwich.
-Argentinians love napping, one after my own heart here but it’s extremely inconvenient when everything shuts down during the day between 1-6pm, trying to find or buy anything between these hours is near impossible.
The answer? Become an over prepared alcoholic with an ability to dislocate your jaw. Simple.
After a few days of altiplano and getting used to the countries quirks we were ready to descend. We’d spent about six weeks cycling consistently above 3200m so were kind of hoping we’d be drafted in as Chris Froome’s domestiques for Vuelta de Espana. When the call failed to materialise (I know our Spanish is so good and everything!) we decided to head downhill and towards Salta. It was complete cycle touring bliss, three days of downhill with a massive tailwind. We were essentially descending into a huge gorge where these amazing mountains and trees and oxygen were just appearing out of nowhere.
We passed the Tropic of Capricorn and pulled in, I admit we did have to google to find out exactly what it was. But there was a huge monument, it made for a pretty good photo and it was nice to get off the bikes for a few minutes. We took a few photos had some snacks and attracted the attention of some fellow tourists. Three Argentinian guys who had travelled up from Buenos Aires to do some off road motorbiking (I think, ok my Spanish isn’t THAT good) but they were really lovely, thought we were crazy and we chatted to them for 15 minutes or so. As we left they were busying themselves with artisanal gifts so we waved goodbye. About 2km later I heard a car approach from behind and beep at me, I looked up to see a truck full of off road motorbikes and three men hanging out the windows waving and cheering. I smiled and waved back as they disappeared off into the distance. As they approached Herbie, about 250m ahead of me they did the same thing. Beeping just as they were approaching from behind, and leaning out the windows for cheerleading duties. Herbie, I can only assume startled by the beeping sat up, started yelling and gave them the middle finger. This was probably for less than half a second until he realised who it was, flipped his hand round into a wave and turned the yell into something vaguely Spanish. I was laughing so hard I nearly fell off my bike.
I pedalled hard to catch up.
‘Do you think they noticed?’ He asked
‘What, that they were being nice to you and in return you flipped them the middle finger and started yelling? Yes, I think they noticed’ still laughing my ass off.
‘They were a bit close though, and I changed it into a wave really quickly…’
As you can tell, Herbie never gets road rage.
Still on towards Salta and the loss of altitude was bringing with it some wonderful changes. The landscape was so much more green, actual grass and pine trees, fields of horses and wooden barns. I have never known my sense of smell to be so acute, I felt like I could smell everything. It was hard to stop myself from rolling around in the grass like a dog. That last day of cycling into Salta was like cycling through Switzerland, on crack. It was so beautiful and felt so much like home I didn’t want the day to end.
Arriving in Salta we had ‘sort of’ arranged to meet Nina and Ryan. When I say that I mean we had spoken to them a few times over instagram as they had cycled up from Ushuaia so we’d been exchanging route information along the way. They told us which hostel they were staying in so we turned up (maybe we are stalker weird?!). Luckily in real non instagram life they are both super lovely and we had a great evening, including finding out how they met.
Nina had wanted to cycle South America but didn’t fancy starting out alone. In this day and age what’s the best way to find a suitable trans continent cycling partner? Tinder, obviously! So as Ryan was flicking through tinder on a work trip to NZ he sees this absolute hottie pop up who’s looking for a guy to share a tent with her for the next six months (and cycle 10,000km). Well, I can imagine Ryan nearly fell of his chair and swiped right so hard he nearly a sprained a finger or something. Luckily Nina had also swiped right and they met up for a drink to see if they were compatable. During the date they figured out each other weren’t psychopaths or serial killers and decided to start planning the trip. Ryan went back to Australia and they didn’t speak to each other for a few days or so, Nina was beginning to think maybe it had just been a lot of chat. I mean, meeting a complete stranger and over the course of an evening agreeing to quit your job and cycle across a continent together may be a little extreme. But, a few days later she receives an email from Ryan, full of spreadsheets, ideas, bikes and kit lists – wow this was on!
Ryan is a self confessed lazy person, he’s either doing something pretty full on like spending five years being a professional baseball player. Or he’s not, like spending the last few years working on a computer and sitting on his bottom. Through the power of Tinder they found each other at exactly the right time, Nina finding herself a great cycling buddy and Ryan finding someone to drag him off his arse. They flew to Ushuaia in the middle of winter (yes, I know. Crazies!) and quickly found out they made a pretty awesome cycling duo. By the time we met them Nina had decided her trip had come to an end and was heading back to NZ, while Ryan had completely caught the cycle touring bug and was planning to keep going and going and going. We were fortunate enough to see these guys before they parted ways, having gone from complete strangers to living in each other pockets, sharing some truly life changing experiences and great buddies for life! Chapeau Tinder.
Aside from hearing their brilliant story we were also talking bikes. I noticed Nina talking about ‘Hugo’ ‘Oh, does your bike have a name?’ I asked. It turned out that before the trip Nina and Ryan had also named their bikes. Nina’s steed was called Hugo which means ‘bright in mind, heart and spirit’ what the trip embodies for her. Ryan’s bike was called Phoebe ‘A Greek titan who was known for being a specifically radiant prophet’ (telling the positive future.)
Then came the obvious question, ‘Do your bikes have names too?’ Errr, Herb and I shared a bashful glance. The truth is yes, before this trip commenced we’d had some friends over for dinner, drunk a glass or two of wine and spoken about this very topic. Our friend Jimmy suggested my bike should be called ‘G Wagon’. Jimmy’s nickname for me is ‘G’ I assume because my last name is Garrod and not that he picked a random letter of the Alphabet, Jimmy is also Australian, and in a quick poll of my Australian friends 100% of them shorten every name possible. Laura becomes ‘Loz’ or ‘G’ and Herbert, well the only person to call him that is his mother. Anyway, Herbie, deciding to lower the tone quickly chimes in ‘What about G Banger?!’ Combining the first letter of my last name and a name for an old car, no coincidence that ’G Banger’ is also a slang word for a women’s thong or g-string. Now, I have no excuse as to what I said next. I can only blame alcohol. Clearly, lowering the tone even more I pipe up. ‘No, you can be G Banger (Herbie’s last name also beginning with G) I’ll be ‘Pussy Wagon’.
My only defence is I quite like the film ‘Kill Bill’ so lets blame Quentin Tarantino.
There we go, Hugo and Phoebe named after Greek warriors and noble beings have faithfully carried Nina and Ryan 6000km up from Ushuaia and ‘G Banger’ and ‘Pussy Wagon’ named after a foul mouth combined with too many wines are hoping to carry us the remaining 6000km south.
After Salta we were pedalling into wine country, heading straight for Cafayate which is rumoured to be the ‘new, smaller, cooler’ version of Mendoza. On our way there we had two days of stunning riding through red canyons and bumped into a ton of other cyclists. It was just like being back on the west coast of the US again, It seemed we couldn’t pedal more than 30 minutes before bumping into more bike tourers. One of the highlights of these couple of days (apart from the stunning scenery and other people to talk to) was stopping off at a shack in the middle of nowhere to buy empanadas, we were chatting to a couple passing through with their car. After all the usual topics of ‘how long – how far – what do you do for work’ we came on to age. Somehow they guessed me at age 22 and Herbie at 45. Obviously they weren’t joking as I am desperately clinging on to any suggestion I still look in my early 20s. but Herbie at 45? HA!
Once in Cafayate we decided another day off was in order if we were going to do the local vineyards some justice. There are plenty you can cycle out to in the area, however on a rest day I make a point of not doing any cycling at all, even to wineries. There were also some wineries in the town and within walking / stumbling distance so we selected the top two and set off (selecting more than two would mean Herbie carrying me back to the tent, and he now has weedy arms). Bodega Domingo Hermanos was just the type of wine tasting I like. You get to sit at a little table in the sunshine next to vineyards, a lady comes over with a plate of cheese and a couple of glasses of wine. She briefly explained that this wine is red, wet and made of grapes. We were then left to it and were able to enjoy drinking rather than pretending to smell what type of oak barrel it was aged in or admiring the ‘legs’ or ‘tears’ it leaves on the glass after you swirl it around. I know if you are ‘into’ wine then all these things and more are all very important. For me however, I get completely bemused by the whole thing. Can I smell the subtle notes of vanilla and cinnamon? Nope, I just smell wine. As a personal rule if it is red and wet or contains bubbles, you can’t go too wrong.
This process was then repeated a total of four times, it was a very enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. After sampling all the wet grapey wines, two red, a white and a rose we stumbled off in search of bodega number two. As we arrived it looked closed, the sign outside even suggested it was closed however as we were gently swaying and wondering what to do next we spotted a couple of tourists emerging from inside. ‘is it open?’ I asked. They confirmed it was and pointed vaguely inside the complex. We wondered in and around for a little while, trying not to touch anything important and figuring out where to go, when we spotted a closed barn door with a sign saying ‘tasting room’. Giggling like a couple of schoolgirls we pressed our ears next to the door and could hear voices inside. ‘Shall I knock’? I asked Herbie, ‘No, just poke your head in’ he replied. ‘No, you poke your head in’ I countered.
In the end it was me who ended up peering in, as the door creaked open a room full of wine tasters stopped talking and stared at the floating blonde head with blurry eyes that had just appeared in the doorway. ‘Er, are you open for tasting?’ I asked in my best Spanish (It’s a well known fact that after four wines my Spanish is perfect) ‘Yes, yes come in’ came the reply.
I beamed and we fell through the door into a room full of scout leaders. At least thats what I assumed they were as everyone was in a uniform of Khaki pants, hiking boots and checked shirts, all that was missing was the weird scarf and toggle thing scouts wear round their necks. We scuttled up to the bar and started the tasting session, this time there was a little more ‘technical’ information however given that I was already warmed up I had no problem with agreeing with everything that was said about barrels, legs and spices. About halfway though all the scouts upped and left and we found ourselves on our own with the master taster / barman. He poured himself his own glass and was apparently enjoying practicing his English and we ended up talking more Argentinian politics rather than wine for the next hour. (It had been local elections the day before, we’re not THAT cultured).
When we finally came to pay, Mr barman wouldn’t accept a penny. ‘Oh no, we’re actually closed today, I just had to open specially for the tour group that was here when you came in. Everything was pre paid through the office so I can’t accept anything’
‘So, we just gatecrashed a tourist group?’
‘er yes, but it’s ok. The girl who normally does the tours is off sick today, I’m normally stuck in the office so you’ve given me a good excuse to sit here and drink wine for a couple of hours’
We thanked him profusely and bought another bottle to make ourselves feel slightly less guilty about quaffing free wine all afternoon.
Waking up the next day feeling slightly worse for wear it was all about getting the head down and cycling to Mendoza in time for a week off and my birthday. Lots of straight roads, a headwind or two and Herbie for the first time since Baja wanting to get on a bus because yes the roads really were that straight and boring.
*A Park Run (PR) is an acceptable form of measurement, especially in things like;
Park Run (1PR)
1 lap of Richmond Park (2 and a bit PR)
Marathon (8 and a bit PR)
LEJOG or JOGLE (281 PR)
Length of Argentina (1024 PR)
How far we’ve cycled so far (3600 PR)