09 April 2011


It was nearly midday when I left Amaicha del Valle. Ruta 307 descended towards the mountains through desert scrub and a cactus known as the cordone. The road crossed a river and merged with Ruta 40 and I headed north now along the mountain range up the river valley. It was rolling country and the zonda as a headwind kept me cool.

At the pueblo of Quilmes I turned off onto a ripio road up into the foothills to see the Indian ruins. They had been described to me as a miniature Machu Picchu and I rode up the 5 km of dusty, rocky, sometimes washboard ripio to them.

There wasn’t much to Las Ruinas de Quilmes. There were piled stone foundations for buildings that once stood upon the side of the mountain. I walked along the ruins partway up the mountainside before turning back and heading down. I coasted carefully down the ripio and back onto Ruta 40.

Because of the storms in the high mountains deep streams flowed across the low areas of the road. Twice I hit mud while crossing them and was brought to a stop and had to put my foot down into the water, and for much of the day I rode with soaked shoes and wet feet.

Thirty kilometers from Cafayate began La Ruta de Vino with vineyards on both sides of the road. I stopped in at Las Arcas de Tolombon for a degustacion and tour of the winery. They grew only two grapes there, malbec and torrontes, on 31 hectacres of land and though I did not like the malbec I did enjoy the torrontes. It is a white I only rarely drink because of its tendency to taste and smell of gasoline or some type of fuel, but this one was good.

The zonda had picked up now and made the ride through the rolling hills more of a challenge. I passed from Tucuman Province into Salta and rode past more bodegas where tastings and tours were offered but I did not stop. I knew I could make Cafayate before nightfall, but I wanted to wild camp near the pueblo and to ride in tomorrow morning.

I passed some wild horses grazing along the road and pushed the bike back in through an old quarry and up onto a raised area overlooking the valley. It was rocky with scrub and cactus, the mountains behind, but I found a small sandy space and pitched the tent there. I laid down and realized there was a large rock under the middle of the tent. The ground was hardly flat either. But I didn’t feel like packing up and moving the tent. I hadn’t seen anything better anyway.

I cooked up a plate of pasta and lay in the tent doing some writing. The sun dropped behind the mountains and it was dark and I felt sleepy. Then I heard things moving outside the tent. I listened carefully. It was the wild horses I had seen along the road. They had come to feed. I tried to ignore them but in they darkness they would stumble on the rocks and made quite a bit of noise. I unzipped the tent and got out with my flashlight and I scared the dark one off. There was a white horse who just looked at me. He took a couple of awkward steps and I saw that he was partly crippled. I got back in the tent and tried to go to sleep.

I awoke to the sound of chewing. The horses were right next to the tent. I lay quietly. Had horses ever trampled a man laying inside a tent? I didn’t know. I didn’t want to frighten them and lay there listening to them chew, clomp about a little, and begin chewing again. There was maybe a third horse now too. The chewing was very loud and I felt very exposed to be laying below them.

I didn’t sleep for hours. They must have eaten up all the grasses around the tent before slowing moving on back through the scrub towards the road. It was an uncomfortable night with the horses, the unlevel ground and the rock underneath the tent at about the middle of my back. I didn’t wake up feeling very good at all.


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