Frozen

I felt it for the first time in Humahuaca. I had been riding through the beautiful, what do I say, stunningly beautiful, Northwestern tip of Argentina. Purmamarca, Tilcara and finally Humahuaca to settle for the night. The days were warm enough, very warm even and the scenery just impossibly colorful.

In Purmamarca
In Purmamarca
Colors
Colors

But when night fell, it was time to hide away. Time to crawl under a blanket as fast as possible and don’t go out until morning. Yes, I was getting closer to the Equator, the weather could only get warmer, but at the same time, I was climbing higher and higher in altitude. The nightly chill followed me into Bolivia and though the scenery was getting even more beautiful (Bolivia is kind of the undiscovered beauty of South America), it was getting colder and colder. On my way to Uyuni, night caught me in a smallish town called Atocha. Over time, I’ve created a category for this kind of town, I call it “ghastly little mining towns”. They give you a much deeper insight of life in the country outside of the tourist circuit but the regular comforts that I’ve come to expect from city life are non-existent. I checked-in at the better looking *hotel* without even realising that the name meant that it was right next to the train tracks.

Residencial Punta Rieles
Residencial Punta Rieles
My bed in Atocha
My bed in Atocha
But the train stopping next to my window and blowing the horn multiple times at 1AM wasn’t the worst. The worst part was that I had to sleep inside my winter sleeping bag. Partly because I didn’t want to touch the bedsheets but mostly to avoid freezing to death during the night. It was also the most expensive accommodation I paid in my whole stay in Bolivia.
Eventually I woke up the next day in good enough health to ride to Uyuni and enjoy the incredible views of the altiplano. I almost didn’t survive the electrically heated shower (proper insulation being one of those comforts we’ve come to expect from civilisation) but that’s just a small detail.
The scarcity of oxygen was playing some tricks on me and at some point of that beautiful ride through the high plains, my wondrous steed and I found ourselves moving at different speeds and both with the wrong parts of our bodies touching the ground. I, slowly dragging with my ass on the ground and her sliding on one of the panniers. None of us were badly hurt but it was sobering. I should be more careful when I’m lacking oxygen. Also, sand was involved; I hate sand.

Crash site
Crash site
High and flat: Altiplano
High and flat: Altiplano
I eventually found the salt flats, wondered at their white flat immensity, took the customary false perspective pictures, then gawked a bit more and withdrew to the town of Uyuni. A town that would probably fall in the aforementioned category if it wasn’t for the proximity of the salt flats.

Big bike
Big bike
It was also freezing at night. A side effect of freezing night and unheated hostels is that the common room quickly becomes a place where you don’t want to be and everyone is sleeping by 10PM.
It’s getting late and I ride to Colombia tomorrow so the rest of this post will just be pictures of other beautiful places where I froze my ass. Suffice it to say that I was getting tired of being cold and breathless (for lack of oxygen) but stayed at high altitude because, paradoxically, I didn’t want to miss any of the breathtaking scenery that Bolivia has to offer. Also, because most of Bolivia isn’t very close to the sea.

Coroico
Coroico

Crossing the Titicaca
Crossing the Titicaca
Leaving Potosi
Leaving Potosi
Arriving to La Paz
Arriving to La Paz
Titicaca
Titicaca
On the Titicaca
On the Titicaca
To Coroico
To Coroico
Isla del Sol
Isla del Sol
On the Death Road
On the Death Road
On the road in Bolivia
On the road in Bolivia
The chill followed me into Peru and stayed with me until around the Ecuadorian border. I don’t regret it, it was an awesome experience and I’ve seen scenery, ridden roads and met people that will stay in my mind and heart forever. It was incredible and there will be more posts about Peru. I just wanted to convery a bit of the other things that you don’t get to feel in the pictures. In this case, the cold.

Quito, Quito, Ecuador

Songs of Argentina, a summary

Ever since I reached Buenos Aires, I have been posting songs on Facebook, songs that where related to the place I was or the ride I did, songs that I grew up with and are part of my cultural baggage. Here’s the retrospective, with the comments.

March 27th, arrived to Buenos Aires, I posted two songs

Record day: 1066km today. At 9:15am I was leaving Las Grutas, in the province of Río Negro. At 11:30pm, I was entering my parents apartment in Buenos Aires.
Can’t sleep now. Must be all that Coke and Pepsi and coffee flowing through my veins.
Here’s a song for you 🙂

That day I had started in Patagonia, crossed the Pampa Húmeda and finally arrived to Buenos Aires, going through 3 provinces and many different climates.

April 21st, I hit the road again and arrived to Rosario

I’m finally back on the road and I’m in Rosario. The birthplace of the Argentinean flag. It is also the birthplace of one of my favorite pop stars, Fito Páez, and of our most beloved comedians, Alberto Olmedo.
I also discovered today that the concert I thought I had missed one month ago was today. I did miss it after all… Here’s a song I could have heard tonight, a song Fito Páez dedicated to Alberto Olmedo. Enjoy!

April 23rd, I was already in Córdoba

There are places in Argentina where I’ve never been before but have always been in my mind through songs. I’m in Córdoba now and this one comes to mind. The rhythm is called Cuarteto and it’s typical from Córdoba. Enjoy!

April 27th, I left Tafí del Valle for Cafayate

I have left the rock region and I am now officially in the North, home of some of our most beautiful folkloric songs. Yesterday I spent the night in Tafí del Valle, a beautiful city in the province of Tucumán. Atahualpa Yupanqui, one of our greatest authors has written a very special song to the Tucumán moon. It is very difficult to choose a version to post but here’s one. Start at 2:49 if you want to skip the speech.

April 30th, I was in Salta after Cafayate

Yesterday I tried to leave Cafayate through National Road 40 (the famous Ruta Cuarenta) but after 5 km of sand, I turned back and took National Road 68. It reminded me of why this song was written 🙂

There it is, I hope you have enjoyed the songs of my country. As I leave Bolivia, there may be more posts if the internet connection gets any better. I leave you with one last song, a rock version of our national anthem by the greatest rock artist Argentina has ever seen and will, Charly García. In a way it’s related to any post that may come about Bolivia too but I will have to explain that in another post.

Copacabana, Provincia Manco Kapac, Bolivia

El Gauchito Gil

One of the first things that got my attention on the roads of Argentina was the profusion of little shrines surrounded by offerings and decorated with red flags that can be spotted in most provinces I’ve visited. They are usually under trees but not restricted to that (especially where there’s no such thing as trees).

 

A roadside shrine to the Gauchito Gil
A roadside shrine to the Gauchito Gil
There isn’t nearly as many as there are roadside wats in Thailand but there is enough to be noticed.

I knew somehow that this was not a Christian thing, there’s always been little shrines dedicated to Virgin Mary of Luján along the roads of Argentina but this felt different. Only after a while my subconscious finally made the link and I realised they were shrines dedicated to the Gauchito Gil. But who is this and why is it everywhere? The devotion to Gauchito Gil is a heathen devotion that originates in Northeastern Argentina, in the province of Corrientes, and is apparently propagated by truck drivers. He is said to work miracles.

The legend has it that the gaucho Antonio Gil, an adorer of San La Muerte (another pagan devotion), had a romance with a rich widow and that earned him the hatred of her brothers and of a police sheriff that had courted her. Seeing the danger to his life, he enlisted himself to fight in the Paraguayan war. After coming back, he was enlisted by the Autonomist Party of the province of Corrientes to fight in the provincial civil war against the Liberal Party but he defected. Defection being punishable by death, he was hanged from a tree by his foot and his throat slit. Before dying, he told his executioner that he should pray in his name for his son’s health. The executioner’s son healed miraculously and so he decided to give Gil proper burial. The red flags are the symbol of the Autonomist Party.

There is other versions of the story and more on San La Muerte in wikipedia in Spanish and in English. Some of the versions even omit the bit about San La Muerte and make him a Christian, thus trying to make him into a Catholic saint. The Catholic Church obviously wants nothing to do with it.

It’s one of those things you only notice if you are riding the roads instead of sitting inside a bus.

Roadside shrine
Roadside shrine

Salta, Municipio de Salta, Argentina

A day in Patagonia

La pluie et le beau temps
La pluie et le beau temps

Sometimes I ride through ugly places.

No, not really.

I have been to the Southernmost city of the continent and to the very end of National Road 3 (a.k.a. Ruta Tres) and now I’m riding it to the North in a mad rush to reach Buenos Aires in the shortest possible time. Why? Because I like doing stupid things just for fun.

The landscape is quite bleak. It’s mostly steppe, very windy steppe with no trees and the occasional bush. Not much to see. Fortunately, the sky compensates and the clouds are a thing of beauty. Today’s sunset as I was arriving in Caleta Olivia can only be described as the orange version of the Northern lights. I didn’t take any photos for fear of not doing it justice and spoiling the moment.

Earlier during the day though, I got drenched. During 200km I could see a big patch of rain in the horizon and I kept wondering if the road would take me through it or around. Sure enough, the road went straight into it and it poured. I realised that my Spidi jacket is not waterproof anymore but I survived to see the amazing image that the photo on top of this post not even begins to portray. It just doesn’t do it justice. Once the rain moved East towards the sea, beautiful clouds were left in the West where the sun was starting to set and a mighty rainbow formed in the West over the (still) pouring rain. Simply beautiful.

A long day awaits tomorrow. Over and out.

Hello there!
Hello there!
Oh, and a song I could have listened to today but didn’t.

 

 

Mercado de la Ciudad, Municipio de Caleta Olivia, San Jorge Gulf

Miorița

Today is a sad day. Today, on my way from El Calafate to the Chilean border, I ran over a sheep. Today I want to tell the story of Miorița. I didn’t kill the sheep, but I must have hurt it pretty badly because it was shaking and tried frantically to limp away from me when I approached her on foot.

The tale of Miorița was related to me in Samarqand, Uzbekistan by a group of shady-looking Romanians who were running the Mongol Rally, their team was called Free Miorița. The views about Romania in this article reflect what they tried to convey with this tale. As far as I remember anyway.

Miorița was a sheep. She was very fond of her shepherd and when she heard that two other shepherds, envious, were plotting to kill him in order to steal his herd, she went straight to him and told him about the danger to his life. Despaired, the shepherd asked Miorița that, should the worst befall him, she should make sure that he gets proper burial and never tell that he was murdered.

The actual poem is much longer and has other nuances but the point is that this tale symbolises the conformism and tragic mood of the Romanian people. Their aim as a team, and in their lives was to fight against this and debunk the myth of Miorița as a foundational story for the Romanians. I wish them good luck.

On my bike I have two stickers that they gave me and the other day I was about to cover one with another sticker. Maybe now I won’t. I have been meaning to write about this story for a very long time but somehow I couldn’t fit it anywhere. Now seems to be as good a moment as any.

Miorița
Miorița

Of course the sheep I ran over has nothing to do with Miorița but I felt sorry for it as I felt sorry for the shepherd when I heard the tale for the first time.

The bike didn’t suffer any damage as far as I can tell but I did get a hell of a scare. After hitting it, I lost control of the bike for about 20 meters. I didn’t think at any moment that I would come off, though.

By the way, sheep are not usually that stupid. Most sheep run away from the road when they see you coming. This particular flock was having a cow day and decided to cross the road when they saw me coming at 100kph.

Natales, Provincia de Última Esperanza, Chile

Awesome day is awesome

So, the new Pope is Argentinean. Well, the Perito Moreno glacier too and it’s awesome. IT. IS. AWESOME. I went for a trek on top of it today and it is unbelievable. I can’t say more because I really don’t have words for it but after the trek I rode to the catwalks and stalked the glacier for more than one hour with my camera in video mode. I managed to capture a big rupture on video and here it is 🙂

Macrozona Bahía Redonda y Primeros Faldeos, Municipio de El Calafate, Argentina