Expedition Diaries: El Gaucho Argentina

Expedition Diaries: El Gaucho Argentina

Mary and Robin's diary excerpts from Curve's El Gaucho Expedition in Argentina

I’m running out of time. I don’t even have a bucket list. I just had to read the expedition blurb on the Curve website and I was sold on not missing out on this opportunity!

Browsing through the colorful photos of the many faces of Argentina, I know it was the best decision to do this trip. The wonderful people we met along the way, the awesome support, thanks Gus, and the many surprises, made this a worthy bucket list adventure.

Our friendly and knowledgeable local drivers Pichi and Alejandro carefully loaded our precious cargo (the fleet of CURVE bikes) for the drive North of Salta to the start of our expedition. There was one new cycling buddy, Matt, who wasn’t riding a Curve and we promised not to heckle him for it!

We drove North a couple of hours to the tiny village of Tilcara. The place was pumping. How lucky were we to see the Carnaval Festival. The festivities take place all over Argentina before the start of Lent. People leave the city and fill the smaller towns, celebrating with music and dancing in the streets. And if you're lucky, you’ll be squirted with coloured cornflour. Alejandro told us about Pachamama and the offerings they make to her. In Inca mythology she is Mother Earth. She looked after us on this trip with the best weather. We were in Tilcara, 3,210m above sea level, to acclimatize to the high altitude. Staying at Carolina's stunning stone farmhouse in the Andes. Spoiled for magnificent views of mountains covered with impressively tall cactus. Delicious dinners prepared by her talented chef and THE SHAKEDOWN RIDE.

Seriously, if you can do a Curve ride, you can do anything! I trained hard for this trip. Back to back days over the festive 500, Tour Down Under (HILLS) and Thursday morning Curve trail rides with Sarah Hammond in Melbourne. I was confident my bike was ready. Serviced and a third water bottle holder added to the frame. I was ready for anything. But I wasn’t ready for the Shakedown ride, a prelude to day one. The Andes are basically rocks. Colorful, majestic and full of ancient Incan stone ruins. Our shakedown ride was a short steep, rocky trail through Carolina’s farm, Casa Colorada. Absolutely worth the challenge and incredibly rewarding for the views and the experience. I’m proudly wearing Greg's nomination for most improved rider on the expedition. It only takes a day and you soon realise the Walmer Bar drops are great for descending, the Curve Dirt Hoops will roll over anything, and to lower your tyre pressure to about 20 psi! 

Day 1 - Tilcara to Purmamarca – Day one. MESSI, the Argentinians love him. And so does my nine year old nephew in Melbourne. It was incredible to see all the posters, paintings (on homes) and even a statue of him in the middle of nowhere. I had to send a pic of me with Messi to him. There are distractions everywhere here. The 41km journey to Purmamarca started as a narrow 11km mountainside descent with a few hairpin turns into Tilcara where the Carnaval celebrations continued, through some traffic and onto the main road to Purmamarca. The red soil of Purmamarca and the impressive 7 coloured mountain ranges were the back drop of our hotel accommodation in this pretty village.

 Day 2 - From Purmamarca we traveled 71km and 1779m to the Salinas Grande. The main climb was 34km to 4,170m. There were little stalls at the top selling the cutest souvenirs. Then down to the third largest salt flats and one of the highest in the world. The white surface is rock hard, very bright in the sunshine and travels as far as you can see to the mountainous horizon. A perfect setting for stunning sunsets. Drinking lots of water prevented any potential altitude headaches for me. Taking photos here was sooo much fun. Our reflections in the salty ponds where the salt is ‘grown’, the crazy paving pattern on the salt and the sheer distance of the salt flat made for another day of one-off experiences.

Day 3 - Crossing the Puna by bike – 107km. It was flat, except for the gravelly goodness of ‘washboard’ roads. This was perhaps the day that challenged me the most. When I was there I blamed the rutted road, upon reflection I’m thinking the altitude may have contributed. Anyway, putting the salt flats behind us and heading to San Antonio de los Cobres, 250km from Salta, had a bit of everything. Wild Llama, Donkeys, river crossings, the occasional car, sunshine and thanks to Pachamama a little tailwind.

 Day 4 – 163km to an impressive 5th generation tobacco farm-stay at Las Margaritas. Our second 4,000m mountain pass to the top of Abra Blanca before a massive descent. Mostly descending, sounds easy eh. Don’t forget, this is a CURVENTURE and I may have jumped into the swimming pool at our destination fully kitted. However, a special thank you to the men in our group, Robin, Matt, Rob, Greg and Gus who tackled the head wind on our descent. We’ve been traversing through the Jujuy province from about 4000m elevation down to about 1400m. The scenery changed from dry mountainous surrounds and snow capped mountains in the distance to lush vegetation. Making our way through historic villages, along little back roads, river crossings, a bonus short rocky section to this incredibly beautiful property surrounded by corn fields, plantations and domestic farm animals. Before we left the farm, we stuffed ourselves with plenty of tasty breakfast. In fact we ate so much food on this trip. Breakfast, lunch and three course dinners, plus snacks in my Apidura top tube bag. Never knew I could burn so much fuel. Gus made us do it. The best advice, keep eating.

Day 5 - Today we cycled to Cachi. 116km and over 2300m. Thankfully most of the climb was asphalt. A sunny ride through the lush green valley, Parque Nacional Los Cardones changing to a zig zagging gravelly path for about the last 20km up to the mist enclosed stone Chapel at the top of the hill, Cuesta del Obispo at about 3,300m. We then suited up with our vest and coat for the short but chilly descent for some lunch and hot beverages supplied by our ever cheerful support, Alejandro. Followed by a long, flowing, magical, sweeping descent to Cachi. What a great village. Most of them have a town square. This is where the action is. It is also surrounded by local little shops – ice-cream, tea, alcohol, locally produced goodies. As we sat in the square enjoying our destination, car after tooting car streamed past us. They were celebrating someone's graduation and sharing the achievement and their joy with the locals.

 Day 6 - Ruta Nacional 40. We’ve been looking forward to riding a section of this iconic route. It traverses over 5000km from southernmost Argentina, kilometer zero, to Bolivia. Stopping enroute in Molinos to eat lunch at Rosa’s cafe, famous for Empanadas. Passing by hay stored in simple mud brick sheds, paddocks bordered by twig fences, shady rivers, more dry stone walling, seeing smaller rounder cacti and then entering a region well known for it’s vineyards. Argentina has some of the best high altitude Malbec. Tonight we sleep at a homestay, Los Colorados Hostel, in Angastaco. Monica had spent two days preparing our meal. The pre dinner snacks were simple and delicious. Her home made lemonade a hit with everyone and the main course was such a treat. I felt truly blessed to be able to share this experience in someone’s home with an amazing bunch of like minded people from so many different countries on this bucket list journey.

Day 7 - Cafayate. A short day, only 78km and 679m. Traveling a little further along Route 40, passing by pointy, windswept mountains, some dusty, undulating gravel and of course magnificent scenic lookouts. Further into the wine growing district. Tonight we slept at a gorgeous vineyard. Why are they always at the top of a hill? 

 Day 8 - The last day. We depart Cafayate for Salta. Our support vehicle drove us along the highway to the Cabra Corral Reservoir, the start of our final gravel day. 110km, 1810m. Most of us were a tad exhausted after all the back to back days. Only one person climbed into the sag wagon, just to get to the top of the hill. Carol heckled us all the way as she passed by. She was the funniest person to travel with and we thoroughly enjoyed each other's company. It was a rewarding trip through the Yungas. Mostly because we saw a (very handsome) real Gaucho with his 5 cattle dogs following behind him as he rode by on his horse. The first half of this final leg, we followed the wild river and passed horses and cattle grazing on the side of the road. The second half saw us head higher for a short distance and then cycle through a more jungle like environment, thousands of butterflies littered the path we were following, before descending into the farmlands as we approached Salta. Tonight we had a special treat. An Asado dinner at a local's home. His family were incredibly talented. Playing the guitar, father and son singing beautiful Argentinian songs to us. Such a special finale.

Robin and I only have praise for the Guswagon, Curve and our support crew. They introduced us to new cycling buddies, helped us to acclimatise, and organised an incredible trip that supported us through an ever changing vista over 860km and 10,800m over 8 days. Thank you xo!

If you have been enticed by Mary and Robin's diary excerpts of roaming around the Salta Region of Argentina and wish you could ride in this stunning region, too, you're in luck! We are holding another El Gaucho Argentina Expedition in 2024! If you would like to find out more and book your place click the link HERE!

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