Trip Start Mar 11, 2005
19Trip End Jul 15, 2005
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Last time we wrote we were in Bariloche. From there we had intended to head straight out of the mountains on a 'major' road eastwards towards Neuquen, and then head up to our next major target of Mendoza. But in Bariloche we were advised to take a detour around the lakes nearby as it would be a shame to miss them. It would have been. The scenery was glorious - as we hope you can see from the photographs - and well worth having to get back onto the ripio again!
We took our time though as there was no point in seeing it, and not seeing it. So we were able to cope with the, at times, quite difficult terrain without the usual time pressure and we enjoyed soaking up the landscape as we meandered alongside the lakes and through delightful wooded valleys. It was a bit 'Shangri-La revisited' as humming birds hovered and flocks of brightly-coloured parrots did their thing. We were even serenaded one evening by a classically-trained folk singer whilst we drank her homemade rosehip liquor: neither were really our thing, but it's all about the experience!
As we've made our way northwards, the climate has changed. At night it has been very, very cold with the thermometer dropping to several degrees below zero. Camping wild becomes an exhilarating experience, especially as we really need to wash after many hours of sweaty cycling. We try to find a river where we can get water for our water bottles (the water is very pure and comes straight from the mountains) and have a chance to wash. The water is a greenish/grey colour, betraying its glacial origins and temperature. But being British ( + 1 wannabee) we wade in up to our knees and attend to the regions. This requires a certain amount of privacy which is usually not a problem in these parts, but one can be surprised such as on one occasion when a stranded startled starkers Starky stood stoically still, struggling to think of the appropriate Spanish terminology to explain his rather unusual predicament to a passing mounted gaucho who suddenly appeared from the trees. Starky came up with "Hola" (what has he been doing for the last 12 months??) and the gaucho quickly averted his gaze. This is more than can be said for his dog which headed excitedly for the water; Starky again struggled to come up with the appropriate phraseology to explain that this was neither the time nor the place to make new friends. He resorted to whimpering: Fido fled. Philsy was left astonished both at Starky's mastery of the Spanish language and his uncanny empathy with the canine world.
But now it's getting warmer and the flora and fauna reflect the change. We haven't seen guanacos for a while, and only the occasional rhea. Birds of prey abound and we still see condors (usually in pairs) hovering high overhead trying to work out whether Philsy is actually moving or not. Most of the birds of prey are presumably looking for roadkills of which we see plenty including the occasional wild boar, skunk, wild cat, and snakes, but mainly grey foxes. We're seeing many more insects, particularly huge spiders, beetles and crickets and the usual irritants like mosquitoes and midges. The new flora we're seeing include wild roses, boysenberries and pampas grass, and the occasional cactus. Trees are now able to grow so the landscape is much less barren and the land, if irrigated, is able to sustain agricultural and horticultural activities. So now we're seeing cattle, sheep and goats, orchards and, around Mendoza, vineyards. But such cultivation is only possible because of irrigation using water channelled from the Andes. This is basically desert: remarkably, in 2320 miles of cycling, we have had no rain.