03 April 2011


I woke up and knew I had a tough climb ahead of me. On the map Ruta 60 through the Sierra de Manchao was a squiggly line, meaning I was sure to have much steep ascending on a road cut back and forth into the mountains. My legs were heavy and I wasn’t looking forward to it. But the zonda was not yet blowing and I would have a quiet morning to make the pass.

I started up into the mountains and the sweat soon poured off me. It was morning but already hot and the grade was very steep in places, the road cutting back and forth up through fields of cactus and rock and always behind I saw a higher mountain and worried how the road would resolve itself over it.

But I did not climb as high as I expected. The road flattened out and it was gentle undulating across the cactus fields and then, a sharp turn between two hills and I was dropping, descending fast along walls of rock, the mountains growing higher as I dropped and further down I was following an old stream bed, down, down through the mountains and the desert was gone and there was now brush and trees and it was very green. Everything had changed on the other side of the mountains. Then I was out of them, the mountains behind, and still descending, coasting through a very lush region of small trees and thick brush and grass.

It was a descent all the way into Chumbicha. Outside the pueblo I turned onto Ruta 38 which would take me north. I stopped at a restaurant and ate a piece of beef and a salad and drank a two liter bottle of sparkling water. I wanted to buy some bottled water but the proprietor had no change and I filled up my water supplies from a barrel outside that he insisted was potable.

Ruta 38 was an easier ride through lush rolling country. In the far distance I could see a dark range of mountains. I knew there was a pass outside Catamarca called the Cuesta del Portezuela and I figured the city was at the base of these mountains. I stopped at a creek and washed my clothes in the gray water that came down from the mountains. I had some saddle sores from the ripio that were really bothering me and I had decided while riding that I would take a day off in Catamarca. It would make eight days of riding since San Juan, with much difficult climbing, and my legs also needed a rest.

It was almost 6 pm when I arrived in Catamarca and it being late on a Sunday I would not be able to inquire at the tourist office where a hostel or cheap lodging was. I pulled into what I thought was the main plaza and took a seat at an outdoor table where people were drinking beer and watching a soccer match. I started talking to a a couple at the table next to mine and got some information about a hotel a few blocks away that was affordable.

I didn’t find the hotel but there were a few others, all around 100 pesos a night. I was too tired and it was too late in the day to keep wandering through the city asking and looking for something cheaper and I decided to stay at the third of the 100 peso/night hotels I stopped at. I had not had a shower in a few weeks and scrubbed the dirt of many days riding off my arms and legs. Then I went out into the city and ate a large sized pizza (for 2 persons) at a restaurant on the Plaza 25 de Mayo. It was good feeling knowing I would not be riding over the Cuesta del Portezuelo tomorrow. A man in Aimogasta had warned me about that pass and I would now have a day of rest before I went over it. I returned to the hotel and got into bed. I hadn’t slept in a bed in quite awhile. Civilization felt pretty good.


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