Sunday, 29 July 2012

Downtime in Mendoza

Enjoying the downtime in Mendoza.  Spending the weeks at Spanish school, a little bit of work and weekends out and about.  I think my Spanish is improving but some days are seriously frustrating, I still can't hold a conversation!, but at the intercultural nights I have met some interesting locals, as well as some not so local people, such as the campest old man from the US called Dick Cumming who makes flag poles for a living, I kid you not he is a real person.
Today was probably the best day out of Mendoza yet, I’d planned to go to the Uco Valley via Potrerillo Revervoir.  I’d also planned to get up at 7am, but this went out of the window after going out last night with some Brazilians.  Needless to say I didn’t hear my alarm so woke up 2hrs late.  When I left, the GPS as usual was rubbish, so just turned it off, I sort of knew the direction - always having the mountains over my right shoulder at all times helps.  One thing though, it was cold, bitterly cold, especially over 80km/h.  I was wearing nearly as many layers as the Andes crossing but for some reason after 30mins I couldn’t feel my fingers.  Not the best when you’re riding a bike.  

So cold in fact that I decided to cut the day short and just aim for Potrerillo.  Potrerillo is a huge man made reservoir created by a damming the Mendoza river.  There is not much there really unless you have a boat and I haven't amongst all my things, so instead when I arrived I found some off road tracks around the reservoir and was soon on my own without a person or car in sight, which isn’t hard as the reservoir is 12km x 3km in size.  

Route to Potrerillo
Usually boring scenery in the area.
 I did this for an hour or so and after eating some lunch I got a bit restless so decided to carry on my original trip along Ruta 89 to Tupangata and the Uco Valley.  It was already 1:30 so had to get a move on, but being oil country there are loads of tanker trucks all over the place, and on the uphill sections they can be as slow as 20km/h.  At one quiet, remote point I overtook one and for the first time in 1100km crossed the double yellow lines in the process.  Typically there were 2 motorbike policemen at just that point who then signalled me over to stop.  I couldn’t believe it, they must have ridden ages just to get to there.  I had to stop, my bike was about half the size of theirs plus I knew they had me as I’d crossed the double yellow lines.  I also knew they were not interested in road safety.

There is only one reason the police come this far out here and its not to admire the mountains.  They look to supplement their wage.  Normally I wouldn’t pay and wait unti they were tired of not understanding me, but this time I was in no position to argue, I have no Padron document yet and I had broken the law.  I tried the old “non entiendo” which is pretty close to the truth, which with my accent sounds like “no Nintendo” anyway, and prepared myself for the bargaining to begin.  It started with a US$300 fine and confiscation of my bike, which they never and can't do, and ended with me paying 50 peso, all the while some other drivers were doing the exact same thing I had only done moments before.  Cheeky feck even called his sister afterwards who speaks English and got her to explain that he was doing it to help me out as he know I am only a tourist.  But his smile indicated we both knew what he was up to and he wouldn't take the money until there were no cars around.

After this I was so cold and had to stay at 60km/s to try to get some feeling back, by then my feet were numb too but I eventually reached Ruta 89, passing through tiny settlements called Los Vegas and other familiar names until I hit the gravel section.  The gravel was about 60kms long, no traffic, with windy bends and long stretches next to Fincas in the middle of nowhere and of course the familiar mountains looming over again.  

This time without my luggage and a bit more experience I could go fast, 80-90kms on moving gravel, which for want of a better word is pretty exhilarating and was getting pretty confident when a large silent shadow appeared over me in the shape of a plane and followed my path along the road.  When I looked up I saw it was a huge bird of prey that was blocking the sun above me.  Was surreal, as it really was following me along the road.  It looked as big as the condors I saw in Peru a few years back. I don’t know if they have them down here, but I swear it was one.  I looked up at it a few times and began thinking it was a tactic to get me to crash, die and turn into food, because that is what nearly happened.  Looking up so much I didn’t see what is fast becoming my arch nemesis - deep gravel - which I hit at speed and then nearly got thrown into the left side of the bank.  It all happened faster than it takes to read this, but it was scary stuff for a moment as  I could hardly brake, so had to just drop the throttle.  As I ran out of road on the edge of the track all I could do was lean into the middle and hope for the best.  Amazingly this worked and I skidded into the centre of the road again.  Watching me gracefully survive my latest gravel moment must have pissed the bird off as it then flew off back to the mountains.  I'd like to think this is what it was thinking, but it more than likely came over to see what was creating the dust cloud.  Either way its a strange thing to feel like you are being stalked, I wish there had been someone to see this with me.  I only passed 5 farmers in their fields on the whole stretch.  For an idea, here is a crooked hand held video of this section of the road below.

The journey was actually the best part for me (sure there is some Chinese proberb about that) and when I got to the end of the gravel and into Tupangata and the Valle de Uco I took a few pics of the famous vineyards out here, but to be honest I had to get back as I was running out of daylight.  

Salentein Bodega
Long day in the end just short of 300km and so so cold, as I write this 5hrs after returning my fingers are still numb with pins and needles.  I have just packed my bag for Spanish school tomorrow and noticed I havn't done my homework.  Some things never change even 15yrs after leaving school, at least this time round I can use google.

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