1/9/20 – 1/17/20
Soph had been in Salta for about a week by the time I arrived.
“Look look, look in the fridge.”
I looked. There was fresh ravioli, fresh salami, olives, parmesan cheese, prosciutto, and basil.
“And look over here.”
Fine extra virgin olive oil, a fresh baguette, a local Malbec, and croissants.
“They call croissants ‘media lunas.’” (half moons)
We spent three more days in town, mostly eating. We verified that Argentinians do in fact take beef and red wine seriously. I was impressed with the tradition of taking a siesta. By two in the afternoon the entire city was dead. Street vendors slept on cardboard mats next to their stands filled with useless trinkets and candied nuts. It was like nap time in KinderCare. I thought about all the times I’d fought with my old boss about taking a mid-day doze in the grass outside the office. It seemed perfectly reasonable considering all the smoke breaks my coworker took. I felt like I’d finally found a place that would understand me.
We left town on January twelfth, a Sunday. One of the greatest gifts the Catholic Church gave the world was the absence of traffic in Latin American cities on the Sabbath. The road was almost completely flat for a hundred kilometers. That hadn’t happened since Panama. We camped outside a small roadside restaurant and ordered fried goat cheese with mixed greens and balsamic vinaigrette for dinner. Less than a week before I’d been trying to decide between powdered mashed potatoes with alpaca jerky or lentils, also with alpaca jerky, and all of a sudden we find ourselves sitting in a countryside establishment with a strange old woman telling me that the cabernet sauvignon is “muy rico” with the balsamic reduction drizzled over my fried cheese.
We took a rest day in Cafayate. A friend of Soph’s younger brother who was cycling from Peru to Argentina wasn’t far behind and we agreed to meet. After dinner and drinks we decided to roll out the next morning and ride together for a few days.
It is slightly uphill all day leaving Cafayate, but only slightly. We average twenty kilometers per hour. Late morning stop for lunch. Cheese and ham empañadas. Tried to aggravate some Alpacas to get them to spit at us, but they were relatively well tempered. The Argentine countryside reminiscent of Mexico with its pueblitos packed a couple dozen kilometers from one another and plenty of cocinas with men getting piss drunk at one in the afternoon and being served jugs of beer by children who later have to drag them into a taxi. The striking difference is the food. Chicken Milanesa sandwiches and fresh lasagna for lunch. Even in the scrappiest of towns. It is impossible to eat like a savage.
Storms closing in and towards the end of the day we push at over thirty clicks an hour to get to Balasto before the rain. There is a church with a large covered area where we can take shelter. Some local kids show up for folklore dancing class as we’re drinking fine Argentinian stouts on the front steps and using the lord’s name in vain. Alvaro, a six year old, takes a great deal of interest.
I walk to the door and look where he is pointing. He runs and takes my seat. Beyond this I found him relatively charming and with just enough sense of boundary. I sat on the cement and continued cooking. Looking down on me from my chair he began to tell me about “diablo” and “cielo” and how we all need to avoid one and seek the other.
Dance class ended, the sun set, the crickets began to chirp, and across the street there seemed to be a very serious game of futbol taking place. It poured most of the night.
Easy forty kilometers and a gradual climb to a little shop that was closed to start the next day. Pooled our meager resources of crackers, paté, cookies, and peanut butter for lunch. Another forty clicks. We stopped in Haulfin and ordered beef for lunch, just beef. We found a beautiful camping spot about a half mile up a canyon. Its merits with regard to safety were in debate due to the fact that the walls behind it had clearly collapsed recently and the clouds signaled hard rains and a potential for flash flooding. There was a nice dog that seemed to have taken residence on the grounds though.
We built a fire and worked our way into a box of wine. Connaire mentioned that he was looking to climb Aconcagua, the tallest peak in South America, when passing through Mendoza. He told me I was welcome to join.
The camp dog spent the entire night curled up in a ball against Soph’s side of the tent. As we packed everything up in the morning it rolled around in the spit from our toothpaste.
Argentinians had the novel idea of building roads through mountains rather than over them. Continuing down Ruta 40, we found ourselves winding through a tall canyon. Steep walls towering over narrow roads, rivers, tarantulas, cacti, smooth curves and gradual slopes. Even with a head wind we do twenty five kilometers per hour.
On the way into Belen we stop to pick figs along the roadside. One of the benefits of being from the US in Latin America is that you’re generally taller than everyone and despite the fact that the locals have plucked everything within their reach, there are still plenty within arm’s length.
“Uhh, I don’t think those figs agreed with me mate.”
I turned around just in time to see Connaire’s eyes roll back in his head and his face turn white. He toppled over into Soph, who was well positioned to catch him. I started to run across the street to a family having a picturesque lunch under some grape vines but hesitated to make sure that my pleas for help would be in proper Spanish.
“Oight, no worries, this happened once before,” I heard from behind.
We sat him down on the curb and slapped him across the face a few times. His color came back, although he didn’t remember much of the last ninety seconds.
“I think I could do with a good lunch eh.”
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