Long time no write. More than 8 months I am on the road now, and almost 6 with Kathrin. We spent March and April resting our legs and bum from the pedaling, travelling by bus with friends. And for 5 weeks we rented us a house in San Pedro La Laguna at Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. I studied Spanish with a great private teacher that really got me into the language and the grammar, so that I felt much more confident talking with the locals. If you ever come by San Pedro, pay Fransisco a visit: www.spanishstepbystep.org. We hosted some travelling cyclists for a few nights and shared laughs, experiences and great food from our own kitchen. As well, we thought about how to continue our journey. Since we haven´t heard much good about the other parts of Central America, we decided to fly to Chile next, and cycle from there towards Peru, towards Machu Pichu.
Golden autumn leaves on the trees, dry meadows and a cold sunshine welcome us in Santiago de Chile. Fierce bus drivers in the city scared me more than anywhere else I rode so far. In the distance we could see the white peaks of the Andes already from Cerro Santa Lucia, and the prices are way on European level. Kathrin and I leave the city, and within two days riding through wineries and dry farm land we find ourselves in the Andes, heading for the Paseo de Liberadores. Cactuses and shrubs are the main vegetation out here in between the rocks, framed by snow capped peaks. Around and in the villages in the river valleys are cottonwood and willow trees planted. A train used to go from Santiago to Mendoza once, and its old railroad tracks lay on the other side of the valley. Another day of ascending the pass road, we reach the thirty something serpentines climbing up a steep hillside. Somewhere in between, a construction worker picks us up and brings us a few kilometers further up, having mercy on us with the snow to come soon enough. A few more kilometers, and we reach the tunnel Christo Redentor at about 3200 meters. The Chilenean police maintain a service for cyclists to bring them to the other side in a pickup truck. We go for it since the pass road is closed already, and the icy wind chilled our enthusiasm already a lot. A few kilometers past the tunnel we can spot Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America. The abandoned rails with its demolished snow shelters still run parallel to the road. We spend an expensive but warm night in a hotel at Puente del Inca, and visit the famous natural bridge with the colorful sediments from a hot spring on the next morning. It is a long way down to Uspallata. We enjoy magnificent views in a wide valley framed by steep colorful mountains but suffer constant face wind and many little ascends on those 70 kilometers. During that day we get a glimpse what is ahead of us - long stretches without settlements and shops for supplies and hardly traffic, which is good. We see the town from the distance in the evening sun, a big yellow colored cottonwood carpet between the dry rocky mountains. Finally we reach an ATM (with a big queue in front of it), and finally we find some shops with vegetables after eating mainly meat for two days. And we get some other glimpses of Argentine: the dialect is very tough for me to understand, and the vehicles are a wide spectrum ranging from 30 some year old Renaults, Fords and Fiat to the latest SUV models.
It takes us two more days to get to Mendoza. On the way my helmet and my drinking bottle were removed from a lonely junction where I left them as a sign for Kathrin for half an hour or so. I hope someone needed them more urgent than I. Mendoza is a big city in an area famous for its wine at the footsteps of the Andes. We are happy to be out of the cold, and less than 1000 metres above sea level. After a noisy night in a hostel I am eager to leave town, to get further North. On our way out we pass some rather desolate stretches of garbage and poor looking huts. After 55 kilometers I rest to wait for Kathrin, do some Yoga on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. When Kathrin arrives, we talk about cycling on for another hour before pitching out tent somewhere. Suddenly two young men ran over the street, yell "Plata, plata" at us. One of them waves with a silver revolver at me, the other stays at Kathrins side. Kathrin tells them she would give them the money, holds her wallet already in her hand, when the guy with the pistol decides to take my backpack instead. Both disappear in the shrubs on the other side of the road, the whole scene took place in less than a minute. We stop a car to call the police immediately. The police men interview us and search the area with horsemen, yet without any trace of the gangsters. After what seems ages on the side of the road and in a police office, we were brought back to Mendoza.
The backpack contained not much money, but the passport, the wallet with the credit cards, my diary of the last 4 months on the road, my cheapish camera and my old laptop. These wrenches basically took a lot of stuff without much monetary value. Thus we hoped they might have dumped it somewhere nearby, and went out to search for it on our own the following day in a rental car. Yet without luck, we could not find any trace of the backpack nor the diaries. Luckily I could block the credit cards before they were used.
What to do? Terminate the trip or keep going? Evaluating the situation on the following days, we found that I could order a new passport at the German consulate in Mendoza, and have it sent to Salta within two weeks. To see how much we were still eager to travel Argentina after the raid, we decided to go on a road trip in a rental car, and visit some nearby National parks. But that’s for the next chapter…