Jan. 26, 2011: Los Penitentes, ME, Argentina

The accents up here in the mountains sure are thick. I've already noticed the South American penchant for dropping consonants, but the locals raise it to an art form. By the time they're done with the sentence, there are no consonants left, just a long string of consecutive vowels (they need to set up an exchange program with some Balkan state).

The difference between "aqui" (here) and "alli" (there) becomes purely academic, and poor Uspallata gains an alternate existance as "Oowhaya'a."

So. Oowhaya'a, when there is electricity and daylight, is a cute town. Still a little touristy for my taste, though. It is a true oasis of treefulness in the surrounding Andean desert.

Having not had a chance to upload photos for a few days (I could have in Mendoza, but was anxious to be on my way), I started the day by looking for an internet cafe. There was only one in town, and I was not allowed to connect my camera. When I tried, the computer froze and the clerk came over, admonishing me not to do that, with full tsk-ing and finger-wagging on display. Well, then! It would have to wait. I took a few photos, then got back on my bike.

Less than 1km out of town, the desert was back.

But pretty. Finally, the air was getting a bit cooler. There were those breezes I was looking for!

My ostensible destination was Los Penitentes, 60km from Uspallata, and 25 from the continental divide. At Punta de Vacas (55km from Uspallata and 30 from the divide), the road turned a corner, up out of the Rio Mendoza valley, and suddenly I encountered the stiffest headwind imaginable. I've experienced stronger winds before, but not very often. I tried riding into the wind, but it was just far too difficult; instead I got off the bike and started walking it. So much for fresh mountain breezes. The wind kept picking up sand and grit from the ground and flinging it into my face and arms. It stung. A lot.

My internet research (by now I am quite wary of this phrase) had indicated numerous hotels in Los Penitentes. This struck me as being a little suspicious, as the town was not very big; did not even figure on most highway signs. I started worrying about all kinds of things, as it was certainly getting late. What if there were no hotels in Los Penitentes? I would have to continue — but how far? How far would I have to walk into this stinging wind? What if there were no hotels anywhere before the border? Would I have to walk all the way to the top? Would I have to cross at night? No photos! Would I have to make the crazily-steep descent into Chile in darkness? (Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid!!)

After some walking, the reason for the discrepancy clarified, as Los Penitentes came into view. It's a ski resort! The entire "town" of Los Penitentes is a gas station and 5 or 10 hotels in a cluster on the side of the highway, with chairlifts descending to their midst!

Well, it's a ski resort during the winter, one presumes. In the summer, it's mostly just eerie and abandoned, the chairlifts creaking and groaning in the wind.

But! But! One of the hotels is open all year around! Hooray! I have no words to describe the relief I felt when I saw that sign. The quite large hotel was mostly empty. There were about 20 other guests, all part of one or another of three or four mountaineering groups who were using it as a base station to tackle nearby Aconcagua.

I listened in on their conversations for a while (mostly English and German). It was full of "Have you gone up yet?" and "Yeah, we just came down this morning" punctuated with advice from the latter to the former.

Briefly, I struck up a conversation with an Alaskan fellow named Matt. It's still weird to be talking in English.

Clearly, there wasn't much happening in the town. I wandered around for a few minutes and took photos. There was no internet (because of the wind, or such was the story). The TV only displayed 13 channels of static (also because of the wind, or perhaps just because it was off-season, and mountain climbers aren't much for Spanish TV?).

So I had dinner, made an early night of it and went to bed.

Because tomorrow! Tomorrow, I go over the top of the world!

Tonight's wine: xxx. I did far too good a job of rationing out my Argentinian pesos. I only had 40 left, and didn't want to spend 35 of them on wine. Not when I would still need water, etc. the following day.

Posted on: Saturday Jan. 29, 2011 @ 15:26 MST
Biking at altitude
DW said:

How much harder is it

Hard to say. It's harder, of course... but between the wind and the uphill and the everything else, it's tricky to apportion blame precisely.
Posted on: Saturday Jan. 29, 2011 @ 06:22 MST
Re: Los Penitentes, ME, Argentina
The Santiago reference is lost on me.

How much harder is it to cycle when you are at that altitude?
Posted on: Saturday Jan. 29, 2011 @ 00:56 MST
road to Santiago
Hah!  Awesome!

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