I am sitting in the dining room of a small camp ground on the outskirts of somewhere. The sleepy town seems to be here for no reason at all. The kind of place that just is. The plaid table cloths and vinyl chairs remind me of what I imagine a small American diner circa 1970 would be like, I suppose all that décor had to go somewhere.
The town is dusty, with no paved roads, a supermarket the size of the first coffee shop I worked in (big enough for two people), it also features a 4 hour siesta, so I’m glad I came here with snacks. Now it sounds like this town has no charm, it has, which is why I decided to spend the night.
I ride through many small towns you see, clocking up around 500km each day, so you start to get a feeling for the good ones, the real ones. Where the kids stop playing soccer to wave when you ride by, where people stand in open doorways to see who it is, when you stop and ask for information and the answer tends to be longer than you want rather than short, where people ask where you’re from and where you plan to go.
Now I’d already spent 5 hours on the road when I pulled up here and my bum was just too sore to put in another three to the next town on the map, so it was also convenient. The cherry was powered camping, with wifi and a beer for around $8 Australian a night, with Argentina being pretty expensive, it was hard to say no.
I woke early the next morning to the sound of a persistent rooster who had decided next to my tent was the perfect place to roost. Probably a good thing, a big day ahead, so I start with the usual boil-water, make-coffee and then function routine. Tent is down in a matter of minutes and I’m ready to roll.
I know it won’t be long until the road turns to gravel, sand and mud, so I let some air out of the tires and decide not to fuel up, the less weight the better.
I arrive at the gravel with the sun still behind the hills, great contrast and few people on the “road”, perfect riding conditions considering…the conditions. The route ducks back and forth over a river system engulfed in desert, red shale canyons and black rock valleys, really beautiful riding. All I have heard about this section of road is the dangers, no one told me it was going to be beautiful, I suppose that’s a bit of neuroplasticity at work.
I spend the next two or three hours weaving in and out of this desolately incredible countryside until I hit the paved road again. Then it’s all pistons firing (ok I only have one) for the east and the next mountain range. After an I-SWEAR-TO-GOD-HURRY-UP-AN-END 65 kilometer dead strait road and I mean dead straight, not the slightest curve, I start climbing into the hills and it’s here that things begin to change.
As I round into the first bend on the way back down the other side, I see a tree, this is no shrub, brush, tumbleweed or pampas, an actual proper-sized tree…and not much further there’s another and another! Even more excitingly, these trees aren’t in rows or lines, they are just growing where ever they see fit. It feels like I haven’t seen a scene like this in a long while.
As I descend I feel the humidity start to engulf me, I open the front of my jacket, lift the visor and breathe deep. The scent of olives on my tastebuds. Vineyards on one side of the road, olive groves on the other, maple lined streets and a warmth that feels like home. For the first time in a while I sing to myself in my helmet – Nina Simone’s “feelin’ good”. I will sleep well here tonight.
(apologies for the lack of photos, I was a little swept up in the riding!)
Read more from Shanes blog Into the Midst