Monday 30 January 2023

Memories of bike rides in Argentina - Part 2

Seven Lakes Ride

This is a well-known ride that both local and tourist cyclists like to do. It's about 110km and runs between Villa La Angostura and San Martin de los Andes, passing (you've guessed it) seven lakes in the area, all in the shadow of Andean peaks. The whole route is along a stretch of a longer road, the 5,000km-long Ruta 40 which runs the length of western Argentina.

At the Codillera Bike workshop near Bariloche

The shop, Cordillera Bike, had prepared my bike and provided me with panniers, plus a description of the route. They had also booked my accommodation along the way. While 119 km is doable in one day on a bike, especially as the terrain was largely on paved roads, I wanted to do the ride at a leisurely pace and take the time to appreciate the surroundings I had therefore given myself three days to do it. 

The initial part of the ride consisted of riding out to the ferry port at Llao Llao and taking the 2-hour journey across Nahuel Huapi Lake to Arrayanes Forest. From the boat I cycled along the longest section of off-road of the whole ride, which was around three miles of trails through the forest to and reach the start at Villa La Angostura. The gravel tracks weren't took challenging, though there were a couple of short sharp climbs where it was easier for me to wheel my mountain bike with its panniers than to waste energy riding up it very slowly.

Ferry port at Llao Llao bound for Villa La Angostura

Once in Villa La Angostura I made the most of the facilities and went to a shop for some final provisions, knowing that I there wouldn't be many or even any during my cycle ride. Outside the shop I met a couple who were heading for Chile. They were seasoned cycle tourists and told me what to expect of my journey. "It's amazing. You'll love it." They said. Their biggest issue was that they had bought a bag of linseeds and sunflower seeds to eat along the way, but still had a lot left and they would not be able to take them into Chile. They offered me some, but I was already fully laden, so could only take a little bit. I was happy enough to eat seeds, but not really a kilogramme of the stuff!

After Villa La Angostura the route was mainly tarmac. Initially there were quite a lot of trucks and I feared that this would be the main feature of the route, even if, to their credit they were giving cyclists a lot of distance when overtaking along this wide road. Thankfully, after a couple of miles the trucks all turned left at as junction, seemingly to head towards Chile, so the road then became very quiet. 

Along the way, I passed many cyclists travelling in the opposite direction. Cycle touring and bike packing seemed to have caught on there as much as in Europe because many of the cyclists were also fully laden with gear for a multi-day tour, complete with even saucepans and cooking utensils hanging out of their luggage! They all seemed pretty friendly as they said hello to me.

My first day's ride was 42km (26 miles) which took me past the Lago Espejo and finished at Lago Correntoso where I spent the night at a hotel right on the beach facing the lake. That was one of the best evenings I have ever had on any holiday. The setting was like being on a film set (without the cameras, producers and gaffers etc.). It was a divine view with snowcapped mountains as a shroud around the shimmering lake in the spectacular sunset. The beach was beautifully clean, and there were just a handful of people around. Most people had retired to their lodgings after their day out, and given that accommodation (and electricity) on the beach were limited it meant that very few people hung around. So it was only a mixture of die-hard beach bums and those staying in the hotel who got the benefit of the spectacular early evening light.  

My evening meal was traditional Argentine fare of an asado served in the hotel restaurant. Well by restaurant, I mean the cosy dining room of the proprietors, who were a very welcoming family. It really did feel like being in someone's house, and you could see right into the kitchen from the dining area.

Tables were set so that you would just sit next to people that you don't know and start conversation. I got chatting to an Argentine woman, Cristina, on holiday from Buenos Aires. She was a singer and had relatives in Peckham, South London. Then I also talked to another woman, Benedetta, an Italian originally from Como, who had decided to settle down in a province near Buenos Aires. She was a dance DJ and had a very friendly white German Shepherd dog called Dragon (RIP). Even though none of us knew each other at the start of the evening we had chatted about life and the universe and by the end of the evening we had become friends. 

My second day took me from Lago Correntoso to Lago Hermoso (not officially one of the seven lakes), passing Lago Traful (not officially a one of the seven lakes), Lago Escondido, Lago Falkner and Lago Villarino. 

The route on this day was even more spectacular than the previous day, with more lakes than the previous day, and even higher peaks. All around were forested areas containing a mixture of ancient conifers and beech trees specific to the Patagonia area (Dombey's beech trees). There were also quite a lot of shrubs with berries. I didn't see any wild animals - I hear you can get pumas in that area - though I came across quite a few lizards crossing the road. 

On this day I noted there were fewer cyclists around, and for a while I became conscious of my being alone. This was beautiful, isolated territory. But somewhere I was thinking "should I be appreciating this in the company of someone else?" I was enjoying the moment, but I wondered if some might think I should have someone with me even for safety and security reasons. I could have had a wild animal come after me, an incident with my bike, or even altitude sickness. Was I going to pay for this sublime moment because of my foolhardiness?

Well, I reasoned that I had all the provisions for certain issues - bike repair kit, mobile phone (there was some coverage), money, food, drink, first aid and basic medicines; I could speak the language and I knew my bearings. So at the end of the day, and statistically speaking, I was in no more a dangerous situation than if I had been in a lane in Surrey. In fact given the lack of traffic here I was probably less at risk than if I were cycling in Surrey! I soon forgot these concerns and pressed on, while still enjoying the landscape. 

My lodgings were convivial but less personal as it was a campsite with camping huts. So I had a camping hut to myself and just saw folks in the refectory and on the rocky beach where there had been a DJ sound system for most of the afternoon, and now a couple of guys were playing traditional songs with an acoustic guitar as the sun went down. 

This place had a young, bohemian feel about it, and I must say I did feel significantly older than the punters there. The kids were quite excited to meet a Londoner and asked me about my life and what it's like in the UK etc. I don't know if they would have been so excited to know I was old enough to be their mum and I generally liked to sit at home and watch BBC4 of an evening!

My final day was shorter than  the others. I guess by this time I was keen to reach San Martin de los Andes knowing that I only had this day to enjoy it before catching a bus to Neuquen (and another one to Mendoza) the following day. 

It was once again bordered by lakes. This time they were Lago Machonico followed by Lago Lacar, right at the end of the ride.

Vista just before dropping down to San Martin de los Andes

Before taking on the long fast drop into San Martin de los Andes I made sure to get a photo of the town hugging the edge of the Lago Lacar, with other lakes in the background and mountains all around. If only I had a better camera. This area would be a landscape photographer's dream.

Once in San Martin I dropped off the bicycle at a local mountain bike shop. I then looked around this delightful touristic town before being picked up by India, the proprietor of my lodgings and going back along a rugged road into the mountains to her very friendly and convivial bike hotel. 

The main drag in San Martin de los Andes

It had been a phenomenal couple of days of sightseeing and meeting very interesting people. I was also very pleased that the weeks of planning and logistics that I had put in place prior to coming here had come to fruition. It is definitely something that I would do again, and hopefully ride on a longer stretch of Ruta 40.


I wasn't in Mendoza for long, and I wasn't sure where to hire a bike in the city. There didn't seem to be as much of a cycling culture there as in Buenos Aires. 

In fact the main outdoor activity revolved more around getting high above street level. With Mount Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Western hemisphere a stone's throw away, every other shop seemed to be selling mountaineering gear and anything else related to high-altitude sports or survival in the mountains. One shop had a giant poster of Bear Grylls in its window display! 

Seven hours in Uspallata (aka film set for Seven years in Tibet!)

In any case I didn't spend much time in Mendoza during the day. On one day I did a day trip hiking around Uspallata, a little village to the West of Mendoza right in the mountains. This place has a claim to fame of being where some scenes from Sevcn Years in Tibet (starring Brad Pitt) were shot. I kept trying to imagine him walking along the same trails as myself, or maybe going for a meal at the restaurant I went to. 

Another day I did an 18km run into the outskirts of Mendoza, to an area called Cerro del la Gloria, set within the Parque San Martin. It was quite a popular area for outdoor activities, be it jogging, cycling, walking, picnics and barbecues or just bored teenagers on their motorbikes hanging out too. Why would I run that far? Well, it was part of my preparation for the Paris marathon. I hadn't intended to run so far - maybe just 10km, but I was quite enjoying the area and it was an alternative form of tourism, I guess!

Parque San Martin, Mendoza

The cycling that is done in the Mendoza area, it seems, is associated with touring around the various vineyards. So when in Rome...... I caught a local bus to Maipù and after a few enquiries I found a café/bar that was hiring out bikes. They gave me a map with information and suggested itinerary to tour the vineyards in that region. It looked great, but the only problem was that I had until 5.45pm, and it was already 1.30pm. I would be lucky to get around half of them. So I had just over four hours to see as many bodegas and taste their wines as possible, before getting back to the bar before they closed.  

A bicycle is definitely the best way to get round. In fact at the first place I visited, Bodega Cecchin, as I was locking my bike a coach load of tourists arrived for their booked tour. So the ticket office said I might as well join them and pay the reduced group rate.

Spoilt for choice at Bodega Cecchin

It was very informative and we got to "taste" (read drink) four different wines. It was like a visit to Denbies Vineyard in Dorking, but in Spanish. They specialised in organic wine, and I was quite impressed with the set-up as well as the taste of their produce, so I bought a bottle of their best Malbec.

I managed to fit in three more places. Two were self-guided, and at the last one, a cool-looking vineyard, that had a vintage look about it, and the folks were very welcome. They did a visit just for me. So I bought another bottle there. 

By this time I was at the furthest point from the bar, and had cut things a bit fine for getting back by 5.45pm. I was about 4 or 5 miles away, so I made a mad dash on the bike. This was compounded by the bottles I was carrying, and worrying that the bag may not be strong enough hold that weight, as well as not being familiar with the area and hoping not to get lost. I did have a few glasses of wine swimming around my body too, so I needed to be  extra careful as I was probably riding under the influence!

It was just after 5.50pm when I got back to the bar and was apologetic for being late. The lady was very relaxed about it. "No worries. Your table is ready over there," as she pointed to a table with cheese, ham and toast, plus a wine glass. My table? I hadn't reserved a table. What I hadn't realised was that anyone who hires a bike from them gets a complimentary aperitif. The 5.45 deadline was more for them, so that they could stop dealing in bikes at that tie and focus on serving aperitifs. So to round off my afternoon of wine tasting, I was served with.... more wine. Well, it would be rude not to make the most of the offerings from the wine capital of Argentina. At least I didn't have any more cycling to do!

A cycling trip around the Maipù and Mendoza vineyards is highly recommended. Bear in mind there are about 15 to see in Maipu, so you need a couple of days to get round them comfortably. Just go easy on the wine "tasting".

Wine and Ride, where you hire a bike and have the run of numerous nearby vineyards

Once back in Mendoza, I made my preparations for saying good bye to Argentina. My trip to Mendoza had been short and sweet, but I had a but to catch that would take me into Chile the following day. 

Rides on Strava

Seven Lakes Ride - Bosques de Arrayanes to Lago Correntoso

Seven Lakes Ride - Lago Correntoso to Lago Hermoso

Seven Lakes Ride - Lago Hermoso to San Martin de los Andes

Mini winetasting route in Maipu

Run on Strava

Run around Mendoza

Related posts

Memories of bike rides in Argentina - Part 1

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