In the spring of 2018 I was backpacking in South America, and eventually ended up in Buenos Aires in Argentina. This is where I bought my Mosso road bike, because I had a plan. A few months earlier I had poured over the maps of this region when it suddenly struck me that I could bike from the Atlantic to the Pacific! So, after buying bags to attach to my bike, and leaving behind some of my belongings in Buenos Aires, I dipped my feet in the dubious water of the Buenos Aires harbour and headed west.
In retrospect I wouldn’t recommend this trip, for a few different reasons. First, going west from Buenos Aires takes you through the most boring parts of Argentina. The south is famously beautiful, and if you are into mountains, the north seems absolutely spectacular. But that was not for me, I biked across the Pampas plains, so flat I thought I could see the curvature of the earth. All you see is crops and cows, so many your brain hurts.
Another reason I can’t really recommend this trip is because these roads aren’t always paved with asphalt. Instead most roads are built with concrete slabs, 4 or so meters long, often cracked and broken at the seams (you can see this on a few photos below). This means that you can’t really relax and watch the scenery. You have to constantly look for broken concrete that could give you a flat tire. At least if you’re on a road bike with thin tires. Oh, please don’t ever consider doing this on a mountain bike. You want to pass through this at speed!
To do this trip alone you need to be comfortable with your own company, stay overnight in tiny villages, and occasional roads that go straight for 43 km!
Along the way I rode over the Sierra Grande mountains. They aren’t particularly high, a bit over 2000 meters, but my bike gears weren’t really made for steep gradients. I had them tweaked at a bike shop in Cordoba where I stayed over Easter, but it was still tough.
On the other side of Sierra Grande I got a big surprise as this was where many Argentinian hipster/alternative people had moved. I found yoga studios, tea houses painted in lilac, etc. Plus the town of Nono.
I finally arrived in Mendoza at the heart of the Argentinian wine district, and stayed there for 9 days. Again I tweaked my bike, this time for climbing over the Andes, but also discovered the really active craft beer culture in Mendoza. I also had to fix a puncture after a close encounter with a water drain.
Biking across the Andes sounds like an almost impossible task, but really isn’t, at least on the road west from Mendoza. The road is quite new and never too steep, I think 8% is the steepest part, so what I had was two days of mostly very pleasant uphill.
Close to the Chilean border I also had stiff head wind, so I took a break and took a photo of the highest mountain in the southern and western hemisphere, Aconcagua! I had biked 1700 or so km to see this, I think I deserved it.
In the early evening I arrived at the last village in Chile, Las Cuevas at over 3000 meters altitude. It turned out all hotels were closed for the season. I was just about to roll back east downhill to the closest hotel when I was approached by a guy who ran the local breakfast restaurant. He offered me to stay in his apartment for the night. We ended up watching soccer on TV and drinking beer.
My plan was to bike up the gravel switchbacks to the crest at Cristo Redentor de los Andes at 3800 meters, but I woke up in the middle of the night and it felt like I had half a piece of hard cookie stuck in my windpipe. I decided it wasn’t worth the risk of coughing blood by a desolate roadside. Instead I decided in the morning to go through the tunnel that punches through the highest ridge.
Well inside Chile I had a day and a half of downhill. I’m sure I would have broken my speed record if it wasn’t for the often dangerously broken concrete road that forced me to slow down. I remember once screaming loud in frustration!
Chile was somewhat of a disappointment. This particular part of the country is quite populated, endless farms crisscrossed by diesel smelling highways. It was very hard to find good roads for biking, so for long stretches I biked on the motorways, like a rebel without a cause. At one moment I came to a dangerously narrow tunnel and realized that I would be run over and killed if I entered it. Instead I ended up walking around the hill along a small irrigation channel with my bike on my shoulder. A really great memory.
But the most dangerous stretch of road on this whole trip was actually less than 5 km from the Pacific Ocean. When the intense traffic of the steep and narrow highway eased a bit I raced like a maniac for 2 km until I could take off and slowly roll to the ocean in Viña del Mar. This is where I dipped my feet in the Pacific ocean.
Tour details (grading from 1 to 5)
- Time of year: September to May (but I’m not sure when the Andes snows over)
- Difficulty: 1 across the Pampas, 4 across Sierra Grande and the Andes.
- Duration: 3 weeks
- Scenery: 1 across the Pampas (flat and boring), 5 across the Andes
- Comments: This is a mental challenge if you do it alone, it is a long trip.