Leaving the plains surrounding Malargüe, the road passed paleolithic sites where fossils from the extinct giant sloth have been discovered. It curled around to the right as bronze mountains loom ever larger to our left. We dropped to the lowest gear to climb brutal switchbacks right up the side of the mountains, sweating and grunting as the gigantic surroundings chewed us up. We reached the top and descend for miles, as though we were being swallowed deep inside Patagonia’s ancient belly.
A silver river – the Rio Grande – snaked slowly through the valley. The road followed the river’s course for a few miles, surrounded on all sides by mountains, each in misty layers of blues and greys. A wicked western wind, biting and pristine clean, whipped against the bikes and wobbled us whenever we stopped concentrating.
We were in Patagonia alright.
The next town, Barrancas, was 50 miles away and we had heard that this stretch would be a real challenge, with rough gravel replacing tarmac and constant hills to test the legs. We had ensured we were well stocked with enough food and water to last the three days expected to reach town.
A storm was brewing on the evening of the first day and we settled on finding a sandy patch of ground just off the road to pitch camp, high above the river. We didn’t want to take any chances with flash flooding as fork lightning began to cut across the sky.
That night was a mess. Our tent has a snapped pole right on a join where it’s tricky to fix. The break means the structural integrity of the whole tent has been damaged. The wind that night got so powerful that the damn thing collapsed into itself, leaving a gap under the fly sheet wide enough to allow sand to blow up right through the lining, caking ourselves and our sleeping bags with a fine grey dust.
Needless to say, sleep didn’t come quickly.
Morning brought calm and a glorious view out across the river. We took some photos, drank some mate and shared some jokes to boost morale.
For the next two days we dug deep, dealing with the trying conditions and enjoying the incredible scenery only when we could relax enough to do so.
The challenge took its toll, and emotions did get high. When Sophie saw the slippery stony road give way to smooth tarmac, she couldn’t hold back the tears. “I just want to be on the tarmac”, she had said, feeling salvation close by.
Arriving at tiny mountain town of Barrancas, we gorged on biscuits and milk and fizzy drinks – the food we had been craving through the tough days. We took a rest day and sorted a few niggles that our kit had picked up.
The road we are taking should be paved now for at least the next couple of hundred miles. But we feel we’ve earned our stripes and are becoming hardened to the challenges of this wild part of the world.
We plan to be on the famous Route 40, or ‘La Quarenta’ as it’s affectionately known here, right the way to its start. The road runs the length of Argentina – 3,200 miles that cuts through high altitude desert, lush forest and dusty steppe, with the Andes always close on the western side. As we journey down towards Antarctica, it will get increasingly windy and, eventually, snowy.
Whatever the coming weeks throws at us, we’re confident we can push on through, following the Quarenta to Tierra del Fuego and beyond, forever south.
Vida! Saúde! Felicidade!
As ever, if you’ve enjoyed reading these posts, or if you see value and a challenge in this trip, or if you’d simply like to support a wonderful cause, it would be great if you drop a little sum towards my fundraising goal for the Teenage Cancer Trust. Head over to https://www.justgiving.com/Mike-Edmondstone/ to get involved. Thanks