Friday, March 4, 2011

Friday 4 Mar: heading up the Aconcagua valley

I never expected a day heading towards south America's highest mountain to be quite so relaxing. Maybe the fact we've not yet spotted it behind all the other towering peaks helps. Fortunately, we'll only be passing by it rather than right over Aconcagua (6962m) itself!
As predicted we had plenty of sleep to catch up on after late nights and overnight bus journey, so we made full use of the midday checkout time at the hotel. Los Andes must have one of the nicest tourist information gentlemen we'll ever meet. He seemed delighted to see us arrive and enter his information shed, and invited us both in to sit down and get all our questions answered. I almost thought he would offer a cup of tea too! Despite him not knowing a word of English we understood almost all he said, partly due to our improving skills but mainly because he spoke nice and slowly and with plenty of gestures! There wasn't really a huge amount for him to say though: tourist facilities in this area are fairly limited, and generally outweighed by trucker stops.
He had some good photos on his PC of the road to Mendoza we plan to follow. He warned about many lorries along it, but when we came to it we found it had been resurfaced since his photos were taken and now has a good sized shoulder making it quite easy to cycle. Also the traffic seems fairly friendly, even though there is a lot of it, as I guess everyone setting out on this pass has already mentally prepared themselves for a solid journey that can involve a good chuck of time behind slow trucks labouring the climb, or even more so the descent judging by stuff coming the other way! A lot of international vehicles, Argentine as expected but also Paraguay, Peru, Uraguay, Bolivia plates or destinations.
Like yesterday we had more great views up and down the valley, but again too hazy to do much justice in photographs.
We were both grateful to find the one campsite we'd been told about on this road, at the 74km marker 28k from town as promised. As well as both being a bit tired still, and feeling the heat of the day, we seemed to develop a slow puncture midafternoon and it was useful to be able to fix it with the bike unloaded at the site as, of course, it was the real wheel. This was the tyre I swapped over from the front wheel 2 days ago - think I managed to get some sand in it which did it, certainly doesn't look this the Marathon plus tyre itself has let us down yet!
The campsite is right between the road and railway line, so could be a bit noisy overnight. The railway predates the road pass, and must have been quite something in it's day. It no longer runs right through to Argentina, but seems to be used for mineral transportation for some mines.
At least the site will be convenient as after an early supper and sleep we will try to get out for an early assault on the main climb tomorrow, before the temperature gets too high; it was predicted to peak at 29°C today, and every day for the next week! As we're further north again daylight is officially now from 7:30 to 20:15, some 4 hours less than when we started out. And of course we're now right amongst the mountains making days even shorter. So we'll probably be getting up in the dark for the first time in months!