Apr 15, 2009

Goodbye Andes 18/03/09
We left Albardon, bypassing San Juan, cycling over 2 hours through grapevines and wineries. The small, winding road was packed with trucks, overloaded with grapes.
We looked back, and barely saw the Andes Mountain range, disappearing.

Leaving San Juan.


The cosecha - grapes!
Goodbye Andes.

After many kilometers of desert, we reached Difunta Correa, a small oasis (with contaminated water), a famous pilgrimage site; part of the local Christian mythology.
We searched for a place to camp, away from the main attraction – the temple on the ‘hill’, and away from the garbage. The friendly local policeman invited us to shower in the small station, gave us drinking water (which he brings from his town), a grill and firewood – now we were forced to make Asado!
Rami cycled to the butcher, but he hasn’t yet returned from San Juan. It was quite late, so Rami had no choice but to buy mutton. He was sent to the railway station – at leas that’s what Rami understood; but, Argentina stopped using trains… After 5 minutes of cycling away from the road, Rami reached the old railway station, used now as the ‘house which sells mutton’.
The butcher cut 2kg of different parts, $2 a kg!
The hygiene reminded Rami of 3rd world countries, like Peru, Ecuador & others - not Argentina.
Rami finally returned from his ‘mission’ and we started working on the fire.
An hour & a half later the meat was finally ready and we sat to eat.
It was terrible! The chewiest meat we ever chewed.
In Argentina one should stick to beef!

Delia & Fredy, from Chepes, cooking Milanesa.

Cows 20/09/09
We’ve been over a month in Argentina, eating lots on beef, but didn’t see yet the famous Argentina cows.
Everybody as talking about the Pampa Humida - the wet flat-lands between Cordoba & Buenos Aires – “you’ll be tired of seeing cows!”…
We were in the Pampa Seca – the dry, desert flat-lands, west of Cordoba, when we stumbled across cows!
We reached Milagro, a tiny village on the way. It was still early, but there was a long stretch of desert ahead, so we decided to stop. Rami was sent in search if a camp spot, while Gal waited near the small internet café. Bored, she watched a few men trying to do something with a huge tractor. Their boss, Juan, approached and offered the toilets & shower of his house, just behind, and brought cold water. When Gal told him about Rami, searching for a place to camp, he offered his garden and asked if we like asado?
Juan and his sons, Santiago & Tato, live in Cordoba, but have a cattle ranch here. They came to sell some cows and invited us to see the ranch. One of the experienced workers, a Gaucho (an Argentinean cowboy), explained that the cows need to walk a lot, in this desert, to find food, so their meat is not as tender as the meat of the Pampa Humida cows, but, due to their salty food (bushes & scrubs), their meat has more flavor. We also learned that they stopped using dogs to handle cattle – to reduce tension! A relaxed cow is more fat & tender…
Later, the fire was lit, while we enjoyed a fantastic warm shower. Tons of ribs and chorizos were laid on the grill. We ate one of the best asados ever, and a lot of it :-)
The next morning, before leaving, Juan asked if he can help us in any way, with his workshop. We had a flight coming soon, and some of the trailer bolts were jammed, due to too much rain and not enough tender loving care, so, with his help (and loving hands) we totally dismantled the trailers, something we postponed for too long.

The ranch.
And the tastiest ribs!
With Juan, Santiago & Tato.
Working on our trailers.
Ramis' 'helmet' hairstyle.
Another weird defunta.
Finally, out of the desert!

Bomberos 23/03/09
We’ve heard from many cyclists, who’ve cycled in Argentina, of the option of camping/sleeping in fire-stations - bomberos.
We reached La-Falda, an expensive local tourist destination, about 2 hour drive from Cordoba, in the mountains. It was around sunset – bad strategy for finding a place to camp.
This town came as a surprise to us - not the simple, relaxed countryside we were used to, but extravagant summer houses, fancy restaurants & cafes; not the best for cheap backpackers. We asked about a campground, but were told the municipal campground is 2km down, in the wrong direction and very expensive and asking to pitch a tent in one of the houses was ridiculous.
We started cycling towards the tiny mountain road to Rio Ceballos, without any plans, when we noticed, in the darkness, the small sign “Bomberos”; it was a sign from above…
We arrived, asked and were invited in.
The firemen were very relaxed about it. We opened the tent in a quiet corner and even enjoyed a warm shower, after the wet day. We later cooked dinner together with the firemen, and enjoyed the company of the fat, retired Golden Retriever fire-dog.

Firemen & firedog.

Funny helmets.

Rio Ceballos 24/03/09
In San Juan we needed to choose a route to Buenos Aires. Gal wanted to go further south, beyond Cordoba, and then cut east, through a less populated area, hopefully more rural and relaxed, avoiding the big cities. Rami , on the other hand, preferred to go directly east, through Cordoba, and there take the bicycles to a mechanic, to prepare them for India; that way we will have time to test them on the way to Buenos Aires.
Rami was more persistent and we cycled to Cordoba. We were invited by Eustaquio, a warm-shower, from Rio Ceballos. We hoped for a homey atmosphere, recharge our batteries and get some help with the bikes.
We met Eustaquio while cycling on the mountain road from La Falda to Rio Ceballos, a nice introduction. We cycled together to his house. Rio Ceballos is a luxurious suburb of Cordoba, 30km to the north, within the Sierra De Cordoba.
We stayed there 4 nights, while working on our bicycles, enjoying the cozy atmosphere at Eustaquio’s house and the company of him and Ana, his magnificent girlfriend (who gave us a beautiful Mate as a gift).
As for the bicycles, we did a big mistake. Rio Ceballos is not Cordoba and taking the bicycles there is far from trivial. We went to the bicycle shop of Ricardo, Eustaquio’s partner. We quickly found out that they’ll never understand the needs of a cycle tourist: that the bicycle will last for a long time, in rough conditions. In India, there are NO mechanics/spares for these bicycles!
We enjoyed the time spent with Eustaquio, Ana, Ricardo, Pablo and the rest (excellent asado), but our mission, the bicycles, was incomplete – they even ended up in worse condition!

Looking back at La Falda.
With Pablo, at the bike shop.
Eustaquio and Ana.

And the Dogs.

Where to camp? Defensa civil 28/03/09
We left Rio Ceballo at 12:00, after trying to save one of Rami’s clipless pedals from an unsuccessful operation.
There were many boring discussions between Eustaquio, Ricardo and every bored passer by, about the route we should take towards Buenos Aires. They didn’t assimilate that we have cycled nearly 30,000km and it is just another road for us. Every time they mentioned it we knew that another half hour of our time will be wasted – much more time than just cycling it.
It took us an hour to bypass Cordoba, on its’ circumbalacion road. Despite the warning of being attacked, it was relaxed, on an excellent, wide autopista. At the end of this short, boring cycling day we reached Rio Segundo, a small town near the highway. We started investigating where to camp. Everybody told us there is the municipal campground (the river) – but warned us that we’ll be robbed during the night. It surprised us. We were not used to crime in Argentina. It was a different Argentina.
We entered town and cycled directly to the bomberos, knowing that asking to camp next to a house will be a waste of time. The friendly firemen told us we can’t sleep there, but, they’ll find a solution for us. We didn’t need a ‘solution’, only a safe place to open 2 inflatable mattresses for the night! The clock was ticking, the sun was setting.
Half an hour later we were taken to an ex-kindergarten, the local civil defense headquarter – the Defensa civil. We had the whole place to ourselves - the kitchen, the 5 big rooms, the back yard and the showers. The head of the Defensa civil came with his joyful ginger wife and their children to welcome the interesting guests. funny.

The Defensa civil mobile.
To Buenos Aires.

The following night we searched for a camp spot for over 2 hours. We ended up at a model airplane airstrip, with no running water. The police, instead of helping us (the only crazy cycle tourists stupid enough to cycle this part of Argentina), hassled us and asked to see our passports. Who wants to cycle tour in a place where finding a relaxed spot to camp takes 2 hours, surrounded by millions of huge mosquitoes, biting through your cloths?
Welcome to the Pampa humida.

The pampa

A different Argentina 30/03/09
We had another boring cycling day. We entered another modern town (funny – using the word “modern”), but the bomberos kicked us out (“there’s a comity on Thursday, they’ll discuss it” – but it was Monday…).
Even the local Mormon twins couldn’t help us. It was getting late and we were tired of so many people asking the standard sequence of questions, satisfying their interest, but not trying to help us in finding a safe place to camp.
We camped behind the petrol station, not far enough from the road. It was raining again and we felt quit miserable.
After cycling a month in north-west Argentina, and enjoying every minute of it (well… almost every minute), we crossed a virtual border to an Argentina so different. Instead of the warm, hospitable welcome, with its’ hugs and kisses, we encountered a cold capitalist, self-centered attitude and handshakes.

Following the muchachos on the scooter.

The next morning we gave an interview, for the last time (we gave interviews on a daily basis to local radio stations and newspapers). When asking us about Argentina, we took advantage of the opportunity and frustrated, talked about the culture differences between this area and north-west Argentina.

Club deportivo 31/03/09
It was raining again, since the morning. The expected strong eastern head wind started earlier than usual; we were grumpy. In addition, the bad noises from Ramis’ rear hub (are there good noises?), less than 250km from the mechanic, made us even grumpier!
After having enough of this terrible day, we stopped at Landeta, a tiny muddy village. Instead of staying on the only paved road in the village, Rami suggested taking a short-cut, and we quickly found ourselves swimming in mud. Desperate, we reached the ‘fireman’. There was only one in the village (we were told earlier there are fireMEN – not only one… when was the last time you were asked if there’s a fire station in the nearest village?). Turns out he was also the bicycle mechanic of the village. He apologized; there was no fire station for us to camp, but let’s try the sports club - club deportivo!
It took some time (precious time, till you can finally unpack, change cloths and feel comfortable), but they surprised us (improving the reputation of the region): going through the options, they slowly upgraded our condition, finally placing us in a big room, with light, a kitchen and toilets. The chairman of the sport club arrived to meet the ‘important’ guests, gave us a photo (in a heavy frame, which Rami disapproved of carrying), the heavy ‘book’ of the club, a classic (which, for some reason, arrived with us till Bs.As., and was then left at the library of our hostel) and a flag of the club (which arrived safely to Israel, 6 months later!!!). He then invited us for dinner at the club cafeteria – a beautiful ending to an exhausting day.

15,000km in Latin America!
At internet cafe with the bicycles.

Our last asado 01/04/09
Hearing so many stories about cows in the Pampa-Humida, we were disappointed to see so few cows, scattered here & there.
We were allowed to camp in a park, at the outskirts of a small town. Rami jumped to town and bought all the necessities for asado – our last asado!

Our last asado.

We had another gray-wet day, with hundreds of huge trucks, filled with crops (sugar cane? Or something else?), overtaking us at high speed, in this tiny road with no shoulders, splashing muddy water at us. How could have we known that it’s harvest time (cosecha), which totally changes this tranquil rode?
Even the bomberos sent us off, totally wet, after cycling 5 hours in the rain.
Our only comfort was Grido ice-cream (our favorite); the heater was working in the sheltering ice-cream parlor.
We tried hitching in the rain, but all the trucks were bursting with crops, or just didn’t stop, so we continued cycling, in the rain.
Disappointed of the bomberos, we reached a sports club (a wealthy country club), and asked to camp. We were sent to the president, who ws surprised to see us 2, at his doorstep. He took it seriously, gave us the basketball court (after practice is over) and invited us for dinner at the club restaurant (pasta & steak!!!). All you cycle-tourists out there - "club deportivo" is the new "bomberos" ;-)

At the club deportivo.

Giving way to huge trucks...

לא נפסיק לשיר - we will not stop singing 03/04/09
We were having a bad week. We even thought about catching a bus, but it was impractical. We finally entered the autopista to Rosario, 80km away; the quiet autopista, funny to say, with its’ wide shoulders and light traffic, it was paradise! We were told the only safe place to camp, on our way, is the YPF (“EE-PE-EFFE”, as the locals pronounce it) service station, located literally in the middle of the autopista, with 3 lanes on either side. We had no choice; it was a good starting point for entering ‘dangerous Rosario’. We remembered our last night, cycling in Turkey, where we slept in the back of a lorry, in a service station. Apathetic, we accepted our situation; it’ll all be over tomorrow – we’ll be on a bus to Buenos Aires (then we’ll have other headaches…).
We pitched our tent in the dark lawn, as far away from the petrol pumps and the speeding traffic. It was obvious we wouldn’t sleep too much.
A storm was approaching. The lightnings came closer and the wind blew stronger.
At 02:00 Rami suggested we get up and pack before the storm hits us; we weren’t sleeping anyway… Gal preferred to stay in the tent, hoping it will pass.
A bit later the storm arrived. It was the strongest storm we encountered in the last few months. As usual, our blue tarp flapped in the wind, shouting in agony. Our MSR tent was fighting for his life, proud and orange, swinging from side to side, till the peak of this fabulous week – the tent tore!
We had a big puncture in the ceiling. Rivers were pouring in. Rami tried ‘filling’ the hole with whatever he could find: socks, plastic bags, etc. At some point he just held it with his hand, held up, trying to sleep.
With first light we started packing our soaked belongings, singing the Israeli song that has been escorting us during this crazy week - לא נפסיק לשיר!!!

The autopista.
Sunset from our campspot - the autopista.
Our torn tent...

Bus to Buenos Aires 04/04/09
It was still raining. After less than 10km on the autopista, the police kicked us out. It meant crossing slowly all the suburbs, with loads of traffic.
We finally entered Rosario, on the coastal road (the river bank), through the wealthy northern neighborhoods, impressed by the size of the city.
At 16:00 we reached the central bus station. We quickly understood that our best option would be to hang around (INSIDE) the station, wait till after midnight, only then catch a bus (which will agree to take our bicycles) and arrive early morning to Buenos Aires. We were advised not to be outside the bus stations of both big cities “from dusk till dawn”!
At 01:00 we loaded our stuff on an almost empty bus and immediately fell asleep for almost 4 hours.
At 05:30 we were at the Buenos Aires central bus station. We had over an hour to kill, till dawn, when it’s safe enough to leave the bus station.

We're not in the countryside anymore...
Beach volleyball on the river bank.
Waiting in Rosario
Loading the bikes.

Buenos Aires 05/04/09
At around 07:30 we had enough of the Buenos Aires (Bs.As) bus station; it was time to leave!
We cycled out of the dark terminal, directly into the center of this striking city.
We cycled through wide avenues, with tall, beautiful buildings, many over 100 years old, many new, shining, modern skyscrapers. We haven’t been surrounded by so much concrete since maybe downtown San Francisco. It was overwhelming cycling in the middle of this felt ‘cool’!
It was a Sunday, early morning, a sunny day, with barely any traffic, only a few pedestrians and sleepy homelesses. The huge city was ours; only the red carpet was missing.
We woke up from this dream. It was time to find a hotel room. We had 10 days till our flight – a long time. We needed a comfortable base, and a cheep one. Bs.As is expensive, for a budget traveler and we knew we will have to settle for a dormitory – yucky!
After cycling through maybe 10 budget hostels, each with its’ faults (no kitchen, no balcony, bar with too much night activities – we’re old, gloomy room, no place for the bicycles, etc.), we found St. Nicholas, in an old building, with a kitchen, a fantastic roof, a TV room and even free internet that didn’t really work. There were a few 6-bed dorms, so it was never crowded. After over 2 months in our tent, the dorm was not the solution for “Elhalel-Rosenbaum – the next generation”, but, St. Nicholas turned out to be a wise choice.
That night we cooked carbonada and had dinner with the long-term guests (a mother and her daughter from Spain, a Colombian student & more), a new tradition.

The big city - Buenos Aires.
In the dorms, with the hostel cat.

Dangerous Buenos Aires
We heard so many horror stories about ‘dangerous Buenos Aires’. Every Argentinean whom we talked with told us: “They’ll kill you for your shoes!”
Yehonatan and Omer, our motorcycle scouts, described it as a tourists’ war zone – in every hostel you can see a stupid tourist with a cast or another injury, but, calmed us, that if you are not stupid and a bit cautious, you’ll be OK.
We decided not to be stupid, only pathetic and when we went to the bank (near the notorious bus station) and the Indian embassy with our passports, credit cards, TCs, etc., Rami carried our machete, proud, so all the lowlifes will see and know that we are armed and dangerous.
The evening later a ‘stupid’ tourist of our hostel returned from the ‘battle’ and announced he was mugged at knife point, near the bus station, after dark – you should have slept there, sucker ;-)
So, we barely walked around with the camera; you can check out pictures of Bs.As. on the internet…
The evenings we spent in our safe ‘base’, cooing and passing time. After 15 months in dangerous Latin America, we didn’t want to get robbed or hurt on our last days.

Visa to India 06/04/09
Almost 2 months ago we visited the website of the Embassy of India in Bs.As., and contacted the console, regarding our visa. We didn’t want to be in Bs.As. too early and we didn’t want the visa to be issued before the 10th, otherwise we’ll have to exit India and return before our return-flight, 6 months from now. The console recommended that we apply on the 6th.
Thanks to an impeccable cycling plan, we entered Bs.As. on April 5th and arrived to the embassy on April 6th, 10:00 sharp (after depositing our machete with the security guards).
Semana Santa fell on April 9-10 and then came the weekend – 4 days in which the embassy is closed. So, the 6th was supposed to be good.
At the friendly embassy we were told that the approval comes from the Indian embassy in Israel; it might take longer, even till the 15th.
Our flight departs on the 15th, 11:15am!
And there’s Passover! The Jewish version of Semana Santa! A tight schedule and too many parties involved.
We updated Rachel, Ramis’ mom, who talked with the embassy in Israel, on our behalf; we needed information, whether to postpone our flight… Tamars’ flight as well…
They said they’re closed for Passover, but tomorrow they can send the fax.
Tomorrow arrived and only after a few trans-Atlantic phone calls the missing fax was resent and arrived, even though the challenging time difference.
The morning after we got a phone call from the embassy, notifying our visas are ready - we can pick them up in the afternoon.
We were so relieved, with all the stress we were in (arrival to Bs.As., preparing ourselves and the bikes for India and the long flight, etc.).
For a moment we thought of the problem that arose with our return flight (October 10), a few days after we need to exit (and reenter) India, but who cares, it’s so far away!
Writing these lines, in Leh, north India (August 9), we’re in the process of changing our flight tickets/extending our visa…

Gals' old Merrell shoes - survives 15 months!!!
And the new ones - Merrell, as well.

Bicycle mechanic in Bs.As. 11/04/09
We were in desperate need of a mechanic who we could trust. Our previous mechanic experience in Argentina did more damage than good. We didn’t even trust the grease he put in the hubs and bottom brackets, whether it was water-proof (probably not), etc.
We searched the net, asking in the popular cycle-touring forums (On Your bike, Crazy guy on a bike, etc.), but got no recommendation.
Rami spotted a serious, full-suspension mountain bike, locked near a café. The owner, a cook, recommended his mechanic and we took the number.
The next day we walked towards his workshop, 3km away, hoping to enjoy the wandering in Bs.As. and to check the place, before depositing our beloved bicycles in the hands of another madman. We failed – after an hour we entered a dodgy neighborhood and Gal declared we should turn back, before we get mugged.
The next day we took the subway and met Martin, the mechanic, and were pleased with what we saw: a small, well equipped, organized workshop (with Park tools and Shimano grease), not a shop, only a few parts for sale, and most important – the owner/mechanic was a nice guy. He introduced us to the neighboring Nodari bicycle shop, across Parque Centenario, 5 minutes away.
On Saturday we set off to the mechanic. Gal took the subway, scared of cycling through the ‘hood’, while Rami cycled quickly, on the main avenues. Martin was late… we were getting worried he wouldn’t show up – we needed the bicycles ready for India – but, he arrived half an hour later.
While working on Ramis’ bicycle, under Gals’ strict standards, Rami took the subway back to the hostel and returned with Gals’ bicycle. Later he brought both bikes back the same way.
PS – When opening the hubs, we saw there was no grease – after less than 1 wet week of cycling!!!

After cycling 2,700km in north India, zigzagging the highest mountain roads in the world, we are confident in saying Martin did a good job!

Babe Bikes, Martin Jares
Warnes 10 .Cap. Fed. (CP 1414)
Buenos Aires – Argentina
Tel : (011) 4854-9862

We’d like to thank Claudio, the owner of Nodari bicycle shop. We bought there new lots of bike parts and accessories and got a nice discount, a bicycle box and a smile.

Bicicleteria Nodari, Claudio
Av. Diaz Velez 4686, Cap. Fed.
Buenos Aires - Argentina
Tel : (011) 4982-3418

With Martin, the mechanic.
With Claudio, at Nodari.

Packing 12/04/09
3 days to the flight – it was time to start packing.
Hoping we understand correctly the British-Airways regulations, we could take 2x23kg bags + the bikes (inside a bicycle box, maximum 23kg) – each, meaning, a lot of weight (138kg total).
But, there are so many horror stories about taking bicycles on planes, of not knowing the airline regulations (both the passengers and the airline workers), extra fees and overweight.
The hostel owner offered us 2 bicycle boxes, which were left by 2 cyclists. That was great – one thing less on our mind, or so we thought.
Rami’s bicycle entered the bicycle box easily, with the trailer wheel & fork and more luggage. It was a perfect 22.5kg (we didn’t know that till the flight) . Gal’s bicycle didn’t fit in the small box – d’oh! After a thorough search, resulting in nothing bigger, we totally dismantled the front part of Gal’s bicycle. Shifters and break leavers were taped to the frame, the handle bar was laying near the wheels.
2 days to the flight we packed the first trailer and took it across the street to the 'Chino' – the Chinese owned supermarket, to the meat department, to weigh it; another 22.5kg.
The next day we weighed the second trailer. To be on the safe side, Rami insisted we’ll manage with only 1x23kg bag per person. Rami is becoming his father…

Weighing a pannier.
And a trailer; the 'Chino'.
Goodbye to that shirt.

On our last evening in Bs.As., the ‘gang’ from the hostel surprised us with a special dinner. They even made an excellent cake.

Dinner at the hostel.

That night, before falling asleep, million of memories from the last 15 months were running through our heads. It’s not easy to say goodbye from a world who escorted us for such a long time.

Moving 15/04/09
It was obvious we can’t load the 2 bicycles and luggage on a taxi (or more), we didn’t see taxis with racks.
So, 2 days the flight, we called a bus service. We were told we need to bring the luggage to their offices/bus-stand – so, we stayed with the same problem.
So what do we do?
Just across the street from our hostel Rami spotted a second hand furniture shop, one of many in the neighborhood. The Russian owner (they all had Russian owners) helped us and ordered for us a van from one of the moving companies he works with (Alsina (011) 49528080). He reassured us it was a reliable company. It was even cheaper than a taxi, we felt victorious.
We were relived to get a phone call at 07:30 – a huge van was waiting downstairs. We easily threw everything inside and were on our way to the airport.

Safety first.
No overweight.
The duty-free - asado meat?!?!

Goodbye Argentina
Despite the last cycling week, which was terrible, we loved traveling in Argentina. The scenery was nice, but what we really enjoyed were the people and their culture; their food, music, hospitality, relaxed and happy nature and even their siestas and queuing.
It was our favorite country since Mexico.
P.S. – when we’re talking about Argentina, we mean north-west Argentina.

We had many dilemmas about the route to Buenos Aires. Gal was afraid of the traffic between the big cities (Cordoba, Rosario etc.) and the mess that follows, but Rami insisted on passing through Cordoba, so we’ll have a chance to fix our bikes before arriving to Buenos Aires.
The stretch between Buenos Aires and Cordoba as we described before was a difficult experience. It caused both of us to change our opinions:
Rami thinks we should have taken a bus and recommends other cyclists not to cycle this section.
Gal thinks it was worth experiencing the differences between cultures: capitalistic and non-capitalistic.