February 1, 2016
Today I officially entered Patagonia. There was a sign on Ruta 40. It said Patagonia Region, Argentina. On the north side of the sign was desert. On the south side of the sign was, well, more desert. But I am confident that, after days of riding due south on Ruta 40 through the desert, tomorrow will make all the difference.
I continue to learn interesting lessons. Well, interesting to me, anyway. Like, when you camp for two days in a campground that only turns the electrical outlets on from 9pm to 2am, and all of the outlets are nailed to trees, and it rains all night, you end up with dead electronic devices. Dead phone, dead iPad, dead laptop, dead camera battery. So, since I couldn’t charge anything except my waterproof Delorme inReach GPS tracker in the rain, I instead ran everything dead sitting in my tent reading. So I have no photos from the past couple of days. (Perhaps it is a sign: “Put down the electronic crap and spend more time looking around and enjoying the ride!”) Last night’s campground in Malargüe had only one outlet that my adapter fit (there are two different kinds of plugs here in Argentina), and it was in the office, which closed around 9pm, so I charged my laptop, then drained half the laptop charging my phone. Finally tonight, the campground here in Las Lajas has a power strip near my tent that my adapter fits, and it is turned on even though it’s only 7:30pm. And it’s not raining. So the camera battery is finally getting charged.
There are definitely pros and cons to camping, in addition to the odd electrical outlet provisions. One of the biggest advantages of course is cost: most of these places are municipal campgrounds, and are relatively nice for tent camping. They have cost me between free ($0) and five dollars a night. You also meet a lot of interesting people, but most are also traveling; some are from Argentina, some from Chile, a few from further away. I’ve seen no other overlanders (motorcycle, camper, bicycle or otherwise) in these campgrounds.
One of the biggest downsides to camping is that you miss the actual city. I camped outside of Mendoza for two nights. (Side note: when you check into a campground, ask if they allow bass drums. No, really. Long story, but there was a huge soccer match Saturday in Mendoza and a large party turned up at my campground, complete with bass drum and trumpet, all in their matching jerseys and ready to party. And they beat the drum all day, and half the night). It wasn’t until I packed up and left my campsite, and stopped at an ATM downtown (after stopping at the giant WalMart to do some grocery shopping), that I saw what a beautiful city Mendoza is. Imagine a small-town downtown feel, with sidewalk cafes, except the sidewalks are about 15 feet wide, and there are huge trees lining both sides of the streets. Very nice.
Malargüe is another example. Small town with a lot of adventure tourism. I saw signs for ski rentals, ATV tours, lots of camping, and for the first time since leaving the States, I saw a lot of pickup trucks with real dirt bikes in the back, and even a few pulling trailers with Polaris RZR side-by-sides.
The past few days have been primarily on Ruta 40, which as I think I mentioned earlier, is the National highway that runs the length of Argentina (over 5,000 kilometers) on the western side from the border with Bolivia to Rio Gallegos near the tip of South America. In the north and central parts, where I’ve been, this is like riding though the desert portion of Wyoming, or Utah, and/or Arizona, for days. South of Mendoza, towns are very far and few between, as are people. In places, such as today near Barranca, the road suddenly turns to gravel, sometimes for more than 60 miles at a time. Yesterday, when given a choice between taking the long way around on a dirt road to Malargüe as my GPS suggested, or the shorter road which had the sign indicating it was the official route to Malargüe, I chose the official route. And spent 40 miles riding gravel washboard so rough that I understand much better the term “detached retinas”. I ended up standing for most of the 40 miles, which wasn’t easy on my bad ankle. But I figure all of this is preparing me for the southern portion of Ruta 40, much of which has not been paved yet, and is constantly windy.
Tomorrow I will cross back into Chile to continue south on the Carretera Austral (Ruta 5). I think the real scenery is coming soon.