Day 88: San Juan to Sana Clara, 117k
The ride out of San Juan was pretty easy. We circled around a few plazas and continued on the same road for 25k. We watched the city dissipate into suburbs then into rural roads. The further we went the more narrow the road became. The last 10k of this road was lined with massive trees and vineyards with mountains in the distance. I could have ridden on that road all day.
We joined back with the Ruta 40, which was now a four lane divided highway. Traffic was very busy and we had a head wind. After 50k we tuned off the highway onto a smaller road heading towards the mountains. I was expecting less headwind, but I swear the wind changes with our direction. This road was rough and bumpy, and lots of semi trucks and dump trucks used this road to transport rocks and concrete from the factory on the side of the mountain.
It is disheartening to see a mountain being chipped away. I despised this portion of the ride, and it lasted for a couple of hours. The town with the factory was covered in a permanent cloud of dust.
Around 80k lunch was positioned just outside of the main factory but still surrounded by mining areas. I was exhausted by this point and not looking forward the rest of the day. We had 25k of gravel ahead, which normally I would be excited by, but my legs have been dead for over week, even with 2 rest days. One of the other riders helped motivate me from lunch, but after 5k, I had to stop and ride by myself at my pace.
Luckily, the gravel road was mostly small gravel and packed dirt. The views were stunning with more vineyards and mountain views. The further along the road the more hills and corrugated became. I was exhausted and frustrated with my body and could not completely enjoy the day.
Our camp was at a farming a green oasis in the dry prairie we had been riding in. A few streams flowed through the property, and we were welcomed by a huge pack of dogs, geese, chickens, goats, and horses.
Bruce had arrived before me and had our tent setup. I was able to change clothes, eat some soup and take a much needed nap for a couple of hours before dinner.
Our pre dinner rider meeting the tour leader gave us the bad news for the next day. The planned ride for tomorrow was to continue on the gravel road for 85k the following day. However, the road was washed out and unrideable, the Hilux took 2 hours to drive 10k in 4 wheel drive. So, the staff was arranging buses to transport us to our next camp. Since we are in the mountains we will have to go 400km out of the way. I was a little relieved for the off day, but sad the we will be on buses all day.
Day 89: Santa Clara to Upsallata, The Great Bus Adventure
After breakfast, all the riders walked 500m from the farm to the “main” road for the first bus to pick us up. It was a 20 passenger van and it handled the gravel roads much quicker and more comfortable than our bikes did the previous day. We back tracked all the way back to Ruta 40, where we dropped off at the gas station for the next bus. We had about 30 minutes to wait so we loaded up on snacks and coffee.
The second bus was a double decker tour bus that we have been passed by all through South America. I have to admit, when passed I had wondered what it would be like riding in the front of the bus with an open view of the road. On this bus we did not have the opportunity, but we did have cozy leather reclining seats, and the bus staff served us croissants and coffee. It was pretty luxurious, more space and comfort than most airlines. This bus was a 2 hour ride into Mendoza, a popular wine region. We had dreams of sipping malbecs while waiting for our final bus.
However, when we arrived, it was a busy city and the bus station was not strategically placed for wine bars. We had about 45 minuted to grab Subway and catch the next bus to Uspallata.
We reconvened at 1pm, as instructed by the tour leader. The bus was to leave at 1:30. At 1:30 we were still waiting for the bus. At 1:45, we learned we had missed the bus and would have to wait until 3:30 for the next bus. Yay!
Several of us decided to explore a little in the down time. Bruce and I found a restaurant that served wine on the sidewalk. We grabbed a table and sipped our cold Tinto red wine wine. The server asked if we wanted ice cubes for our glasses. My mind was blown that this was a traditional practice. We declined, but noticed locals enjoying the ice cubes in their wine.
At 3pm we walked back to the station and waited again. This time the bus did arrive, although 15 minutes late. It was another double Decker bus, however, much older and not as nice as the previous. Bruce and I realized that our seats were the coveted front seats and were excited for the view. The bus was sweltering hot and we hoped the air conditioning would kick on when we left. Nope. It was 38 degrees Celsius in the bus and no air movement at all. Everyone was worried of getting heat exhausting from the ride. A local man opened the emergency roof hatches to allow some airflow and talked with the driver about the heat. We had to pull over and stop while the driver inspected the bus. He was able to get it to work a little, just enough to keep us from dying.
Back on the road the temperature became almost bearable, we had to close the window drapes to block the sun, but I kept them open a little to see the road.
We road through more vineyards and beautiful mountains. We passed a beautiful aqua lake that was surrounded with advertisements for rafting and other adventures. Mental note for next time!
The road curved up and down the base of the mountains, it would have been a beautiful ride, except of the traffic and lack of road shoulder.
We arrive in Uspallata around 6pm, it was a small tourist town with advertisements for a plethora of outdoor adventures. Our camp was a 500m walk from the bus station in a municipal camp. The camp was covered with trees and quiet. We enjoyed a late dinner and ice cream then went to bed for a big day of riding tomorrow.
Day 90: Uspallata to
Las Cuevas, 83k…Santiago, Another Bus Adventure
Snow was in the forecast for the day, and I was excited to ride on the snow the further up we road. Around 7:15 am everyone was setting off from camp, I was still arranging my bike. Just as I was about to leave, people were coming back stating the road was closed. Apparently, An ice storm blew in and they were clearing the roads, should be good to go around 9am. We hung around waiting and sipped more coffee, trying to get warm in the sun. At 9 am the news was they would decide at 9:30 if the road would open at noon. We were starting to worry about getting the ride completed at this point, it was going to be about 1700m of climbing.
Everyone scattered to explore the town in the meantime. Not many places were open and there was a scarcity of cafes. We did find an amazing bakery and enjoyed some pastries.
With still 2 hours to kill, Bruce and I decided go for a little bike ride. The area was beautiful, lots of trees and views of the mountains. The weather in Upsallata was sunny and 22 degrees C, We started on a road with some tourist attractions but the gusty winds were pulling us off the roads we turned around and took a tree lined gravel road that was very pleasant.
We returned to camp at noon, to find the lunch truck set up for lunch. We made our sandwiches and waited for news. The storm on the mountain was much worse than predicted. Las Cuevas is the border town and we we planning to cross tomorrow to Chile. However the Chilean side had worse weather and we were not sure we would be able to ride the next day either. Also, Las Cuevas is a very small town, with minimal rescources and not a place you would want to be stranded during a snow storm. The tour staff decided to put us on busses, again. We would ride to the border then stay in the town we planned for tomorrow, Los Andes. This would put us ahead of schedule so tomorrow would be rest day in Los Andes then ride the following day into Santiago.
Annoyed and frustrated with the detours, Bruce requested that he and I go straight to Santiago, same bus. I felt a little guilty not staying with the group, but I was excited for a mini vacation in Santiago, we would have 4 full days to explore the city.
Once loaded on the double decker bus and on the road to the border, I realized that this would have been another beautiful ride even if the shoulder was small and gravel. Sprawling valleys inbetween mountains, the kind of day I would have felt like a tiny spec in comparison. The sun was shining half way up the mountain. You could tell it was starting to get colder because the bus windows became clouded with condensation. We rode into snow and freezing rain. Snow was slowly accumulating in the ground. We passed through a tunnel and it was like a different snowy world. Trucks were having issues driving. A fuel tanker truck was sliding backwards into the road, which made our bus slide then skid towards the side of the road. The bus rocked as we slid, and I thought for sure we were going to crash. My life flashed before my eyes, since I was in the back row by the window of the side that would have crashed first. But we stayed upright! Phew! The drivers had stopped to put on snow tires. The tanker truck had no idea what he was doing and several other drivers were helping him get straightened out. Cars were trying to pass around the commotion causing even more danger. We watched from the bus windows, making wagers on the dangers unfolding before us.
After almost an hour we were back on the road to the border. The Chilean border has been the most diligent of all the borders we have crossed. We got off the bus and had our passports stamped. Meanwhile the bus driver removed our bags and sent them through the scanner to be checked for open foods and other paraphernalia. Then everyone on the bus had to wait for our carry on bags to be scanned. We waited 3 times as long because people did not know they had to be there and kept leaving for various reasons.
Finally back on the bus, the snow had stopped and the roads were actually quite clear. We began the descent, which was 29 curvy switchbacks down. This was supposed to be an epic ride for us, but the weather did not agree.
The further down we drove the warmer it became and dryer. I will always be fascinated how mountains can control the weather around them. The road followed along a tree lined river with small houses dotted along. I was surprised to see so many dilapidated homes.
When we arrived in Los Andes, it was a much larger town than I had imagined. It probably would not have been so bad to spend a day there. After our riding buddies were gone, there were only 20 or so people left on the bus. We had about another 2 hours in the dark until we reached the bus station in Santiago.
When we finally reached our hotel around 9pm, Bruce and I were ready for sleep.
Santiago is a beautiful city with mature trees lining every road, even highways. There are massive parks throughout the city. We found the bike shop district and perused the shops. We found a trendy neighborhood with ample restaurants and bars. There are concerts going on all over. It is a really nice city and we will probably make it a point to come back someday.