2/17/20 – 3/3/20
The winds were above fifty kilometers per hour the morning we left for Chos Malal. With my knee throbbing and Soph’s general lack of interest in having sand storms weather away her hard earned tan, we pulled off and stuck our thumbs out. We were quickly offered a ride by a gentleman named Orlando and found ourselves in town in about thirty minutes. I wanted to find a nice place to rest. We’d found a woman on Warmshowers who had a farm just outside of town with a spare room. We arrived while she was at work. At first glance it seemed idyllic with horses wandering around a timber framed home, but upon entry there was a strange fragrance and a cat that appeared to be missing half of its face. There was no place to sit.
“What do you think is growing in this dish?”
“Looks like it used to be ravioli.”
We decided to get a hostel room in town. I did a deep clean on both of our drive trains. Removing everything, taking the derailleurs apart, and soaking it all in gasoline. After all this, I put it all back together but still couldn’t get the shifting right. It was likely worn out springs or perhaps a bend in the cage. All was nice and clean though. There were two shops in town. We dropped them at the better looking one knowing that they would probably charge us a couple hundred pesos to not really do anything and that is how it basically went.
All in all, we spent more than a week sitting around. Each day I would feel a bit better, but not quite right. I sat around the park reading. The local bum asks me for money. I try not to make eye contact and simply tell him I have nothing and continue reading. A few minutes later he is about twenty feet away vomiting near a tree. Shortly after he approaches me again. He appeared to have procured some ham, cheese, and crackers. I declined his generous offer. He looked confused under the dirt and scabs on his face.
We finally left on the twenty seventh. We made it about forty kilometers, but things still didn’t feel right so we hitched ahead to Zapala. It was another couple hundred kilometers to San Martin de los Andes, which seemed like a nice place to rest so we went straight to the edge of town hoping to catch another lift. Zapala turned out to be a vortex though and after several hours on the side of the road we went into town to get a room.
We were back by the side of the road early the next morning. I decided that I didn’t like hitch hiking. It is a lawless endeavor. Other vagrants wander out to the edge of town and set up just in front of you. Some sit on the side of the road and juggle, others just stand there looking helpless. We rode back into town and tried to get on a bus, but I could tell that it would be an infinite loop in which they told us there was no room for the bikes on the current bus but we would certainly get on the next one.
“What if there isn’t room on that one?”
“Well then you can wait for the next one.”
Eventually we decided to ride. Forty kilometers to a rural police station. My knee had felt ok, but I still didn’t want to push it so we put our thumbs back out. We were quickly picked up by Charly. He was more talkative than Orlando had been. I enjoyed riding with him. He sold women’s clothing. High end stuff. Every year he made a three month loop from Buenos Aires around the entire country.
“Cara vez regreso a casa mis niñas son mas grande.” (every time I return home my daughters are bigger.) The thought of his daughters caused his mouth to smile, but his eyes revealed a certain loneliness.
Charly dropped us in Junín de los Andes. It was a small fishing/touristy town. We took one day off in which I spent several hours stretching and swimming in the frigid river and got back on the road.
We spent the next few days trying to stay under fifty kilometers; although this didn’t work out so well due to the spacing between camp sites. The good news was that we were able to end each day by a glacial lake or river where I could soak my knee. In three days we made it to Villa La Angostura and took a day off stealth camping on a public beach.
The nights had grown noticeably cool and clear. With roughly two months left of riding, we had our first realization that we were probably going to spend quite a bit of time being cold. The chill of the lakes took my breath away as I jumped in to swim in the evening. The sun was setting earlier and the twilight became darker and darker. The stars began to appear a bit closer each night.
Patagonia is one of the most popular areas for cycle touring in the world. We were now passing dozens each day. Most just out for a few weeks. Bikes crispy clean sparkling and probably shifting perfectly, bags without tears or broken straps and clips. Clean shaven. Sunburned chins. I’d forgotten hair could be so shiny and without split ends. All awkward as they’ve never handled such a heavy machine. Useless gear strapped in every available space. They all have ukuleles. I wondered if we had looked so foolish twenty months back.
The area around Villa Angostura is remarkably difficult to find a place to camp. It is littered with well-ordered idyllic Patagonian mountain towns. Streets bustling with upscale tourists flocking to artisanal breweries and fudge shops. The fuzz in such places is highly aware that a mangy cycle tourist bathing in the plaza fountain or even visually fouling up the sandy beaches on the glacial lakes, which in my opinion seem contrived because they only exist in the tourist areas and the granules of earth do not appear to be of native stone, would drive the financially well-endowed clientele away and are on constant lookout for anyone looking to freeload in public spaces.
We managed to find a small nook in the trees on the banks of Lake Nahuel Huapi. Waiting until dusk to set the tent up, I stood up to my thighs in the icy water. My knee felt good. I watched as the tourists pulled their kayaks ashore at the lodge on the other side of the water. The building had been well conceived, except that everyone was forced to sleep inside of it. The thick log walls and its proximity, or lack thereof, would not allow them to hear the little waves tickling the moonlit beach. Small waves are special. Just a degree or two larger than the ripple created by dropping a pebble into a perfectly still puddle. An ocean wave drowns everything out. Large waves on a lake are usually accompanied by strong winds. Small waves add a comforting rhythm to a cold fall night.
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