Ruta 40 is one of two major highways that run the entire length of Argentina. Only when we say major highway there are still some rough unpaved sections. We joined onto the Ruta near Mendoza, more or less the same geographic height as Santiago. From here to the top of the country was all spectacular desert bordering the Andes mountains.
For us, Ruta 40 was the road where we spent most nights just in our sleeping bags under the stars, ditched the pavement for more exciting closed dirt roads and met several people who would form our little biker gang.
Much of the route has optional tourist traps where for the price of your right leg you can go and look at a pile of rocks. But having the bikes gives us an incredible range of freedom. We found gorges to explore, hot pools to bathe in, colourful hills to admire and even cacti to sleep under.
Our biggest challenge was navigating the daily siesta closures. Shops and in-fact even whole towns for the most part close down anywhere between one and five in the afternoon. The streets go quiet and when you're not prepared (read: often) it can end up being a very late lunch. Despite being slightly annoying when you forget about it, we’re very impressed siestas are still so heavily ingrained in the culture and it really is a great tradition.
At the start of our Ruta 40 roadie we spent a night camping with some mates we’d made Couchsurfing in El Chalten who are cycle touring north. After testing out their pushies we hastily reacquainted ourselves with our motorised bikes and tore off into the distance.
Pushing on through typical red earth desert we found another open-air camp below some sand dunes. The beauty of sleeping out every night is that not only can you stare off into the milky way as you drift off to sleep, but you also never miss a sunrise either, all from the comfort and warmth of your bed.
In preparation for a possible second closed road adventure, we thought the most appropriate thing to do would be to take the bikes into the loose desert sands and see just what we could do on them. Getting comfortable being on the edge of control was obviously heaps of fun but probably sent our confidence levels far higher than our actual skill levels. No doubt this contributed to the confidence we had to take on our second closed road later that day.
Still nursing my freshly injured shoulder from that adventure we took a few days to rest up in Salta. A young family of three welcomed us into their home and provided hospitality that would rival that of royalty. Cooking pizzas on a little rooftop fireplace they have couldn’t have been a warmer welcome into the family. The days were spent doing errands around the city and the evenings cooking with the family.
Very quickly the sweeping desert mountains became lush forests where an old abandoned lakeside hotel became our Chateaux de dirtbags for the night.
And just like that, before we could blink again we were back into the barren mountainous landscapes. Towards the end of the Ruta, the elevation was bordering 3500m and the nights well below freezing.
Right up near the Bolivian border we climbed up above 4000m for the first time. Yet we couldn’t be sure if it was the altitude or the incredible 14 coloured mountain range in-front of us that was taking our breath away.
By chance the four other bikers we’d become friends with along the Ruta all arrived into town at the same time. So with our Aussie mate Meg, English legend Storm, and Italian beauties Pagi and Roberto we joined forces and all seven of us geared up to take on the 4900m pass over into Chile.
That story soon.