There are two roads from Salto de las Rosas, slightly south of San Rafael, that take you to the town of Malargüe on the Ruta 40. The direct route takes you along relatively flat land, firstly toward the Andes and then due South. The second is the scenic route; an extra 30 miles that carves firstly through numerous vineyards with their bodegas and free wine tasting, before cutting down inside the Cañón del Atuel, following the river along, and then up again to the plains above.
If we’re cycling all this way, we aim to see scenery. The scenic route it is!
The first of our three day ride through the canyon was slow going. There’s a certain bush in this part of the world that releases needle sharp thorns a couple of months each year. They’re difficult to spot when riding and pierce straight through the tyres. Between us we picked up eight punctures that day. We found a campsite tucked into the trees by the fast-flowing blue waters of the Río Atuel, fixed up the bikes and settled in for the night.
The next morning we got up and out early, hoping to give ourselves time to find shade from the hottest part of the day. The road continued along the river, heading down to the bottom of the canyon, then past the touristy campsites and small businesses offering white water rafting and rappelling, then on through the town of Valle Grande.
Out the other side of town, the road crosses a small bridge over the river before taking a steep turn upward. It was our first taste of real tough riding together as the tarmac snaked back and forth, winding up and away from the first of four hydroelectric dams.
I kept telling Soph that the worst part is over, that it would flatten out and get easier. No such luck. We reached the end of the tarmac and hit the stony track that would be our road for the next two days.
By mid-afternoon our water was dangerously low and we knew there was no chance of us getting out of the canyon that night. The situation was starting to get concerning. The river was now far below us and there were no buildings where we could top up the water. Push on. Make as much ground as we can, drink sparingly and resign ourselves to a cold dinner of dry fruit. The only option until we get more water.
A couple of hours more and then the road crossed a dry river bed. Tucked away by the road we see a small spring with water spouting freely. Relief! We fill the bottles and push on to find a suitable space to camp. We learned the importance of always taking your opportunities when you’re handed them.
Camping that night was the most restful night I’ve ever had in a tent. No artificial light and total silence. Not even the sound of crickets. Just us and thousands of stars of the Milky Way spread out above us.
The final day in the canyon we reached the river again, where we could clean ourselves, cool off and top up more water.
And then to a small free campsite in El Nihuel after making it through. There are tonnes of these free campsites in Argentina, all with grills and plug sockets. It sure makes things easier and cheaper for us.
Now we’re on the Ruta 40, the road we’ll follow for the next 2,000 miles to Tierra del Fuego in the far South, through Patagonia and into the cold.
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