Words by Angus Burrell
Images: Angus Burrell & Robin Brown
The thought of Argentina conjures up images of vast countryside, delicious bbq, horse riding and a vibrant culture unlike any other. The Southern region of the country is well known for its capacity for outdoor pursuits. The North Western corner of the country is home to some of the finest riding we have experienced, roads that take you into seemingly other worlds filled with sights unique to this pocket of the world. This region not being a popular destination would not stop our group of Touring Gauchos from having an experience long to be forgotten…
The adventure started in the city of Salta, the capital of the province by the same name. Salta sits in a lush green valley, the foothills of the Andes. It is surrounded by Tobacco and cattle farms which are home to plenty of Gauchos often moving about on horseback. The route would take our group through a vast range of environments. High altitude mountains, snow capped peaks, vast salt flats, dry and barren plains of the Puna, lush green jungles, rivers and lakes. A route built to test your eyes with amazing contrast each day!
A few hours of vehicle transfer brought our group to the small town of Tilcara. A small town but with a lot of personality! Upon our arrival the Argentine fiesta spirit was in full swing as it was Carnaval. Carnaval is Latin America’s biggest party with at least four days of intense celebration. The Touring Gaucho’s were lucky enough to witness this in action. The music boomed through the narrow streets, the smell of Argentine Asado was in the air and people had flooded the town’s main plaza. They collectively danced and drank while throwing handfuls of flour onto each other praising the god Pachamama and wishing for good luck. After a typical bbq style lunch with local vegetables our group headed up the hill to our accommodation for the next two nights. This would form the basis of our altitude acclimatisation plan and prepare our bodies for the harder days to come. Nestled high into the Andes the Touring Gauchos adjusted into life at altitude in a beautiful accommodation owned by the effervescent Carolina. After plenty of delicious local produce and a short shakedown ride testing the bikes and bodies we headed off to our next destination, Purmamarca.
Purmamarca is another small town of a more tranquil nature, it sits in the valley known as the Siete Colores. Jagged mountains grow out of the ground at all angles, each painted in it’s own unique pastel type colour. A night spent in this town and yet more delicious cuisine and we were headed for the high altitudes. 40 km of switchback climbing would take the Touring Gauchos a few hours, cresting an almost 4200m pass. This would deliver them to the Salinas Grandes, a unique high altitude salt flat where our lucky group would spend the night at 3300 metres above sea level. The salt flat experience was a unique one with the sun igniting the clouds over the tops of the Andes in the distance. Snow could be seen falling onto the far away mountain tops while we sat comfortably watching the sun set. The best was yet to come as the sun had yet to disappear. With the darkness came the ceiling of stars, with a high altitude sky void of any light pollution for miles our group were treated to the rare beauty of a full night sky.
Crossing the Puna was next on the agenda as our group faced 100km of tough corrugated road to reach the next services on the barren high altitude plain. Void of services, Pichi, our legendary support driver, prepared a picnic in the middle of the Puna. The next town, San Antonio de Los Cobres is a town that feels like it is at the end of the earth. After nothing but a barren, flat, seemingly endless plain, save for the odd group of Llama and Vicuña the town appears on the horizon. The outskirts are reminiscent of a apocalyptic film with rubbish blowing across the streets and it wouldn’t be South America without a few shaggy dogs to welcome you to town with their longing gaze. The snow capped mountain peaks loomed in the distance as our group again slept high in the Andes. The following day would be the longest of the tour at 160km, however 100km of the ride would be downhill! Where else in the world do you have 100km of descending? The route would take our group from 4000 metres above sea level eventually to a more comfortable altitude of 1500 metres. This transition in altitude meant that the landscape would shift dramatically, a cool wind blew in the morning on the edge of the Puna before we descending into gaping valleys that wound their way down into the lower slopes, crazy colours and shapes of rock jutted out from the valley floors piercing into the sky. The river steadily grew in size and speed as we made our way further down. The hoards of cactus would slowly appear before becoming a fully fledged jungle, something the Touring Gauchos had not seen for a few days at that point. Upon entering the jungle our accommodation for the night would be in a family owned tobacco farm, a beautiful spot to relax after a solid few days on the bike.
Our group would then have one of the longer days of the tour. We would climb 60 km to cross the stunning Cuesta del Obispo, a climb up and through the jungle to cross into the Calchaqui valley. Home to most of the locally produced wine, ancient farms ploughed by man and animal. The Touring Gauchos would visit some of the most culturally rich towns along the famous Ruta 40 sampling empanadas, humitas and tamales along with wine made on the mountain slopes. Our group spent a night with Monica and Sergio, a lovely local couple who prepared a feast of homemade assortments. Upon arrival it was fresh lemonade made from natural ingredients out of the garden. Dinner was a feast of delicious vegetables and the famous Matambre, a typical Argentine dish. The following day our time on the Ruta 40 would end with our arrival into a bustling town, Cafayate. One of the bigger towns along the route surrounded by Bodega’s producing wine for all of the local restaurants and wine makers. After a challenging few days criss crossing the andes a glass of wine by the pool was well deserved.
Our final day on tour involved a short vehicle transfer before tackling a rolling route through the quiet gravel roads outside of Salta. The humidity and heat of Salta had returned for this final day. At one stage a few of our riders came into contact with a Gaucho on horseback, he stopped and conversed in Spanish, as if beckoning us to join him on his adventure with his cattle and army of working dogs. His eyes a deep blue matching his button down shirt, he finally tipped his hat and smiled a charming grin before riding off into the jungle. With tired legs our group arrived into Salta in the early evening. Before long we wandered to the house of the Prince of Salta for an evening of amazing Argentina Asado, with fresh salads and vegetables. To the surprise of the Touring Gauchos, the Prince of Salta and his father would pull out the guitars and break into song to celebrate the end of a successful adventure with the music typical to this region and known by all the local Argentine people.
A long awaited expedition into the Andes was made by a very special group of people from all corners of the globe. Our Touring Gauchos came from Canada, USA, and Australia to ride this adventure of a lifetime. Our local legends Alejandro and Pichi who supported us along the way kept us all rolling with water and snacks. Each day our Gauchos were in awe of the contrasting scenery that unfolded in front of them. The cuisine that was prepared, each day filled us up with delicious flavours from recipes passed down through endless generations. The exposure to the local music, customs, language are all very special parts of this expedition that the Gauchos each take with them. As with all of our expeditions, riding is only one component of the adventure. These off the bike moments are often what make the trip unique and memorable.
Robert | Touring Gaucho
"Through a series of life events this was a fantastic find and my right medicine. From start to finish the El Gaucho expedition in northwest Argentina was a fantastic experience. Specifically, the uniqueness of the Salta region was expertly brought to us by Gus (head Spanish speaking Gaucho) through a series richly defined rides on gravel, dirt, tarmac, and even salt. Each concluded with top accommodations with locally sourced gourmet food options. In essence, this Curve Cycling expedition delivered on an experience of a lifetime and personally one I look forward to attending once again."
Mary | Touring Gaucho
"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! Some of the most scenic landscapes in the world.. Science fiction landscapes, world class wines, all had me ready to sign up! Browsing through the colourful 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. 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."
This Expedition is part of the Curve Adventure offering and will be running again in 2024. If you like the sound of this adventure and want to ride in a part of the world that only few are lucky enough to experience, please sign up to ride!
If this trip sounds exciting to you or you would like to learn more about the CURVE expedition program please get in touch with our team email@example.com