Half asleep we drop out of the night bus from Mendoza at the bus station way outside La Rioja early in the morning of May, 13th. After two coffees and breadies from a lonesome street merchant we load our bikes and head North on lonesome roads, heading for Salta. At some reservoir between the rocky mountains I chat with some Colombians, a little later, again on lonesome roads two young guys wave me down for some tools for their broken motorbike. I don't feel well stopping, but I do at the second chance. Kathrin and I move up into the mountains again, on what seems to be endless straight roads. Eventually we find an abandoned camp ground in Agua Blanca at dusk. Two days cycling through the pampas - on straight roads through plains of shrubs and dry sands for hours. At times we disturb the Condors eating their meals of hit rabbits or foxes on the road. The days are warm and sunny, the nights are almost freezing. When we reach Londres fairly exhausted in the afternoon we struggle to find a hostel. Locals ask us to knock on some doors without signs on it. I'm still puzzled by the amount of advertisement done in this village. Eventually we find some hut just on the way out to Belen.
The landscape on the first part from Belen to Hualfin is pretty picturesque, with some hot caves in the canyons. We run into Martha, a cyclist from Poland on her way to Ushuaya. A dozen kilometres before Hualfin the pavement ends, and a dirt track leads on a ridge between two valleys to Hualfin. A sandstorm on the gravel road out of town on the next morning, face wind gusts of probably 40 or 50 kilometers an hour make cycling impossible for us. We hitch for some 30 kilometres on Ruta 40, and cycle on without wind. Plain pampa again, not even a bend for ages. Just some guanacos, maras and a few donkeys for two more days to Amaicha de Valle. We stay in a nice hostel, but cannot find any open restaurants on that Sunday night.
Nor was it easy to find the way out of town the following day, due to the lack of road signs and some locals we asked the wrong type of question. They sent us uphill out of town on a gravel road, rather then the easy way on pavement. Some funny roadsigns indicating the ruins of Quilmes send us again on the wrong dirt road. Barely amused we reach the spot a few kilometres off the highway. A set of walls indicate previous houses or temples running up a hill between two kind of framing rocks with watchtower like castles. The Quilmes tribe resisted the Incas here, but was conquered and eventually deported by the Spanish conquistadors later.
Swarms of green Loro parrots fly around the fields and gather screaming on power lines. Finally we reach Cafayate, a small town in the Salta district which is famous for some of the highest and finest vine yards of the world. Blue sky, a good pizza and a nice bottle of local red wine for lunch perfect the moment and make us feel home instantly. Instead of visiting the Bodegas (wine yards) around Cafayate, we go for a hike to the waterfalls of the Rio Colorado, a few kilometers west of town, talk us out of the local guides. A Western movie like scenario of a small red rock canyon with a vivid creek and yellow leave cottonwood trees welcomes us. For about two hours we are path-finding, rock-jumping (or wading) over the Rio Colorado up the canyon. We turn around, out of food. Certainly we underestimated that hike, in both beauty and length. Then we spend a splendid sunset on the rooftop from our hostel, with two french girls and Nahuel from the hostel who plays guitar. The first attempt to leave this charming town ends with a load BANG after just a few kilometres. Kathrins tire (Schwalbe Marathon Plus) exploded, ripped along the rim, irreparable. We get a lift back to town, and a new tire next morning.
The famous Quebrada de las Conchas starts about 20 kilometres North of Cafayate, as a wide canyon of red and white and green striped beautiful rock formations beside the river. Colors of the rainbows, these rocks have them all! We pass through the first part in the late afternoon in perfect light conditions, and eventually reach Santa Barbara after fighting heavy headwind just after sundown. Daniel, a indigenous local with feather adornments on his forehead, allows us to pitch our tent beside the school. On the next morning we move on, enjoy splendid views and visit fantastic rock formations like the Anfiteatro, or the Garganta del Diablo on our way through the wonderful, colorful quebrada. Some 70 kilometers after we left Cafayate we are really happy to find a little farm that sells tasty empanadas and goat cheese. Kathrin celebrates her 10000 kilometres milestone on this journey. Later we pass by Alemania, a little sleepy village with no much supplies. We have to cycle on until La Viña, where we can camp on the soccer field. Not for the first time we are attacked by those tiny flesh eating flies the US-Americans call "No see em's", whose bites itch for days.
The countryside changes, instead of dry pampa and rocky canyons we enjoy cycling small country roads framed by high yellow flowers and tobacco fields into the suburbs of Salta. Almost 700 kilometres we cycled again, touch wood! On the consulate I can finally receive my new passport, yeah! As well, I hear about the drug problems and the connected crimes here in the city. Still waiting for the replacement credit card to arrive at the post office and eager to reach some higher goals, Kathrin and I develop a new plan: to cycle up Abra el Acay, with almost 5000 metres the highest pass in Argentina...