The ride from Malargue to Chos Malal was interesting and a nice change from the boring wind-blown and dessicated pampa. Mostly sealed roads, dramatic volcanic scenery but still with the strong westerly and southerly winds.
The climb out of Malargue with cliffs and hairpin bends. We camped on the top at an old gauchito´s camp. Spectacular views at sunset over the volcanic steppe.
The next day- camping by the Rio Grande, a range of coloured rock to the west.
Rio Grande and a small gaucho settlement in this hostile environment.
Hiding from the constant headwind (we´ve had this headwind all the way from the Bolivian border!) we were having lunch and a Dutch couple stopped ther rental car. Erik and Angela are also touring cyclists and they showered us with all these edible goodies- yoghurt, muesli bars, bananas. Muchas gracias, amigos!
The scenery really started hotting up after Ranquil Norte, 180kms south of Malargue. Distant smoking volcanoes, soft pastel primeval rock, broken up into deep ravines and mesa plateaux. Also, back on a smooth sealed surface, so we could concentrate on the interesting terrain around us.
The south-westerly wind continued to whip us in the face but created some amazing cloud formations in the clear desert sky.
To hide from the westerly winds we asked the workers at an estancia if we could camp in the corralls surounded by trees as windbreaks, and kept company by horses and goats.
The setting sun from the estancia- dramatic colours from the violent winds and swirling dust.
We celebrated Jude´s 56th birthday in the municipal campground. 10 Argentinian pesos ($3) for a site and we were the only campers. We cooked a tasty parrilla (grilled steak) washed down with Quilmes beer and red wine.
We thought we had experienced the worst of the headwinds further north but beyond Chos Malal it was the ultimate. The westerly winds blowing from the Chilean border were gale-force and got up to 110kph! We set out one morning from Las Lajas for the Chilean frontier at Pino Hachado. We immediately hit this wall of wind, blasting us in the face at 100kph. We couldn´t ride, but with heads down we tried pushing through the maelstrom. After a full day of this we managed to get 25kms out of Las Lajas, so at 4pm starting waving down vehicles. A customs official, Augusto kindly threw our bikes into his pick-up and drove us to a guesthouse near the border (20 kms away). Drove through a full-on blizzard as higher up at 1500m the wind carried sleet and ice. Here I am with Augusto at the Alojamiento Huski (the owner had 23 Alaskan huskies).
Overnight water dripped from the roof onto our bikes. Icicles on bicycles.
We met up with two Swiss cyclists Raphaelle and Bettina who we had lst seen in Mendoza. They had ridden the 45kms from Las Lajas against the ferocious headwinds. It had taken them 2 full days. We shared a loghouse with them, surrounded by araucaria trees (monkey-puzzle trees) and a winter landscape.
The next morning we emerged from our winter den into this snowy landscape. The wind had abated overnight and we set off for the border and pass at Pino Hachado at 1875m.
Here Jude leaves the cabin pushing her bike and struggling in the soft snow, slippery ice and cold blasting wind.
Granite walls framing the araucaria forest on the way to the pass, 1550m
Finally at the pass- the wind was really strong and chilling at almost 1900m. The last 7kms was a rough steep dirt road but the descent from the border into Chile was a welcoming sealed road, with a nice gradient and gentle cool breeze.