Andalgala to Los Baldecitos: Deserts, Valleys, Canyons, Parks, and More…

Saturday, February 28


Today we made an effort and actually succeeded in being on the road by 9 am. Stefano decided to ride with us at least to La Rioja and then possibly split up. The three of us have been dreaming of paved easy roads for a while now. Yesterday’s ride was much more difficult than we had anticipated and we made half the distance we originally planned on, but finally this morning we were rewarded with smooth pavement and easy on the eye scenery.


We had descended quite a bit from the mountains yesterday, so the morning’s ride took us through a desert landscape which nevertheless was quite lively and green with a salt lake and chains of mountains and snowy peaks in all their morning glory in the distance. The air was crisp and fresh and it felt rejuvenating riding in the morning.


After an hour the road became more twisty as it curved through a cactus filled highland landscape. We stopped to take pictures of the beautiful white cactus flowers, and their fragrant scent reminded me of the smell of jasmine.

After the twisites the road became very straight, hot and boring, but soon we reached the town of La Rioja, just in time for a much needed afternoon refreshment. We found a nice cafe on the main plaza with outdoor seating, and since it was lunch time, all the locals were out, which made for good people watching. While we waited for our sandwiches, we went over the Patagonia map with Stefano, who shared his route with us and recommended a few not to miss roads and places.


After lunch we treated ourselves to tasty ice cream and Stefano deciced to ride with us a bit further south to Los Baldecitos. When we were suiting up for the road we witnessed a comical sight: two men were trying to pull up a rope tied mattress to the third floor of the building through a window.


For the next few hours of riding we battled the bordom of a straight, flat, endless road in the 35 (100) degree heat. As we started getting closer to Los Baldecitos, the scenery was changing to canyons, mountains and plains with low green vegetation.


It was 4:30 pm when we got to Los Baldecitos. We decided to take the last tour of the day at the Parque Provincial Ischigualasto, also known as the Valle de a Luna (Moon Valley), which started at 5 pm. Stefano said he would stay in Los Baldecitos overnight and while we were in the park he would reserve a room for us in one of the homes he had stayed at before.


The only way you can ride your bike in the park (a Unesco World Heritage site) is to follow a vehicle of a tour operator. The standard tour is three hours and you have to always keep with the group. Matt did not seem too excited about a three hour tour, but I thought it would be worth it. There were a total of three other cars on the tour.


At the first stop we realized the tour was all in Spanish and the guide was determined to give a complete lecture on the geological history of the planet Earth. Since I did not understand most of what he was saying and Matt was tired and half interested we knew it was going to be a long tour.


There were a total of five stops on the tour. We lingered behind after each stop and took our time stopping for pictures and to admire the eerily out-of-this-world landscape, and fragile rock formations.


The park covers 150 square kilometers of astonishingly varied terrain, it is geologically unique because all stages of the 45-million-year Triassic era are represented in its rocks, and it was a rich burial ground for dinosaurs.


When we finished the tour circuit, the sun had set and it started getting dark fast, while we had 25 more km to ride to the exit of the park. We decided to break the rules and go infront of the operator car in order to get out of the park before darkness. The cars were crawling cautiously along the dirt road, and after Bolivia, we had no problem blowing by them. By the time we got to Los Baldecitos it was pitch black. As we were pulling up to the house that Stefano indicated to us earlier we hit an unexpected patch of sand, where Matt dropped his bike. Oh no, not again! We lifted the bike and were greeted by the owners of the house who gave us a hand written note from Stefano. Apparently there was only one room available for the night, so he reserved it for us but rode to the next town to find lodging there. Thanks again, Stefano! What a gentleman!


We quickly unloaded the bags and went to the only comida place in this three house village. As we were sitting in the barewall room with a lonely light bulb hanging from the ceiling that you couldn’t have paid us to eat in at home, we marveled at the fact that such strange surroundings seem totally normal, homey and even pleasant to us. We were just happy to have a roof over our heads and a plate of warm food to eat. After a quick bite we headed back to the room and fell asleep instantly.

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