Shrines and records

Trip Start Mar 11, 2005
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Trip End Jul 15, 2005


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Sunday, May 29, 2005

We stayed more than a week in Mendoza, doing normal things. Mendoza's a small attractive city in the heart of Argentina's wine producing country and it would have been rude not to visit a couple of wineries and do a little sampling. But it's also good to be able to do nothing, or to lie on in the morning and not worry about having to get up at a certain time for fear of not being able to do enough miles to reach the next destination in time. Or to go to the cinema: just how did Keanu Reeves get to become an actor? We've found that going to the cinema usefully fills an evening, for around these parts no-one goes out until at least one in the morning; so, watch a film, have dinner, then hit the town!

We've mentioned before the shrines to Difunta Correa, a young woman who, as the legend goes, was trying to help her conscripted husband by following him with badly needed food and water, but herself succumbed to lack of water: she was found dead, having died of thirst, but remarkably with her small child still suckling at her breast. In the areas through which we've travelled she seems to be venerated as a saint, perhaps held in such high esteem as the Virgin Mary. Shrines to her are everywhere by the roadside, usually with bottles of water to quench her thirst, left by travellers asking for her continued protection. We even see bottles of water placed on top of parked cars, presumably again to seek protection, or maybe to stop them being stolen - though why anyone would want to steal some of the cars around here is a bit of a mystery, but that's a whole different story!



Anyway, our route northeast of Mendoza took us past the spot where she is supposed to have been found, a spot which is now a village that has grown up around the Difunta Correa industry. Atop a a large mound stands a small building containing the life-sized statue of the Difunta Correa and her suckling child. Fixed to the walls are photographs of people, but also of cars, presumably in the hope that Difunta Correa will protect all those who travel within. All around are models of houses and factories, presumably copies of people's own houses and businesses and left behind in the hope of protection. But perhaps most bizarre is that people leave car parts, number plates, and even whole cars so that areas begin to take on the look of a scrap yard! Actually, on reflection, the most bizarre 'offering' was a plaster leg cast - now what's that all about?


Difunta Correa

But DC doesn't have it all her own way: she has a rival for her affections in the form of 'Gauchito Gil', a kind of Argentinian Robin Hood with a touch of James Bond about him. We'd been mystified by the sight of roadside shrines that had no bottles of water, but rather were draped in or surrounded by blood-red flags. On the way to visit DC, we came upon the major Gauchito Gil shrine which, as yet, has failed to attract a single hotel, restaurant, school, house or even a souvenir shop. All that it had was a little girl selling home-made bread and asking for sweets: we gave her some biscuits and bought a loaf of bread - which added substantially to the weight of the pannier bag!


The Gauchito Gil Shrine

Now those of you who are young will know that you can be quite competitive: those of you who are old might just remember that once you were young. Philsy, who is adamant that he was once young (but obviously a very long time ago), a while ago cycled with one Roger Perowne from Land's End to John O'Groats and they managed to cycle 122 miles in a single day. Since then, Philsy has been quite content to rest on his really quite substantial laurels. However, he made the mistake of mentioning this feat to Starky who, by a cruel twist of fate, happens to be Seņor Perowne's Hatfield College (Durham University) 'son'. (Can you see where this is heading??) Whilst cycling from London to Lisbon, Philsy and Starky managed 118 miles - so near and yet so far, and Starky was sorely tempted to cycle 50 times around Toro's main square to clock up the miles, but was advised by the geriatric that this really wouldn't be cricket and a hot shower was more the ticket. However, hints have been dropped on the way through Argentina to a still disinterested Philsy that perhaps the record could be broken.



It's flat in these parts and the roads are good. We'd stopped for a roadside popo (well dogs do it all the time) when an extraordinary realisation dawned upon us: there was a tailwind! Now followers of our chronicles will know that tailwinds haven't featured strongly, principally because we seem to be cycling the wrong way. Suddenly all thought of bodily functions were cast adrift in favour of a leather saddle and we were soon cruising along at a heady 21mph. It didn't last of course, but by the time it turned to a more familiar headwind, we had 90 miles under our belts and the bits between our teeth (no mean feat when you have dentures!). Our first target was the next town at 106 miles which would already beat our longest day so far on this trip by 4 miles. We arrived at about 4.30pm, stocked up with biscuits and a 45p litre of fine red wine for celebratory purposes, and ploughed on knowing that we might even be able to reach the next town. We soon passed 118 miles and then the all-important 122 miles; this was quickly followed by 125 miles which is significant for those of a non-Britannic extraction as this apparently equates to just over 200 of those kilometre jobbies. At 133 miles and just as it was getting dark, we hit upon a small setback - a puncture! A quick tube change and we were on our way again, but now it was pitch black. But we're a team and as any good team should, we worked together - Philsy in front with a flashing white LED light on his bike and another attached to his head, whilst Starky with his really rather fine rear red LED light followed closely behind. (No expense spared on our trip!) And so we cycled for another hour, crossing the 150 mile milestone and arriving in the small city of La Rioja having cycled 152 miles (245 kms), knackered, but really rather pleased with ourselves: Starky because he had broken the record, and Philsy because he had stopped cycling. A very, very good day's work.


Do you mind? I have just cycled 152 miles.

It's physically exhausting work though all this cycling and getting enough sleep to recuperate is sometimes impossible. A couple of times now we have aborted take-off as Starky, who needs his sleep, has reported to sick bay, too tired to cycle. Philsy seems to keep on going, but occasionally takes a bit of a nap whilst cycling which, along with his ability to sleep with his eyes open, is really quite disturbing! So the team has decided that now we have left the rigours of Patagonia far behind, we will take it a bit easier and take time to enjoy this fascinating part of the world. We spent a day in La Rioja and we're now spending a couple of days here in Catamarca, both very attractive small cities full of delightful Spanish colonial-style buildings, orange trees, palm trees and cacti. The weather has changed markedly to maybe 25 degrees centigrade during the day and 15 at night, which suits us both. We're enjoying it; 'tis good


Toma la buena!!
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