A Rite of Passage: Malargüe – Buta Ranquil

Friday 3 November

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Friday’s ride is relatively short at 65 km, but it includes a climb up to about 2000 meters before descending to Bardas Blancas. Indeed the climb started soon enough, but it wasn’t too hard. There were some steep sections interleaved with easier climbs and even some downhill. The weather was sunny with little wind and the scenery was very beautiful.

The only downside is that I forgot to take the big bottle of apple juice out of the fridge in my apartment. I later learned that I also left my shampoo in the shower there. And the next day I lost my camera’s lens cap in my room. All not super important and/or easy to replace, but maybe I should pay more attention.

Approaching the mountains, not really knowing what was waiting for me there.
View from the only switchback on the climb.

As I neared the top a headwind started and as I descended on the other side it was trying and failing to prevent me from doing so. Both the road and the wind would suddenly change directions, so I needed my full attention to keep myself from being blown out of my lane at high speed.

Close to Bardas Blancas the turnoff on the roundabout was closed and the diversion was over a rather bad gravel road. That’s just a little taste of what’s to come, since I will see about 100 km of ripio in the next two days.

Descending again in beautiful surroundings.
Bardas Blancas is surrounded by tall mountains.

I complained about being sandblasted on the ride into Malargüe, but the last few hundred meters today were much worse, with very coarse sand hitting me at high speed. I quickly headed for the only hostel and went inside. The lunch I got there was so large that I was unable to finish it. In the restaurant many fossils and teeth are on display, this area is rich with these.

Dinosaurs and/or mosasaurs or whatever in Bardas Blancas.
This church is unfinished, but it looks like it is in use.

I was very tired from today’s ride, so I rested in the afternoon while listening to some podcasts. There’s not much else to do here anyway, you can see the whole village in 30 minutes and I don’t have internet.

I’m now down to 1500 meters. In the coming days I’ll hit 1500 again a few times and after that the altitude will barely reach 1000 meters for the rest of the tour. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be flat, just lower and there will be fewer large hills.

The guy on the left was trying to get to Tierra del Fuego as well. I first saw him sitting here at around 15:00, trying to catch a bus or hitch a ride south. At 21:00 he gave up and entered the hostel. When I left the next morning he was sitting there again.

Saturday 4 November

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Saturday started OK with a mix of good new asphalt, some bad pavement and some gravel that wasn’t too bad. People were working on the road and they were also building bridges, so I think the part just past Bardas Blancas will soon be paved. Whenever “soon” is, we’re still in South America after all.

On a rather more bumpy part of ripio my rear brake rotor came loose. I was already in Bolivia when I noticed that my bike has center-lock discs and that I don’t have a tool to remove or tighten these, so I was just hoping they would be fine. Also if a spoke on the left breaks I may have a problem. For now I just tightened the nut by hand and then a little more with my Leatherman and so far it’s doing fine. I don’t know when I’ll find a mechanic who has the right tool for it, but until then I’ll just have to keep an eye on it. I would have preferred to have old-school 6 bolt brake discs, since they don’t need special tools.

There was some great new pavement leaving Bardas Blancas.
But also some relatively good ripio sections.

Then followed a section of pavement before the real bad part started.  Initially I was wondering what all the fuss was about. Yes, it is bad, but I was still moving at about 15 km/h. A bit later the surface even improved a bit. Some 16 kilometers in the road started climbing very slightly and I quickly came to a complete stop. The bike just wouldn’t move: The front wheel got stuck in the loose sand and gravel and consequently the rear wheel lost traction on this surface. This is a big problem, because the next 30 km are going to be similar and I have to climb a rather serious hill later in this section.

A house by the river in the middle of nowhere.
This little hill is where the ripio turned from “it’s not so bad at all” to “completely impossible”.

So after pushing for a while I was already sick of it. I had been sitting there for a bit, thinking “how am I ever getting out of this”, I picked myself up (figuratively speaking) and started pushing up the relatively small hill. If a suitable car had come by on this part I would have asked for a lift to the start of the pavement, but all pick-up trucks and vans were heading north. Going south were only stupid little people cars. On the downhill I had no trouble to keep moving, but keeping the bike under control was hard. If I went too fast I would likely crash at some point, but if I braked too hard I would also lose control and have to literally pick myself up.

Luckily the road quality got less bad after this and I could move a bit faster again. Now there were a few pick-ups going my way, but my mood had improved sufficiently that I wanted to continue. I did another 15 kilometers and called it a day at 17:30 after 89 km, of which a bit more than 30 were on the ripio section.

I saw a potential campsite by the side of a small stream and after checking it out I decided to stay here. As I arrived a herd of goats was drinking on the opposite side, but they left soon enough. There were also some horse tracks on the trail I took to get here, but I didn’t see anyone. I brought extra water today, but that seems to have been unnecessary. I have unlimited water available here, though I will need to filter a little bit of sand out.

It’s been overcast all day and I’d be technically correct if I said it rained twice today, for the first time in weeks. Technically correct is of course the best kind of correct, but it was so little that I had to verify if I actually did feel it. The slightly darker spots on my bags confirmed that water droplets were indeed falling from the sky. It was also a little windy at the end of the day, so for the first time ever I used the guy wires of my tent. Just before sunset some of the clouds cleared and the sun actually shone under the remaining clouds and illuminated the landscape. It was really quite awesome, but naturally the photos fail to show that.

Hey, that looks like a potential campsite behind this hill.
See, I told you so.

Sunday 5 November

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Sunday started with a 16 km climb on the ripio. It wasn’t as bad as before, if this were level road it would be easily rideable. But this part being uphill it was still very slow going. Then I finally reached pavement after about 50 km of gravel road of varying quality.

What is this hard black stuff on the ground? Might it be this mythical compound I heard of? I think it’s called “asphalt” or something?
The hard part was not over yet…

I still had to finish the climb though, and afterwards followed a series of short climbs and descents which eventually reached the Río Barrancas. Though none of the climbs was very big, they all felt big to me today. On one of the descents I think I saw a condor. At least it was a very big bird. No, not that one.

The Río Barrancas marks the end of Mendoza province …
… and the official start of Patagonia! Yay!

The keyword here is “official”. Yes, I’m in Patagonia now, but I’m also still in the same desert as before. The terrain isn’t any different from the last few days. All of that is going to change soon enough.

I was very happy about this milestone, but now I had to climb away from the river for another 5 km to reach the village of Barrancas. Yesterday evening I was thinking that I could maybe continue another 35 km to Buta Ranquil and thus gain a day in my schedule, but that was absolutely out of the question now. I have some more long days from there, so I better rest this afternoon and do a short ride tomorrow.

As I walked around town in the early evening I could hear people loudly shouting “gooool“, so I guess their favourite team scored. I later learned that today was El Superclásico: Boca Juniors against River Plate. On a related note: You don’t see any VW Golfs here, but the VW Gol is very popular.

Monday 6 November

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Monday’s ride was short as expected, but it was also slightly harder than I thought, in particular the last bit. I knew there would be a few smaller climbs and I wasn’t doing too badly on those. In the middle I followed a river valley. At some point I saw a condor soaring high above, and then another, and another… Eventually there were about 10 of them. A few were sitting on the road, so I stopped and grabbed my camera. They had taken off in the meantime, but they were still close, so I managed to capture some. On camera, that is.

A condor soaring over the road.
And its friends above the river.

At the end of the day I thought my bike was being sluggish. Even on the downhill sections it wouldn’t roll as it should. I pumped the tires this morning and they were still fine, nor did I see anything else wrong. Then I looked around again and it turned out that I was completely misjudging the terrain. What I thought was downhill was actually still slightly uphill, but somehow the whole landscape here was tilted so I couldn’t properly read it. Once I realised that I quickly finished the ride and arrived in Buta Ranquil before noon.

Buta Ranquil sits at the foot of a large volcano, which I’ll be circling tomorrow.

The chain and other moving parts had picked up a lot of crap in the last few days and today the chain was even squeaking when I applied a lot of force to it. So when I arrived I first cleaned and oiled all of that. I’m approaching the halfway point and I think I’ll find a good bike mechanic soonish to check the whole bike and prepare it for the second half.

Now that I have good internet access and I can view my tracks, I see why I’ve been so tired the last few days. Even if I didn’t ride great distances, they managed to pack quite a few altitude meters in. Combine that with the bad roads and it’s totally understandable. I conjecture this was a parting gift from the province of Mendoza, that wants to ensure only the worthy make it to Patagonia. Luckily I passed. The upcoming days I’ll be covering larger distances in order to leave the desert behind in 5 more days of riding.

I had the best pizza I had so far at a restaurant called Facefood, which used a modified version of the Facebook logo as its own. I guess it’s fine as long as they don’t find out.

As I left the restaurant it was raining! Let me repeat that to avoid misunderstandings: As I left the restaurant it was raining! Yes, it was predicted for this afternoon, but it’s been predicted at least a few times every week. Usually nothing comes of it: There might be some clouds at the time rain was forecast, but the sun may also be shining. So this is something completely new. It’s still very little, hardly worth mentioning in other circumstances.

I didn’t see a “Las Malvinas” sign as I entered town, but there was this sculpture in the center.

Distance covered: 211.4 km. Total so far: 2331 km.

One Reply to “A Rite of Passage: Malargüe – Buta Ranquil”

  1. We haje op streetview al gezeen desse op slechte waeg zoots, mer as ich dien verhaol laes, waas der väöl slechter as wae meindje.
    Ein echte ploogwedstried, mer dich hub gewonne.
    op nao baeter tieje/ ritte.

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