Jan. 25, 2011: Uspallata, ME, Argentina

I've had fantasies for a while that when I got to the mountains, there would be fresh air and cool, refreshing breezes rustling through trees.


It is still stifling hot. There are no trees, and no shade. It is just like the pampas, except rocky, and all uphill.

Today, I went about 130km (hard to know precisely, as will be seen), making this the longest day except for the 174km Junín-to-Rufino slog last Friday. But today I got to add a km-and-change of altitude gain.

The day started out nicely enough — leaving Mendoza, cycling through the vineyards and climbing along the Avenida Panamericana. And then I discover that the existence of highway 82 from Cacheuta to Potrerillos is mostly wishful thinking on the part of my mapmaker.

The rest of us have the priviledge of living in a world where that stretch is projected for some point in the future, but as yet remains unfinished. Instead, we get to follow a poorly-marked detour that leads some 10-15km back towards Mendoza, downhill (undoing all the hard work we've already spent climbing out of the plains), before skirting a bunch of oil refineries and dumping us back on the main highway (Ruta Nacional 7, which I'd been following since Luján in Buenos Aires), with majestic unceremony, in the middle of nowhere.

This is roughly when I started feeling the aforementioned stifling heat. My water was gone in no time (note to self: two 1½L bottles in the future), and I was counting down the km to Potrerillos.

Now my initial plan had been to do the climb from Mendoza to the Paso Cristo Redentor in two days. Once the bus intervened, I decided I had the flexibility to reschedule this into three. Better for altitude acclimatization, and all that.

So my first-day destination of Uspallata had been revised to Potrerillos. Internet research indicated the existence of a hotel in Potrerillos. When I got close, signs on the roadside indicated the existence of a hotel in Potrerillos. I followed the signs right up to the point when they suggested I take an exit from a roundabout that led to no more than a clump of bushes and a rusty fence.

Then I decided that a bit more discernment in my choice of lodgings was in order.

I asked around: "Is there a hotel here?"

"No. No hotel."

"But the signs...?"


Thanks again, Internet!

This being resort country, I did find one place that was willing to rent me a (4-person) cabin for less than I'd paid for hotel rooms in San Luis and Mendoza the previous nights. The only catch: it was 25km away on a gravel road along which I'd have to return the following day. Sarah Palin has done a good job of summing up my reaction to this idea.

Fine, then: Uspallata it is! I set out on this 55km journey at about 7PM. Remember how I'd said, the previous time, that it would be the last time I biked on these highways after dark? Yeah, well...

I was still 20km short of Uspallata when the sky started growing dark, and the highway, now well and truly in the mountains, started going through tunnels. As much as I dislike pulling off the highway to let the trucks go by, at least there usually is a place to pull off. In the tunnels... not so much. Seriously, seriously scary.

I was still 14km short of Uspallata when the lightning started, and I heard the echoey growls of thunder.


...isn't quite the word that went through my mind.

It did wonders for my motivation, however. Those must have been the fastest 14km I've covered on this bike. And, again, they were uphill.

I recalled the weather forecast I'd seen in a newspaper the previous day (I liked it so much, I wrote it down). "Muchas calor y tormentas para esta semana." Of course, "tormenta" just means storm, but I am amused by the transliterative approach. This week: heat and torment.

At any rate, 6km out of town, the "Bienvenidos a Uspallata" sign coincided with the start of the pelting. 3km later, the pelting stopped. Just a brief mountain sprinkle; whew!

The lightning did not stop, however.

1km from the town centre, I saw a sign for a hotel (Uspallata, at least, has over a dozen hotels, so I wasn't — initially — too worried about finding a room). As I started pulling in, I saw a man fiddling around in the gatehouse. Then the lights to the gatehouse and the sign went dark. "Hm. Must have just filled up, or something," I thought, and returned to the road.

150m later: Wait. It's not just the hotel lights that went out. All the street lights, and those in all the other businesses also just went out. That's strange.

150m later, as another bolt of lightning cleaves the sky: Oh. I see.

(In my defense, I was pretty tired, and my brain wasn't firing on all cylinders.)

By that point, I was pretty much in the centre of town, and had my pick of darkened hotels. All the cars parked along the side of the roads with their headlights on were a tad ominous.

I went into one, picking my way with my battery-powered bike headlight, and asked if they had a room. No problem! ... but could they borrow my light for a while?

(All's well that ends well. The power returned to the town less than an hour later, and I still had plenty of time for dinner. Wi-fi took a little bit longer to return.)

Tonight's wine: Juan Suter OWS Malbec 2005. Not bad. I was going to go for something else, but the waiter strongly recommended this one. My only complaint: there was a lot of sediment in the bottle. Fine as far as that goes, but why recommend a wine with a lot of sentiment, then not decant it?

Posted on: Friday Jan. 28, 2011 @ 23:15 MST
Re: Uspallata, ME, Argentina
DW said:

not sure which one

"Thanks, but no thanks."

DW said:

pretty sure sentiment

Ha! I'd blame the Spanish keyboard, except those letters haven't exactly changed positions. Instead I'll blame the (overall) lack of proofreading stemming from the need to be on the road as quickly as possible.
Posted on: Friday Jan. 28, 2011 @ 21:16 MST
Re: Uspallata, ME, Argentina
> Sarah Palin has done a good job of summing up my reaction to this idea.
"Ohh, good, thank you, yes." --Sarah Palin, after a notorious Canadian prank caller complimented her on the documentary about her life, Hustler's "Nailin Paylin," Nov. 1, 2008
Okay, I'm just not sure which one you're referring to here.

> For the first time, I wished I'd brought a tent so I could sleep out.

Also, I'm pretty sure sentiment is supposed to stay inside the wine when you drink it.

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