After over six weeks of living in high altitude day and night, we left our bush camp and headed down into our first campground at Yala which lies at just 1400 meters of elevation. Our day map profile looked like a big drop downhill that should be fast for all cycling but it was somewhat deceiving because in actuality it was a slow winding downhill that was accompanied by a strong headwind. The cycling was hard and long. All were rewarded by a very pleasant well appointed municipal campground that actually had hot showers and a good little restaurant with wi-fi . We have learned to appreciate the little things in life. Sleep came early this night. Robert, our lead driver, asked about using my bike for the ride into Salta the next day. His lady friend Maria is leaving us after Salta – Robert has the day off to cycle with her. Pedals are changed out and the seat lowered for Maria. I will be riding on the truck with Rob, co-owner of Bike Dreams who will fill in for Robert, and Ellen, our cook. The cyclists are off the next morning early. They are biking on a beautiful paved tree lined lane that winds into and through the city. We take the truck on a big highway around Salta and into the south side of the city to the municipal campgrounds. After a few swings through the maze of winding streets and avenues we enter the campground and head for the far end. Here is a place where the world has stood still since the 60’s but the decay has not. I’m looking at the largest pool I’ve ever seen. It’s enormous. Judging from the small grasses growing through many of the cracks, there hasn’t been water in this thing since not many years after it was built. There is what must have once been a hotel facing this empty facade just down from our end of the grounds, and beyond us a building housing banos and showers. It was locked when we arrived – from my point of view once I entered, it should have stayed locked. All buildings and camping fixtures such as the concrete tables and benches seemed to be of the same vintage as the pool and one-time hotel. There was no conversation in our vehicle. Rob backed the truck into the shade – we started unloading all the gear. I took my tent and looked for a spot. There was garbage everywhere. Absolutely everywhere. Bottles, cans, paper, food wastes, yuck and more. Rob grabbed some garbage bags and we started in picking it all up. This night we are having a barbecue here for the eight people leaving us and the one new arrival, Lettie, a trauma psychoanalyst from Holland. We need to turn this horrendous place into a party somehow. In time we have a full dumpster and hopes that we can overlook the decay. The cyclists began appearing in camp, some grumbles start but cold beer and open wine bottles tempered the complaints. Robert started the charcoal and got the meat on the grill – cooking smoke and liquor along with dance music on the truck speakers and the party was on! It was a great way to say goodbye to our friends and re-live our shared experiences. Eating, dancing and drinking our way through the evening – every time someone tried to turn the music down to a livable level, Lucho was there to crank it back up. He comes alive with the music. Shortly after we had cleaned up the area, a double decker bus arrived and out poured a group of chattering, bouncing, giggling moms and daughters. They quickly filled up many of the tables and benches. A certain level of cacophony became a constant in the neighborhood. The bus freight was also unloaded and the big vehicle disappeared. Rob went over to chat and was assured that they would be gone by five but we soon discovered that the bus had a mechanical problem and they had to wait till it was repaired. The group was on a holiday together – their destination was still five hours away. We spent the whole evening with them in our midst – it was great. They loved to dance and the young girls couldn’t get enough photos with the blue eyed gringos. A new bus arrived some time after one in the morning – when I awoke they were all gone. The party was a big success – we now had two additional days to enjoy Salta, just a short cab ride from our campsite.
Today (16th October) I got back on the bike for the first trim since my shoulder separation. The last few days I put my sling in the tent and tried life without it. No real problems so I took off this morning for a 96k ride on pavement with no big hills. A good day to give it a go. Trees have once again become a part or our environment since we dropped down from the altiplano. The first trees that stood out were some large very green willows, then we noticed a type of European poplar and soon the whole landscape was filled with trees. A big change from our days of Cerro de Pasco and Huarascan national park. In Salta I saw trees that I haven’t seen since a little oasis town in Namibia – the Jacaranda tree with beautiful lavender lilac like blooms filling the green spaces with color. We were traveling through a valley bordered on both sides by soft flowing mountain ridges. In the early stages of the ride there were a lot of planted fields and small orchards that gave way later in the morning to rolling wooded hills. It was a beautiful morning on the bicycle. Experience has taught me that the afternoon will bring hot temperatures (in the mid 40’s C) and often times headwinds as we move south so I move right along to try to reach camp early in the day. Lunch was at 60K and I didn’t dawdle – off as soon as the sandwich was gone. Ten K’s later and the heat was on. A dry sharp hot wind seemed to be rising off the pavement and sucking the moisture out of me. I drank as often and much aa I could while I moved along. Then I heard a shout from some of my mates sitting in a little restaurant in La Vina so I pulled over to join Barry, Rien, and a couple of others for a soft drink. A bottle of Fanta slid down my throat about as fast as it could then I grabbed another bottle of water and was off for the last 13K’s of hot hot headwind. I don’t do well in the heat.
Shoulder was fine.
Some of you might have seen the rankings of cyclists on the Bike Dreams web site. This Andes Trail ride is a race for all who are interested. My roommate before JR arrived in Cusco, James, is a very strong skilled cyclist who is far ahead in the rankings. Several other cyclists will race on certain days (stages) to try to get a stage win. Most of the cyclists here are not racing (including me) – we stop often for photos, a cafe, a party of locals along the roadway or any other opportunity to enjoy our environment. I found myself in 8th place through much of Ecuador and Peru not because of my abilities or because I was racing but merely because I did
not miss any days to sickness. I made up for that later in Peru and again with my shoulder injury. If you miss a racing day you are penalized 12 hours. That penalty adds up quickly if you do get very ill. There are only about 20 of us doing the whole distance from Quito to Ushuaia – very few race but those who do really enjoy the competition.