Calingasta to Salta, Argentina (730 miles)

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November 20th 2015
Published: November 20th 2015
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Valle de CalingastaValle de CalingastaValle de Calingasta

Looking west from where we rode out earlier that morning. The headwinds were ferocious, forcing us to pedal hard even on the downhill portions.
Hello folks, from Salta, where Fi and I are taking a few days off and enjoying the city. With about 700,000 residents (all of whom seem to be walking or driving on the narrow streets at any given time), Salta is the most Spanish colonial city in Argentina, with beautifully preserved architecture and well-manicured garden plazas.

A lot has happened since our last update, including being awoken in the middle of the night by a minor earthquake; an apocalyptic rain and hail storm that dumped over 4 inches of golfball-size hail chunks within 1 hour, turning the streets into rushing rivers; riding through nearly 500 miles of windswept desert (who knew that Argentina had so much desert!); and a bad day resulting in a trip to the emergency room for me. But we've also experienced some beautiful scenery and met several other long-haul cyclists, many with more ambitious itineraries than ours. More on all of that later. Thus far, we've ridden a bit over 1,400 miles in South America (and 3,800+ since setting out from Whitefish, Montana in July). It's about 240 miles from here to the Bolivian border; we plan to set out again on Sunday, which happens to
Setting up campSetting up campSetting up camp

Luckily, it didn't rain that night as we realized we had set up camp in a sand and clay flood plain.
be national election run-off day when Argentines will vote for a new president (their current one impresses us to be a first-rate buffoon, but I reckon that's the same everywhere!). Interestingly, stores are not allowed to sell alcohol on election days - an idea that should perhaps be considered in Florida. But I digress...

Here are some of the notable events that have transpired since our last post. We left Calingasta a few weeks ago, headed northeast to rejoin the iconic Ruta 40 - a classic long-haul bicycle touring route that many riders use on their way to the bottom end of South America. We were kind of excited to log about 1,000 kilometers on this route as many before us had done. Nobody told us, however, that it's mostly barren desert between Mendoza and Salta! No matter, it just forced us to pack more food and water, which we've done before, and gave us a greater appreciation for the small towns and villages that we did encounter along the way. One of the first towns we passed through was San José de Jachal, about 110 miles from Calingasta, and the location for our first natural disaster, or near
Streets turned to riversStreets turned to riversStreets turned to rivers

One moment we were enjoying lunch at a corner cafe in Jachal, moments later, several inches of torrential rain and several more of hail had filled the town's streets with 12 inches of rushing water. Locals who had lived their whole lives in Jachal said they had never seen anything like this... kind of scary.
disaster. After slogging through baking hot desert for a few days, we had planned to take 1 rest day there. This soon changed when the normally clear sky turned black, unleashing a torrential downpour and an incredible bombardment of enormous hailstones that flooded out the entire town. Without any way to obtain food or provisions for our next leg, we ended up staying in town for another 2 days, wading through ankle-to-knee deep icy water in the streets and cooking meagre meals on our campstove in our hotel room. There was so much hail that bucket loaders had to be pressed into service as makeshift snowplows, pushing the icy mess into piles as if a snow storm had just passed. Businesses were ruined as flood waters rushed inwards, and the hotel we were holed up in suffered considerable water damage; however, street dogs seemed to enjoy lying on the mounds of hail when the temperatures began to soar again after the storm! Despite the damage and hardship that the locals incurred from the storm, everyone we met was nothing but friendly and warm to us, a testament to their character.

A day or two later, we made
Bike encrusted in hailBike encrusted in hailBike encrusted in hail

A day after the big hail storm, a lot of the hail still remained. Much had been plowed into piles, like the aftermath of a snowstorm. Here, a bike encrusted in hail remains locked to a sign post.
our way north and bedded down in the small town of Villa Union one night, and slept pretty well until about 2.30 am, when the bed started rocking back and forth, kind of gently at first, but alarming nonetheless. We quickly realized that it was an earthquake and I lept into action; I started by checking my phone (to this day, I don't know why) and running in circles towards the front door of our cabin, and then outside in my underwear, figuring that if the roof were to collapse, being outdoors would be a pretty safe bet. Well, by the time I made it outside, the tremors had ceased and Fi - more accustomed to these South American grumblings from Mother Nature - was watching me from the bed with a somewhat bemused expression on her face . As such, I went back to bed where I didn't sleep for the rest of the night. The funny thing is that I figured that in the morning, everyone would be talking about the earthquake, but they weren't. I guess little rumbles like that are pretty normal around these parts. I do, however, suspect that the townfolk were discussing with great
Quebrada de JachalQuebrada de JachalQuebrada de Jachal

A very pretty place, and a break from the desert scrub we had been riding through.
humor the sight of a hysterical gringo running around in his underwear at 2.30 in the morning.

Since then, it´s been a lot of riding through desert. Some of it has been pretty monotonous, but some has been dramatically scenic. Since arriving at the picturesque town of Cafayate - a popular spot for French and other European and American expats, and a major wine-producing area - the scenery has been pretty special; a lot of red rocks similar to Sedona, Arizona, and quite a bit greener, another welcome change. We're currenlty in Salta, where we've decided to take a few days off the bikes (I had got to the point where I secretly hoped that someone would steal them) before continuing to Bolivia, another 240 miles from here. Fi is concerned about my weight loss (down to around 140 lbs from 167 in July) and my recent bout with food poisoning. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that a couple of days ago, actually, our first full day in Salta, I awoke with the most intense torso/abdominal pain I had ever experienced in my life. Despite vomiting, nothing would alleviate it. Fi called for an ambulance (they
Quebrada de JachalQuebrada de JachalQuebrada de Jachal

Looks kind of like parts of Arizona
charge US$10 that you need to pay in cash when they arrive). The EMTs gave me a shot (I still don't know what it was) but to no avail. We ended up taking a taxi to the emergency room where the ER doctor (?) hooked me up to an intravenous drip, mixed with some strong pain killers and God knows what else. After about 45 minutes, I began to feel better. My total bill was about $40, not bad. Unfortunately, the drugs they gave me wore off by about 2:00am that night/morning, at which point I found myself in agony again, unable to sit, stand, or lay in any comfortable position. Just when I thought I'd need to make another visit to the ER, I finally vomited the last of whatever gremlins were going to work inside me, and almost instantaneously felt much better. As I write this, my stomach is still a bit fragile, but I'm walking around and holding down food, much better than before. I was seriously thinking that my plan would have to be to go back to the local ER to persuade them to give me as many pain-numbing drugs as possible, then go directly
Ruta/Route 40Ruta/Route 40Ruta/Route 40

This 3000+ mile road from north to south is an iconic route for long haul cyclists. Unfortunately, no one tells you beforehand that it's mostly desert.
to the airport for a flight to the first major U.S. city (Miami) via Buenos Aires, and then go directly to Jackson Memorial Hospital. It was pretty bad. The worst part is the worry that I put Fi through; I regret that. In hindsight, we think it was some ice cream that we had eaten from a local shop that may have been tainted, but we'll never know for sure. I've had food poisoning several times before (most recently in 2009 from a contaminated piece of goat meat in Nepal) so I'm accustomed to having to wait out the discomfort, diarrhea, vomiting, etc. I treat it as a temporary inconvenience, but this was the worst I had ever had. Things are good now, however, and we're both looking forward to moving on. Salta is a great city to visit, evidenced by the numerous American and European tourists that flock here, and it's a great place to get a delicious steak and bottle of Malbec. I would avoid the ice cream though.

From here, we will ride north to the Jujuy region, and then upwards to 11,400 feet and the Bolivian altiplano. We'll decide how much riding we want to do after that once we arrive there. We've enjoyed much of Argentina, but have been a little shocked at how expensive some things are here due to inflation. There's been a lot of stunning scenery, and we've met a lot of very kind and outgoing people along the way, including some fellow long-haul cyclists: Matt and Sarah from the United Kingdom and Austraila (respectively) are a young couple who set out from Deadhorse, Alaska in the summer of 2014 and are on their way to Ushuaia (the southernmost town in South America), a very nice couple with a pretty ambitious undertaking. We also met a French couple (Jean and Beatrice, we think), who are travelling with their 18-month old son. They started in Lima, Peru and are also headed for Ushuaia. We met them on the road as they were proceeding in the opposite direction. It wasn't the hottest day that we had encountered (we had just finished a gnarly few days through a very inhospitable stretch of desert) but it was still pretty hot. We advised them about the heat and lack of water that they would soon find themselves riding through and we really hope that
Roadside shrineRoadside shrineRoadside shrine

We see a lot of these little shrines or memorials along the road side. Sometimes they're quite elaborate, in memory of a deceased family member, or as a memorial to Difunta Correa who walked through the desert in the 1840s following her husband (a conscripted soldier during a period of civil war). She died in the process, but her new born son, whom she carried with her, survived and was found nursing at Difunta's breast, considered a miracle. She is now considered something akin to a patron saint of miracles.
they were able to time their crossing of that particular stretch of Ruta 40 for a cloudy day. When we rode through, Fi's temperature gauge read 112 degrees F. They both seemed like intrepid yet intelligent and reasonable people, and we haven't heard about any French cyclists being stranded in the desert, so we figure that it must have worked out okay for them.

Well, I think I've rambled on enough for now. We've included a lot of photos (33, I think) and hope that you enjoy them. Thanks for checking in with us. We hope that all who read this are doing well. And Happy Thanksgiving to all our American friends and family! - Ken and Fi

Additional photos below
Photos: 33, Displayed: 28


Hot day!Hot day!
Hot day!

We rode through several 100+ degree (F) days, but this one was particularly hot. Fi's GPS computer registers 112.3 degrees in this photo. Yikes!
Lunch timeLunch time
Lunch time

Most of our lunches and other snacks are consumed along the roadside. Sometimes we find a scenic spot to stop, sometimes not.
Camp kitchenCamp kitchen
Camp kitchen

I'm always amazed by how tasty Fi's dinners are when all we have is a few simple ingredients and a single burner backpacking stove. Note the improvised 'kitchen table' that we constructed from some wooden stakes and an old signpost covered in horse poo!
My wife, the tent peg killerMy wife, the tent peg killer
My wife, the tent peg killer

This is at least the third tent peg that Fi has bent or mangled by driving them into the ground with her foot. As a result, she is both feared and loathed by our dwindling supply of healthy tent pegs. Her dad would be horrified!
Hot, windswept, and exhausted.Hot, windswept, and exhausted.
Hot, windswept, and exhausted.

Not a drop of water to be found on this 65 mile stretch of desert. We were happy to get into Santa Maria that night, exhausted. The dust and sand kicked up by the gale-force winds is clearly visible behind Fi.
I won't use the term 'selfie'...I won't use the term 'selfie'...
I won't use the term 'selfie'...

... but that's basically what we did here.
Laundry dayLaundry day
Laundry day

Most of the time we wash out our filthy clothes by hand; they're still kind of dirty, but it gets most of the grime and stench out.

A very pretty town where we took a rest day. Cafayate is a major wine producing region, and has become home to many European and American expats.
Quebrada de CafayateQuebrada de Cafayate
Quebrada de Cafayate

The scenery north from Cafayate was pretty stunning.

22nd November 2015

You two are incredible and I want you to know you are in my prayers every night!! Ken, thank you for the updates you have been providing (Catherine and I are amazed at what you've been through!). I can understand you not wanting to quit at this point as you are almost to your destination. I recently had a stroke, but thankfully I have no residual sequlae. I can still drive and continue to have arguements with Patty! I do plan (hopefully) to go back to Uptown for a day or so, but for now I am going to wait until after the holidays. Take care both of you, and I DO hope this reaches you and that the remainder of your journey becomes a bit easier. My love to you both and good wishes for the holidays. We will have a toast to you both at Christmas where we hope to celebrate in Temecula with Rick and his family. Love from all of us here, take care and you will remain in our thoughts and prayers all the time. Anna and Catherine

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