08 April 2011

Amaicha del Valle

It was cool but sunny when I awoke. I found a black dog curled up and shivering outside my tent and underneath the rain fly. He must have crawled under during the storms. The tent floor was soaked through where I slept and my panniers set. The ground pad was like a soaked sponge underneath it, and after taking down the tent I draped it and the tent and rain fly over some rocks to dry. It was too humid to dry them completely and I had to again pack the tent damp. I loaded the bike and left the campground and the black dog followed me into town. He must have felt he owed me for providing him shelter from the rain.

I stopped and ate some empanadas before getting on the road. The black dog waited beside my bike outside and then he ran alongside me as I started the climb out of town into the higher mountains. There was little time to warm up as the grade was very steep and I was turning my lowest gear up the switchbacks, Tafi del Valle and the lake further and further below me as I climbed. The black dog was gone now and though the sun was out it was colder and still very humid.

There were clouds higher and the road climbed up into them and the sun was gone. It was so cold now I put on my thermal layer, sweater and leggings and when it began to rain I put on my rain gear. The asphalt ended and the road turned to mud and I could hardly turn the bike through it. It was a cold, wet, miserable climb up a dirt road through the clouds.

A drunken man walking along the road waved me down and told me there was another 10 km of climbing left, but I didn’t believe him. I could see beyond the next rise that the clouds broke and when I got there the descent began. There was asphalt again but it was of terrible quality with potholes and filled-in patches that made it as bad as ripio to ride on. The descent was steep and tricky and very technical because of the road surface and I braked hard to keep my speed down, the road jarring and rattling the bike and I worried my panniers would be thrown off the racks.

But the bike and panniers held and I was now descending above a river. Then after a small climb I could see down into the valley where the sun was shining and I could see the town of Amaicha del Valle. Behind me were black clouds coming down from where I had been and as I descended the rain was just behind me and then out into the valley I was again in the sun and it was warm.

There was a fully loaded cyclist coming up the road and I pulled over and we talked. He was Argentine and was riding from Salta back to his home in Tucuman and he asked me about the weather. Was it raining? I pointed to the black clouds I had raced down the mountain. It was going to be real bad up there.

“You have been to the Little Hell?” he asked.

I didn’t know what he was talking about.

“The top of the pass is called the Infiernito.”

“Then I have been there,” I said. It was a little hell up there too, cold and wet and terrible roads. That was the best description for it.

The Argentine rode a 1999 Swedish Crescent painted in the beautiful Molteni orange I have always loved on a bike and he was very impressed that I knew about and admired the Crescent. It impressed me that he knew Bike Fridays. He recommended a hostel in Amaicha and we said goodbye and I wished him luck. The Little Hell was going to be a lot worse for him than it was for me.

The tourist office was closed in Amaicha and I stopped at a cafe in the main plaza and asked two young guys about the hostel. It was just up the gravel road they said. For 20 pesos I put my tent up on the dirt porch and had full use of the kitchen, internet and bathroom. I prefer sleeping inside my tent to a stranger’s bed and when I saw the hostel was constructed of mud brick in which the Chagas bug often lives I was even more satisfied to sleep outside on the porch. I didn’t want to take any chances with contracting that debilitating and incurable illness that had afflicted Darwin all his later life.

Also staying at the hostel was a young German couple who were stuck in the pueblo because the one cash machine in town had no money until at least Wednesday. There was also a Slovenian girl from Ljublana who walked around the hostel juggling. She had been studying for the circus in Buenos Aires, specializing in aerial acrobatics, and was now traveling the country. Argentina had excellent circus schools she explained.

We had a dinner of ravioli and chicken that night with the husband and wife who ran the hostel. We ate at a long wooden table and drank wine and talked until late in the night. The two days of riding in the mountains had exhausted me and I eventually excused myself and went down to my tent. It was good to be out of the cold, high mountains and back into the desert valley and I slept easily.


Dustin Bradford said...

What a range this day. Wet on one side of the pass and desert on the other.

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