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General: the Valle de Uco between Mendoza and El Manzano Histórico (‘the historic apple tree’) is not very interesting. It is worth resting in the warm climate here after crossing the Andes, but not worth looking for interesting cycle rides.

Our planning had been thrown out by difficulties with accommodation, by lack of detail concerning the new Potrerillos reservoir, and by disruption caused by unseasonable weather. No one should follow this part of our itinerary, but the information in it may be of some use.

Sat 29 Jan: Vallecitos (102km, 1180m ascent)

Our plan was to put our bikes on the bus to Potrerillos and ride from there to the ski station at Vallecitos and back, returning to Mendoza by bus.

The bus was very full, and we wondered whether there would be room for us on the return journey. Our bikes were loaded rather carelessly. The bus was also slow, and the weather was deteriorating. It was nearly lunch time when we reached Potrerillos, a place of no interest.

We rode most of the way to Vallecitos, the road turning to ripio 5km after the junction. What we saw of the climb wasn’t very interesting. (Furthermore we doubt the quoted height of 2900m for Vallecitos.) Then we turned back, getting a late lunch at Potrerillos. We finished by cycling back to Mendoza along the main road, a line of clouds in the sky indicating a frontal system. The whole day was a slog. Light rain fell in the evening.

Note: The Grand Hotel at Potrerillos had been undergoing restoration when we planned our trip.

Sun 30: Mendoza–Cacheuta (44km, 630m)

A harmless ride on a cloudy day. The route is evidently popular with Mendocino cyclists: now that route 82 is broken at Cacheuta, it carries very little traffic. Lunch at the thermal hotel, where we are booked for the night. We don’t do much in the afternoon. It starts raining in the evening.

Note: the hotel is pleasant but expensive by Argentinian standards. We were paying £100 per night for the two of us, all meals and drink included. Route 82 is the continuation of the Av. San Martín in Mendoza.

Mon 31: forced rest day

Rain falls all night, and is still falling in the morning. We don’t fancy riding on, and book another night. Argentina is suffering its coldest summer weather for 30 years, and all the rain we see through the window is falling more heavily as snow on the mountains. The Cristo Redentor tunnel is briefly closed. We don’t believe that our intended Piuquenes crossing will be possible, and start considering the options for returning to Santiago by bus.

The rain stops by lunchtime and Colin goes for a walk in the afternoon and Tracey for a training ride.

Tues 1 Feb: Cacheuta–Tupungato (89km, 680m)

We head back towards Mendoza and then head south. Route-finding is difficult at first (see the map). Eventually we get onto route 79 which is flat but pleasant in its way, running between vineyards and orchards. Half way along it turns to hard earth. It joins route 86 which is soul-destroyingly straight and runs through increasingly dry scenery, gaining a narrow ridge and then descending to Tupungato, where we stay at the Hostería Don Rómulo, a simpler place than we are used to, but convenient since it is Don Rómulo who has organised our mules.

The weather forecast predicts improvement by the end of the week. Don Rómulo is encouraging about the prospects for our return journey, saying that when summer temperatures return the snow will quickly melt. But we delay our plans by one day.

Note: Tupungato has all facilities: a good supermarket, a post office, and banks with ATMs.

Weds 2: day ride (35km, 460m)

In

Clouds lifting

order to have something to do we rode part way to Potrerillos along route 89 – a so-so piece of ripio which climbs slowly – and when we lost interest we turned back. There were encouraging views of the clouds lifting, but the Andes were covered with snow down to a low level.

We spent the afternoon shopping.

Notes: We reckoned we’d need packed lunches for the Piuquenes crossing. We bought excellent small tins of pâté and crackery biscuits to spread it on from the supermarket. We also stocked up on the usual supplies: pasta, porridge, petrol etc. We bought a rope from Don Rómulo.

Thurs 3: Tupungato–Manzano (75km, 1160m including detours)

A

V. Tupungato

Leaving Tupungato

perfectly clear morning with beautiful views of snow-covered mountains. We set off in good spirits. At first the road stays in the green productive corridor. It is tarmac all the way to Los Sauces (‘the willows’) and the junction with route 94. We don’t want to go to Los Sauces, but the ripio which runs directly from Los Arboles to Manzano saving about 35km isn’t signposted; what’s more, Los Arboles (‘the trees’) itself seems invisible. So we go the long way.

From Los Sauces the road is another ruler-straight effort. It is flat without being level, gaining height slowly and tiringly. Three Argentinian cars pull up alongside us to ask if this is the road to Manzano: it’s not just gringos who are bemused by the signposting. Colin is not going well, and Tracey zooms ahead.

Manzano

Campsite view

is the end of the tarmac. It isn’t much more than a collection of campsites. We’d hoped to stay at the posh Hotel Samay Huasi a little beyond it, but when Tracey gets there she finds it has burned down; the nearby ‘Dayvar Club’, though it advertises accommodation, is inhospitable. We spend an age cycling around trying to stay in cabins, wondering whether we should camp, grabbing a desperate pizza lunch, heading for a campsite which doesn’t exist, and eventually pitching a wild camp at a picnic spot a little short of the ex-hotel Samay Huasi (1845m).

Notes: without the detours the day’s tally would have been 60km, 1000m. If we’d found the direct road it would have been much shorter, though without much less climbing.

It is worth riding a little beyond Manzano because tomorrow’s ride is a hard one. See our GPS page for the precise location of our campsite (not that it was very well chosen).

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