Days 74 to 78: Villa Pehuenia to Chos Malal (via Icalma in Chile)
I woke up the morning after the food and wine festival with a stinking hangover, though was grateful that I'd in indulged in 4 separate eatings through the night to fend off the worst effects. It was only 10km from Villa Pehuenia to the border with Chile and another 6km from there to the lakeside town of Icalma, and as I still had about £25 worth of Chilean pesos in my wallet decided to head across the border as I'd already spotted an alternative route back into Argentina further north.
Icalma was a beautiful lake and I eased my hangover drinking a bottle of Carmenere & listing to a few tunes while watching the sun set behind the mountains. The lake was surrounded by a nice mix of evergreen & deciduous trees, which meant in Autumn the shoreline had a real hodgepodge of green & yellow.
I kept the next day to a short 40km as well, as I wanted a bit of time to relax in the morning. The pass back from Chile to Argentina was a 950 metre climb so was content to make it to the base that day and save the climb itself for the next morning.
It was the 2nd 900 metre+ climb of the trip even taking me up above the snowline - but whereas the first one a month ago had been over about 12km, this one was over 25km - never quite decided which is more difficult in cycling; in the former scenario you're dealing with a steeper gradient, but in the latter scenario it feels like you just keep on climbing for that much longer. As the sun had been out both days i think I managed to enjoy them both equally. The downhill off the back was superb, barely needing to pedal for another 25km. Since I'd taken it easy the previous 2 days I decided to eventually smash out 130km that day up to the town of Loncopue where a highschool kid riding a bike took a real interest in my cycle trip took me on a short ride around town to show me where the budget accom options were.
Day 77 was an overcast ride up a ghastly gravel road to a middle of nowhere town called El Huecu - but being in the middle of nowhere also meant I was able to rent a 2-bedroom cottage with gas-heating & it's own kitchen for £7! But the real highlight of the last few days was Day 78 - I left with the sunrise starting with a 400 metre climb up gravel to the town of El Cholar & start of a massive canyon, for the next 40km the road just switchbacked up and down along one side - the road itself barely more than a dirt track etched into the mountainside. It was superb and saw no more than about 5 vehicles on that stretch - it has a reputation as notoriously dangerous as locals go too fast and go over the edge! Luckily being on a bike I was never in much danger of that happening to me.