Onto the next one! Country #2: Argentina. We set off across the Rio de la Plata and into the heart of the pampas — making our way south toward the end of the world.
After one last (complimentary!) breakfast, we said goodbye to our hotel in Colonia and set off for the docks to catch our ferry to Buenos Aires. We were a tad nervous about the bikes (will they charge us? where will they go on the boat? will it be secure?), so we arrived early. The employees were helpful and after we were able to stow our bikes aboard the ferry in the rear hull (near the autos). We are preparing a step-by-step breakdown of how to navigate the process, stay tuned!
PRO TIP: If your Spanish sucks, wear your helmet! This clearly signals you have a bicycle — they can likely infer the rest!
The ferry was quiet, save for a few chatty niños, and we watched with anticipation as the Buenos Aires city skyline grew larger and larger. In total, the ride lasted about an hour and a half.
Bienvenido a Argentina!
We walked our steeds off the ferry with the crew waving behind us and rode out of the terminal. After the tranquility of Colonia (and all of Uruguay in general), we were anxious about riding our bikes through the city; no doubt, this would be our busiest ride to date. Thankfully, it was only four kilometers to Wendy’s1 apartment — but still.
We mapped a route to Wendy’s neighborhood, Recoleta, and set off. Initially, we stayed to the right side of the one-way street; however, we soon realized that other bikers were on the left side of the one way. Whoops! Thus, we made our way over and followed a local on her bike and acted like we knew what we were doing. A few kilometers in, we crossed Avenida 9 de Julio, which at ~20 lanes wide, is supposedly the widest avenue in the world.
The next street on our route had a bike lane which made things easy! We’d heard that Buenos Aires was great for bicycles and it seemed that bike lanes were prevalent through the city; however, we didn’t see a ton of bikers. Interestingly, instead of the bike lanes following the direction of traffic only, each bike lane was a two way bike path.
Around 3 million people call Buenos Aires city home; and if you include the “greater” Buenos Aires area, this number jumps to 13 million. To put things in perspective, the total population of Uruguay is ~3.4 million.
We made it to Recoleta and were welcomed by Wendy2 and her roommate Belen (from Ecuador!). They live on the top floor of an apartment building, which meant four rickety elevator trips to get all of our panniers and bikes up — but worth it for the view!
After unpacking and relaxing for a bit, we decided to check out the neighborhood. We walked around the barrio and hit the touristy hot-spot: Cementerio de la Recoleta.
Cementerio de la Recoleta
The cemetery is absurd. Covering 14 acres, the site contains 4,691 vaults, all of which are above ground. Notable residents include first lady (and national sweetheart/pop-culture icon) Eva Perón, 18 former presidents of Argentina, two Nobel Prize winners, and even a granddaughter of Napoleon Bonaparte. Some of the tombs were in immaculate condition and boasted fresh flowers; others were derelict and looked like they had been raided long ago.
Enough ghosts for one day; we scurried back to Wendy’s apartment where her friends had gathered to celebrate Wendy’s birthday! Thus commenced a fantastic evening speaking in Spanglish and learning more about Argentina.
The next day we put on our sneakers and embarked upon a Kale+Cat walking tour of the nearby (upscale) barrio, Palermo.
Buenos Aires has less than 2m2 of green space per person,3 which is well below the World Health Organization’s recommended figure of 9m2. 4 Despite this, Palermo is quite green and home to many parks, tree lined streets, and even a zoo. It reminded Kale of New York (where he spent three years studying to be a lawyer).
The city was alive and bustling — and locals seemed to be making the most of the national two-day holiday (the Feast of the Immaculate Conception). We soaked in the craziness of the city, especially relishing the convenience of locating food and water; however, after having spent months in sparsely populated Uruguay, we found the city to be a tad overwhelming and noticed ourselves craving the open road… a good thing, too, since we have plenty of this ahead of us en route to Ushuaia 😉
Getting Out of Buenos Aires
Originally, we had planned to bike the 60 kilometers to the neighboring, smaller city of La Plata, where our friends Manu and Juli5 live. However, at the advice of Manu, we decided it would be best to avoid the outskirts of Buenos Aires by taking a train from Estación Constitución (the main station in BA) 30 kilometers to the town of Berazategui. We would then bike the remaining 30 kilometers to Villa Elisa (Manu’s town on the outskirts of La Plata).
We said goodbye to Wendy and Belen and set off for the station using the bike lanes when we could and being extra careful when there were none. The majority of the route was down Avenida 9 de Julio — which was crazy busy in some areas so we pushed on the sidewalk for a couple blocks until it opened up a bit more.
Estación Constitución was crazy: filled with buses, cars, people, and worst of all… stairs. As you can imagine, our steeds aren’t the easiest things to lift. Thankfully, it seemed that whenever we encountered stairs, friendly Argentinians were quick to offer a helping hand. Cat secured the tickets while Kale waited with the bikes and chatted (in broken Spanglish) with local filmmaker and bike/Patagonia enthusiast, Juan. After exchanging facebooks with Juan, we found our train, located it’s bike carriage (woohoo!) and boarded.
Thirty minutes later, we were in Berazategui. We disembarked and were helped down some stairs by some friendly strangers. The ride to Villa Elisa was fine — we took Av. Rigolleau southwest to Camino Gral. Manuel Belgrano, swung a left and followed the dusty road (busy at times) all the way to Villa Elisa. The last third of the ride was pleasant — much less traffic and through a park! Once in Villa Elisa, we met a smiling Manu (on his moto) at the local gas station and followed him the last few kilometers to his home.
It was great to see Manu and Juli again. Since our first night in Montevideo, we’d experienced a lot — and our Spanish skills were now much better. After a traditional mate session, they informed us that we were to stay at their home and that they would be sleeping at Manu’s parents house, about 10 minutes away. Wow! We politely declined (we could camp in the yard, of course!); yet, they insisted… 🙂
The next morning, Manu and Juli swung by the house, picked us up and we headed to El Campito for a relaxing day of pool and parrilla. El Campito is a charming property owned by Manu’s parents — mostly, used for weekend relaxation and fiestas, the property features a fútbol field, parrilla, swimming pool, and a squeaky old windmill. Manu and Juli prepared a wonderful meal and we enjoyed the afternoon poolside.
After a day in the sun, we were thirsty. Naturally, we headed to the local cervezaria, Cerveza Antares. There we met up with Manu’s brother, Mati. Mati had spent last summer working at a hostel in Bariloche — and he raved about the beauty of the area. He is heading there again in a few weeks and we have planned to reunite.
A look at the beer list, and we were giddy. Sure, we’d had a few craft beers in Uruguay, but they’d consistently failed to meet our lofty standards.6 We each ordered an IPA and were blown away: delicious. Next round, we each went with the imperial stout: awesome.
We had intended on hitting the road in the morning — yet, halfway through the imperial stouts we decided to postpone our departure till the next day. With the pressure of preparing for a big ride off our shoulders, we ordered another round and enjoyed many fits of Spanglish induced laughter. Truly a fantastic evening!
The next day, Mati picked us up and drove us to La Plata. He attends the university there (studying architecture). We had some mate in the car but were still a bit groggy — so upon arrival we headed to Big Sur coffee shop for some wifi and caffeine.
The coffee shop session proved to be productive. We discovered that a train ran south from Buenos Aires to Bahía Blanca . We could catch it in San Miguel Del Monte, a two-day, 130 kilometer, ride from Manu’s house. Why Bahía Blanca ? It’s relatively close (280 kilometers) to Viedma, which is where we can hopefully jump on a train to Bariloche (the initiation point for our patagonian adventure)… well, that’s the plan at least 😉
A few hours later, Mati picked us up again and we cruised back to City Bell, to the family home of Manu and Mati. Manu and Mati’s younger brother, Tomi, and mother greeted us with a big hug and a delicious lunch of fish, potatoes, veggies and fruits. WIth Mati’s help, we booked our train tickets to Bahía Blanca , then headed to El Campito for some more R&R.
Mati’s friends (and classmates) showed up, and a casual chill-session ensued. More friends arrived and a few bros decided that it was a good night for an asado (we weren’t complaining). They slow cooked a rack of ribs and we enjoyed (probably) the best meat of the tour so far.
Since the train from San Migel Del Monte (“Monte”) to Bahía Blanca ran on Friday nights, we decided to stick around for another day. This would give us three days (two nights) to make it 130 kilometers. Even at our colossally slow pace, this was easily doable.
Our final day in Villa Elisa was a lazy one. We slept in, ate, read, slept some more and mentally prepared for the next part of the journey. That evening we shared beers and pizza with Manu, Juli and Mati, thanked them for everything and promised to return the favor when they visit the US!
Villa Elisa/City Bell to Brandsen
The next morning we shared a final meal with Manu and Juli. Juli left for work and Manu escorted us out of Villa Elisa via a shortcut, saving us a handful of kilometers! One last goodbye to Manu and we were on our own, once again.
The ride to Bransen was ~45 kilometers and completely flat. We enjoyed quiet streets and then a bike lane (well, more like a shoulder, but it sufficed). Once beyond the outskirts of La Plata, there was only highway and fields.
The second half of the journey from La Plata to Brandsen is via Ruta 215. At first, the route showed promise (double lanes plus a shoulder with median separating oncoming traffic); however, it eventually transitioned to a single lane, two-way highway with no shoulder and only a grassy bank. Sad panda.
Thus, for the last five or so kilometers into Brandsen, we rode along the grassy (and sometimes rocky) bank in order to put ourselves as far away as possible from the passing trucks and autos.
We arrived in Brandsen just after midday and immediately noticed something: this place was full of super friendly people. Almost everyone who passed either said “hola” and struck up a conversation or gave us a smile. One stranger gave us directions to the city’s plaza (for some free wifi). A man gardening the plaza shared some local knowledge and pointed us to a panaderia where we could find some yummy emparedados.
We feasted on our sandwiches in the plaza and accessed Google Maps. From what we could tell, and from what the locals told us, ruta 215 was muy angosto (very narrow) and muy peligro (very dangerous). There was no shoulder for the next 100 kilometers – which meant we would be forced to share a narrow road with traffic7 or suffer through whatever terrain the side of the road gave us, all the way to our next destination: San Miguel del Monte.
On a whim, Kale searched Google Maps’ Walking Directions feature.
Hmmm…. The road was unnamed and not viewable via street view; yet, it was only 15 extra kilometers. Surely, camping would be easier to find too, right? — so we went for it!
Brandsen to San Miguel del Monte
We left Brandsen (aka the friendliest town on earth) at around 3pm and set off on the alternative (walking) route toward San Miguel del Monte. Our goal was to get as far as we could. We pedaled for an hour, give or take, on a flat dirt road through farms and fields.
After about 20 kilometers, we stumbled upon a mowed grass entrance to a farmhouse, sheltered by a few large trees filled with chattering birds. Most of the route thus far had been enclosed by fences and/or wild brush, making this a very rare find. The spot was also protected on both sides by tall, meadow-like grass which somewhat hid us from the visibility of the occasional passing vehicle. We’d struck gold!
We settled in and prepared dinner. And, of course, snapped some photos of the local birds.
The next day, we had a small breakfast and got to peddling — we had somewhere between 50 and 60 kilometers to go until Monte and we wanted to be there by lunch!
We’d been on the road for about an hour, when all of the sudden… ASPHALT!
As sun reached it’s peak, the wind picked up and our energy began to fade.
We were getting closer to our destination; however, the road conditions were worsening. In certain points, the road was covered in sand, sometimes inches thick. We occasionally had to walk our bikes. Now and again we would get blasted by unsettled dust and sand from a passing vehicle.
With eight kilometers to go, we turned back onto a main (asphalt) route. Like the route we’d sought to avoid, this road was extremely narrow and quite busy. Riding on the road was just too risky. Anxious autos were constantly overtaking trucks, giving the trucks no chance to even entertain sharing the road with a bike. This left us with the grassy, bumpy roadside. Ugh.
The final few kilometers into Monte were painful. We’d been riding for 6 hours and were exhausted. The grass made each pedal forward a struggle. By now, we were low on water.
Miraculously, we spotted a side trail. A check of the map and we confirmed this would (almost certainly) cut toward Monte. It was worth the gamble. With chapped lips and dust everywhere8 we pushed through the final few kilometers, rolled into town and chugged some icy cold water. Whew.
A stop at the local plaza (free wifi, ftw) revealed a $50/night hotel two blocks away. Done. We’d earned it.
Tonight we’re off to Bahia Blanca. Hopefully the train can accommodate our bikes (I mean, it’s a train – there has to be space… right?).
Onward to Bariloche!