23rd February to 1st March

Sunday 23 February

After a good night at Estela’s house, we head towards the city. For lunch, we are invited by Mona and Sara to a Gourmet degustation in a Bodega (wine farm) a little outside Mendoza. We go to the Bodega Dominio del Plata, in Luján de Cuyo. As soon as we arrive there, we feel like entering in a different world: imagine a big farm, renovated recently, surrounded by vineyards. The temperature is just perfect to be in T-shirt, with a little of wind to refresh. On the terrace, some tables, and a wide area with turf and some couchs on it. In the background a pond, a line of poplars, and behind the white mountains of the Andes. Absolutely idyllic!

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The dishes are original and well presented (yes, with huge plates!). And the taste is wonderful. Of course we try several local very good wines that match perfectly the food. The lunch lasts three hours, three hours in heaven, with wonderful company, relaxing.

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Back in Mendoza, we go for a walk and ice cream, in order to digest our lunch.

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Monday 24 February

Today, the weather is rainy. But that’s not a problem, since we have many things to do at home: select and treat the pictures of Aconcagua expedition, update the website, repair Mick’s bike (the caniper is still twisted), !

Tuesday 25 February

Today too, we have many things to do. In the morning, we go to the city: Mick has a session at the ostheopath’s, while Julien goes to the post office to send the hot clothes back to France. This packet has to be approved by the customs: they only accept clean clothes. Also, it’s forbidden to send stones. In the end, for a box of 45x35x20cm and 4.8kg, the price is of 1200 pesos (that is around 115€)!

Our camera has suffered a lot during the Aconcagua expedition: some dust has blocked the zoom, which cannot go further than 8X. So we want to repair it today too. But without success: there is no Panasonic reseller here (because of the promotion of Argentinian industry), and the only thing we find is a shop with a compressor, but what he does by blowing the dust does not change much the camera problems: now the zoom is totally impossible to use. We also go to Aymara office to obtain a certificate of our ascent of Aconcagua.

For lunch, Estela has prepared for us lentejas a la criollo. It’s lentils, with chorizo, meat, spices, ! and cooked a very long time: wonderful. In the afternoon, we work on the computer! a lot still has to be done. And we prepare our bags for leaving tomorrow.

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Wednesday 26 February

Today is the big day. We finally continue our adventure by bike, more than 5 weeks after our last biking day! We get up at 7, for sunrise. After some time to organize everything, we finally leave around 10, direction Mendoza. There, the first thing is to change money, this time at a rate of 10 pesos for 1 US$. Then we buy food, and fill up the bottle for the stove. We are ready for camping tonight! Since it’s nearly noon, we decide to eat lunch in Mendoza before starting. We go to the same restaurant near plaza San Martin as we went just before meeting with the guides. Today, the daily dish is matambre con papas: it’s a huge piece of meat (but fortunately not thick), very soft with some red spices on it (not really hot!), and the potatoes are fried, but in little quantity.

So we leave Mendoza around 13h15. Once we get out of the city, we follow for a short distance the highway going South, to Luján de Cuyo. And finally, we arrive on a normal road. He traffic is not very dense, but there are many lorries (this is the main road between Mendoza and Santiago, in Chile), and they drive rather fast. We get closer and closer to the Andes cordillera. We pass by one of the biggest refinery of Argentina! and apparently, they receive CDM credits. No comment!

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The road is going up slowly. We feel like it’s flat, but we cannot go as fast as usual. The afternoon passes very slowly like this. But finally, we arrive near the lake of Potrerillos. A few kilometres more and we arrive to the city. It looks like a mountain station, as we have in the Alps, with wooden houses, and many campings and hotels. The people we meet are very friendly, and indicate us a place to stay for the night, in a small forest, near the lake and not far from the police station, so very safe.

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Surprisingly enough, we have no problem to switch on the stove (in the good sense!), and prepare dinner: pasta with tomato sauce. Youhou! We are in the adventure totally! All the evening we are followed by a dog. He is very intelligent, coming slowly to us while we are eating, not too brutal! We go to sleep around 22h30, it’s already totally dark, with a beautiful sky between the poplars.

Thursday 27 February

The alarm rings at 6h30! but we cannot get up before 8, it’s too early for today. We take our time for the breakfast. The og is still there, waiting for us to allow him taking some food we left. We leave Potrerillos around 10h30. The first step is to reach the main road. It takes us some time to find out how to climb on this road from the village under!

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Today, the weather is very nice, totally blue sky, with a strong Sun. Unfortunately, there is some front wind most of the day! We eat lunch after only 30km, it’s so hard today! every now and then ,we check the tyres to see if we have a puncture. But no, it’s only the wind, and the road going up. We find a shelter in the middle of nowhere, that gives us some shadow for eating. In fact, it’s a shelter used by the rafting companies. But the river Mendoza, that we follow, does not seem agitated at all! probably the rafting is not so interesting.

Wr arrive im Uspallata, some 50km away from Potrerillos, in the middle of the afternoon. On the way, we met two Canadian cyclists, Midge and Alex, on their way from Chile (Valparaíso) to Mendoza! then they have not decided yet where to continue. In Uspallata, we stop for buying water and food. And there, we meet an American guy, Kurt, on a “fat bike”. It’s a concept of bike with huge tyres (4 inches!), so that you can go off tracks without problems. He’s been cycling for one year since Alaska, and he thinks it’ll take him four more years to complete his world tour (without taking any more plane). What amazes us is the minimal quantity of things he has on the bike: no panniers, only some small bags. You can follow his adventures on his website: www.bikegreaseandcoffee.com.

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After this good break, we continue our way, towards Chile. Given the difficulty we had today, it’ll be hard to reach Santiago in two days. So we will continue longer than expected tonight.

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We stop some 30km after Uspallata, in the middle of nowhere. On the way, we met two Argentinian road cyclists, with a flat tyre, and with nothing to repair their bike, even though they are on a 80km tour. We built the tent some 10m lower than the road, which protects us from the sound. We mount the tent and prepare dinner super quickly tonight. After dinner, we stay a long time, watching at the stars. The free software Stellarium is absolutely wonderful to recognize all the constellations that we discover in the Austral sky!

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Friday 28 February

We get up at 6h30. Today’s going to be a hard day. We have to go to the border and pass it, if we want to have a chance to arrive in Santiago tomorrow evening as expected (and enjoy the Sunday to do things with Pablo, Mick’s friend in Santiago). After breakfast, Mick realizes that the sleeping bags and tent, he had left outside to aerate, are now wet because of the dawn. The best option now is to wait for the Sun to come (it takes still 1h30 more, since the Sun is hidden by the high mountains around us) to dry everything. So we finally leave at 10h30. 4h to get ready this morning! That’s a record.

The weather is very similar to yesterday: mainly clear sky, good temperatures, but a strong head wind. The road also is quite the same, with a long dark ribbon stretching to the infinite in front of us, winding, with some going up, “going down” (in fact a flat section that our brain interprets as going down), in a very mineral landscape. The mountains around us show reddish colorations. We meet again Kurt on our way up! he passes us on his fat very light bike. With the wind against us and the regular lorries, going very fast, on both sides of the road, we are often moved from our trajectory (even with our bike of 50kg!).

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Finally, around14h, we arrive in Penitentes, the village where we slept one night before starting Aconcagua. The hotel we had been is now closed. So we eat lunch in the shade of another hotel, in front. Then we continue a few kilometres, to the next village, Puente del Inca. It’s a natural bridge above the Cuevas river (an affluent of the Mendoza river). But the thermal waters recovered the bridge of limestone and algae, making it totally irreal. A thermal baths centre used to be working in these waters, but is now closed. 2km further, we are at the entrance of the Aconcagua Park.

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As we continue the road, towards the unknown, we keep climbing, up to the village of Las Cuevas. We finally reach 3200m, and the entrance of the tunnel del Cristo Redentor (called this way for the Christ sculpture erected at the top of the pass, some 800m higher). The tunnel crosses the border with Chile, and it is forbidden to bicycles. But it’s well organised: someone comes from the other side with a small lorry, and can make us cross. After a beginning of the descent, we arrive to the customs. It’s a little messy, with many different queues, but we have seen worse. We pass the customs without having to show all our bags (Chile is very picky about the fruit, veggies, meat coming from Argentina because of the illness it may contain. We were expecting a search, but nothing to do, great!). But it’s already 20h30, and the night is falling. We stop at the first hotel we meet, asking for a low price! the hotel has room at 100$ per night minimum, and is very used in winter by the skiers coming here to train (many American, Austrian, Canadian, Italian alpine skiing champions!). Finally, we are invited to sleep in the living room (the hotel is empty these days). With a good plate of spaghetti, and a wonderful night to come, we are overwhelmed!

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Saturday 1 March

We get up at 7h, and pack up our things quickly. After only 200m on the road, we are stopped: the road is under construction, and only in one direction at a time. And the worker over there precises us that even in bicycle we cannot while the others have not finished, since the Argentinians are very imprudent. Fortunately, we do not wait much. The first part of the way down to Los Andes is a steep road with many hairpins. This part is called Los Caracoles (the snails), guess why! It’s a pleasure to fly down this road, overpassing the lorries.

Then, we continue going down, smoothly, till Los Andes. It’s the first important town we cross in Chile. We have breakfast there. And we head to Santiago. The capital city of Chile is some 80km away, and the only road to go there is a highway. Of course, it-s clearly written forbidden to bicycles! but according to the locals we asked, it’s the only road, and they often see bicycles. So let’s go! During most of the highway, we are on the emergency lane, somehow protected from the traffic. It’s hard, boring, but we can go quite fast. We have to pass a tunnel, without any emergency lane: no problem, a van comes to pick us up to cross it. It’s forbidden for the bicycles, but they have official services to help them!

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We arrive in Santiago around 16h30. We have to cross the whole city to arrive to Pablo’s house, in the district of Providencia. Pablo is a friend of Mickael’s, he will host us in Santiago for the time we stay. He leaves here with his girlfriend Blandine. We arrive at their house after exactly 143km today. That is our new record!! After a good shower and some rest, we have dinner with our hosts: a Completo, that is typical food for students here. It’s a sandwich, with a soft bread that has been toasted, with a sausage, some small pieces of tomatoes, purée of avocado, and sauce (ketchup, mustard). That’s perfect for tonight, easy to prepare, good, with a fresh taste from the avocado.

And here comes the video for these days: