Abundant flourishes of colour in wool skeins and paintings hang from all possible places in Antonio’s house-shop. An open-door has brought him more than a house-full. We are added to a Canadian Couchsurfer teaching english while imbibing textile influences and a Belgian-Basque long-term cycle touring couple with 2 children. Warmth and a more than mild degree of chaos envelop us. Group cooking mixes with rapidly rotating languages – the 4 year old, Maya, happily answers in spanish to chides in french. We struggle to concentrate enough.
The major line down the Argentinian side of the Andes is the Ruta 40. It has been updated and tamed over the years. Happily the often more direct, quiet and ‘interesting’ original sections still exist. Soon after Belén we escape onto one of these – a justifiably deserted rock strewn dirt road from Londrés to Tinogasta via the Cuesta de Zapata.
Our ‘low’ altitude (only 1000-2000m) has brought a return to thorns last seen and experienced in northern México. Puncture-free for weeks and thousands of kilometres, it is a bit of shock to the system.
The other ‘new’ thing in Argentina has been the siesta. Sounds innocent enough? In a well-developed self-centricity we’ve got accustomed to something being open somewhere in a town or village when we pootle in during the afternoon. Not so far in Argentina. Apart from ice-cream shops which seem to open for business specifically for the siesta. Timing our arrival in the smaller villages and towns suddenly becomes critical, especially when every door slams shut at midday, not to be pried open (even for ready money) until 7pm…. It’s not that we don’t understand – it’s pretty hot and a snooze appeals greatly. Partly it’s a symptom of our reintroduction to travel and existence in more affluent places. Further north nothing ever shuts totally and if you’re willing to ask around a bit and bang on a few dilapidated wooden shutters someone will sell you something whenever you want. They wouldn’t risk losing any trade. In Argentina people can even take holidays! We’ve met quite a few avidly curious families on their way to a point of local interest who are keen to find out whether we’ve been to their corner of the country. They’re all welcoming and pleased to see us. Tents and camping wherever you fancy doesn’t phase them. Mind you, when the shops are open, they’ve actually got stuff in them too – bonus! Rather than find the richness of food options a challenge we’ve found ourselves poking around the shelves in excited agitation exclaiming at one thing after another. It probably helps that even the ‘supermercados’ are locally owned, non-chain affairs with all the idiosyncrasies that make you smile.
We leave our overly athletic compañeros in Jachel. They have to take the direct, faster (and busier) route to San Juan for a phone interview. We have our eye on a small-road route closer to the mountains. Maybe we’ll meet in Mendoza? We hope so.