Cruz del Eje – Capilla del Monte – La Falda – Cosquin – Cordoba – 160.7km
Climing into the Sierras de Cordoba from Cruz del Eje, we had a bit of tailwind, first time in ages, and the landscape around us changed from the dry desert scrub to more grass and trees framed by mountains. Though it was still blazing hot in the bright sunshine, the breeze was cooler as we got higher. Capilla del Monte was our first stop in the Punilla Valley and we had a lot of grand plans for Capilla del Monte from hiking up mountains to visiting nearby river swimming holes. However, we ended up spending all five days lounging by the pool at the campground, relaxing, reading and going for a dip when it got too hot. There is said to be a mystical energy here that draws UFOs, many Argentinean families, couples and backpackers escaping the hot cities in summer to experience some tranquil nature and the beautiful mountain landscapes around the town, and apparently encourages us to chill and relax. We drank a lot of mate and grilled up steaks for dinner. We didn’t see any UFOs during our time here but there was some amazing stargazing. Two planets glowed brightly in the sky.
It was a short 30km ride from Capilla del Monte to La Falda, another cute Argentinean vacation town, this time with a old Germanic flair where fancy old hotels reminded me of square mansions in the Sound of Music and some buildings had a more kitchy Bavarian black wood design. The whole main street was very upscale with lots of little shops and restaurants, reminding me of being in the West End in Vancouver. I came to wonder where was the line that when crossed out of the developing world and into the developed. I couldn’t place it exactly…
As we were leaving the tourism information office, armed with a map and thinking about what to do next – should we camp at the lake 4km away or try to find something affordable here in town? – a man’s voice called out to us in English, “Hey, where are you guys from?” We said Canada and he said “Oh good, you do speak English”. It was Danny, a man who is originally from Puerto Rico but seems to have lived everywhere including growing up in New York. He’s here with his wife, Patti, who is from Mar de Plata in Argentina. They recently moved here a month ago after Danny left his soul sucking job in Playa de Carmen, Mexico with a time-share business. It was good money, Danny said, but it was all about money and the pressure to make MORE money for the owner and the bosses. They were here for a fresh start and met Malena, an exuberant woman from San Francisco, a city in north-eastern Cordoba province. They are all in their 60s but all still so very young at heart.
Malena is an amazing woman. She got hurt in a fall and the recovery process was very depressing and one day, she decided to completely change her life. She gave her house to a young newlywed couple she knew that could not afford a place of her own, and her family and moved to a two bedroom apartment in a new town where she volunteers doing social work with elderly people. Her children and grandchildern come to visit and Malena seems to adopt other people as well…like us! Within a half hour of meeting her, we were settled into her apartment where we stayed for two nights and had her extra key to her house. Apparently, it was the same story with Danny and Patti. Malena says, “You can’t steal what is truly important, which is inside” pointed at her heart. She is hilarious and doesn’t speak any English and our Spanish only gets us so far. However, she has this saying, “No se pero SI!” or “No entiendo pero SI!” I don’t know/I don’t understand but yes! Everything is a bit of a joke with her. Malena, Danny and Patty are truly inspiring people. La Falda was an amazing experience that was completely unplanned.
There was a music festival going on free in the streets at night and we got to see some Brazillian style carnival dancers plus a talent contest like American Idol. Malena knows everyone and got us interviewed on the local TV network.
Then, it was another short 20km of riding from La Falda to Cosquin for the music festival. The Cosquin National Folklore Festival is the biggest and most important in the nation and we got to go for the opening weekend. There was an endless parade with people dressed up in traditional dress doing traditional dances. It was a celebration of gaucho culture, the ranching lifestyle that is at the heart of Argentinean national identity. People old and young were dressed up and dancing down the street – women in wide, ruffled skirts and men in pantaloons and boots. The men looked sharp in their outfits and danced up a storm but most of their outfits reminded us of pirates or cowboys and often a little bit of both! At night, there was a concert that lasted from 10pm all the way to past 4am!
After Cosquin, we rode around Lago San Roque which looked beautiful but polluted from all the fancy homes around it and then rode into Cordoba via a small mountain road though La Caldera.
The road winded through a river canyon in the green mountains with huge condor birds soaring overhead. After all of that flat desert riding, it was so nice to ride in a green river valley again. I was getting tired of riding this past bit. Cycling was a means to a destination and I couldn’t wait until we got there. However, today is the first time in a long time that I really enjoyed the ride and thought it could keep going.
After La Caldera, it was all urban riding into Cordoba. In Cordoba, Argentina’s second biggest city, we are spending time with some friends that we had Christmas with, Martin from Cordoba and Edu who is cycling from Colombia.