Argentina 2: Córdoba – La Rioja

We spend the days in Córdoba on route planning and intestinal calming. Route planning because the distances between the villages and towns seem to increase as we drive further west. We have time to dive into that. We map out various directions and then choose the route that we are most looking forward to. In the meantime, the irritated intestines slowly become calmer. Details about the intestinal complaints are only provided upon written request in triplicate and take into account the standard response period of six weeks, which can be unilaterally extended by another six weeks, which is a small bridge to an issue that no longer concerns us: what would happen with the new Environmental Act?


The intestines may be calm again, but Roelie drives out of Córdoba like a coffee grinder. It is also relatively difficult to accelerate and slow down again and again with a loaded bicycle at the countless intersections, traffic lights, potholes and bumps in the road. After about 10 kilometers there is also a flat tire (again). Ggggrrrh irritating, but fortunately we are near a gas station and we can patch the tire in the shade of the large canopy. We have to spray ourselves with repellent, because the mosquitoes have found us again and are biting us in places where we did not apply this morning, yes through the clothing on the buttocks and shoulders. Unfortunately, we cannot find the cause of the leak. We just hope for the best as we continue down the road.


The first more serious climb is on the program and the fact that Roelie doesn’t have the legs turns out to be super inconvenient. Even in the slightest resistance, her legs do not turn around willingly and she gasps for breath like a fish out of water and stops at every turn. The route over these Sierras Chicas turns out to be quite busy and on such a climb the speed difference is very large and the distance between us and the passing traffic is sometimes far too small.

When will the agony stop?

A rickety shack, a parador, along the road turns out to be a sales point for snacks and a cold drink and also a gathering place for flies. The first is a welcome surprise, because we thought we wouldn’t encounter anything along this road. Now that it takes so much longer than expected, a cold drink is very welcome in the hope that the sugars will then be converted into renewed energy.


Even though it is clear that our Spanish is really terrible, the owner talks to us endlessly and gives us all regalos, or gifts. First we get stickers of the Ruta 98, of the road we cycle and which Roelie no longer appreciates an inch, wants to leave behind and quickly forget. The good man makes it clear that it will be heavier and hot further west and gives Harry coca leaves with charcoal, including a lesson on how to use the two and a whole story about what it all helps against: fatigue, dehydration, aches and pains, and probably more much more, but well, we don’t understand that very well (and we probably will never master it because he talks muy rapido). Finally, he arrives, at the house’s expense, with two large empanadas. The cheerful and talkative man is a real trail angel.

We leave the break behind us and unfortunately the sugars, empanada and rest do not prove to be a panacea and we often find ourselves standing on the side of the road before we reach the top at an altitude of around 1250 meters.

On the descent, another surprise awaits us from the navigation app: we have to take an exit to the higher eastern side of the town of La Falda. At first we cycle straight past it. We are on a wonderful descent and before we stop we are far past the exit and we can go from gear 18 back to 1 to go back up the slope back to the intended exit. However, the only thing we see at the designated spot is a concrete drain. Crazy Komoot, this is impossible. We have no choice but to descend further and then climb back up, something that gives us an extra 10 kilometers and about 100 meters of elevation gain.

Huh? Down here??

It is late when we arrive at Christian’s campsite in La Falda where we will pitch our tent for the first time this trip. We found the campsite thanks to iOverlander; an app mainly for travelers with a camper who are looking for a place to stay overnight and receives good comments. Christian is also called Walter and that is due to his Danish roots and his double first name. Our introduction is short because he is about to leave for a guiding tour. That’s a shame for us, because we would have liked to make use of his knowledge as a globetrotter and guide about the country and the Andes. When asked, Christian does provide some background information about the use and legitimacy of the use of coca leaves. The use of the leaves seems to be very normal in northwest Argentina, in the Andes, and therefore more or less legal. Christian endorses the stimulating properties of coca, but also indicates that it can lead to an allergic reaction. Finally, Christian agrees that the low-lying area between these Sierras and the Andes can indeed be challenging: empty and above all hot. We decide to just throw the leaves away. During his absence, Christian’s campsite is managed by a nice American-Belgian couple: Darryl and Katrien, who stayed at the campsite a while ago.

We set up our tent in no time – we haven’t forgotten how to do it yet – and then Harry cycles to the center of La Falda, which is 100 meters lower. Roelie is prescribed rest and takes a shower. The shopping list can be almost completely checked off, except for vegetables. Most supermarkets and kiosks do not sell fruit and vegetables in Argentina and unfortunately the local Carrefour (open 24/7) is no exception. Harry cycles around for a while, but after cycling twice in vain to a greengrocer’s shop, which according to Google Maps does not exist but does not actually exist, he gives up and starts the climb back to the campsite. A can of peas and an onion from Katrien helps to provide the pasta with some healthy ingredients.

During this first night in the tent on our trip, the temperature drops to pleasant values below 20 degrees. We are still at an altitude of 1000 meters and you notice that at night. We sleep like a baby. How delightful! The next morning we chat some more and then say goodbye to Darryl and Katrien and the four sweet dogs of the campsite. We have breakfast at one of the many, many places in La Falda.


While we wait for breakfast, we check the route again and we see that Google Maps suggests a different route than Komoot. Google’s route seems to us to be more fun, more adventurous and, above all, calmer than Komoot’s. La Falda is one of the several tourist towns that has grown together like a ribbon from south to north on the Ruta Nacional 38. We still cycle a lot on that Ruta, but here it seems much too busy for relaxed cycling. Google suggests an unpaved road that we can follow for more than 40 kilometers through the uneven interior. Until that exit 20 kilometers away, Komoot has an alternative to the busy road: a paved road running parallel to the railway (and the 38). That is not true. It shouldn’t even be called a path, it’s more of a gully.

Anyway, after this excursion, cursing Komoot, we return to the 38 and stop briefly at a gas station that also offers the last opportunity to stock up on water. To our surprise, the gas station has a kind of bicycle service (parking) place with some tools and a pump (unfortunately not suitable for our valves).

Remarkable sight/facility here in Argentina: parking staples and tool columns

We stock up on four liters of water and both drink a bottle of lemonade and continue our way. After a few kilometers we turn left onto the dirt road. On this road we climb a bit further to an altitude of 1150 meters and then start a beautiful and fairly easy descent. The view from a height of 1000 meters over the lower distances is beautiful. That descent becomes even more beautiful when we end up in a gorge. It becomes very steep and we feel sorry for a group of mountain bikers who come towards us, pushing their bikes. One of them shouts something after us from which we deduce that the river must be fordable further on. That river is the Rio Pinto and it is indeed easy to ford and cools the feet.


It is gradually getting hotter and hotter and we are in danger of running out of water supply. With about 28 kilometers to go, we fill our water bottles with the last of the water, now warm as tea. We put ourselves on rations by drinking sparingly, almost mathematically distributed over the remaining kilometers. The terrain still slopes slightly, but there are some really difficult parts. With 10 kilometers to go we start a final climb that takes us out of this valley of the Rio Quilpo to the town of San Marcos Sierres, 100 meters higher. We previously noticed that town because of the large number of overnight accommodation options there, including a campsite.

We are quite surprised that there is nothing to do in the town, even though the siesta has started again. The town has zero meters of asphalt: the entire network of streets consists of gravel and sand. Remarkable and it reminds us of El Rocio in Andalusia where all streets are unpaved. Fortunately, we can sit somewhere on the edge of the Plaza and order a cold bottle of beer and look at our options for an overnight stay. The campsite is canceled because the temperatures at night will not fall below 26 degrees. An accommodation at the very edge of the village has good reviews and is also on Booking, so we can take a “look inside”. We prefer not to make a reservation via Booking, on the one hand because we cannot/are not allowed to ask questions in advance of a reservation (about storing our bicycles) and on the other hand because we know that 15% of the rate will be charged. from Booking in NL still hangs. We are very pleased when Guillermo, the super nice and quite English-speaking owner of the accommodation, proposes us a price that is slightly 20 US dollars lower than Booking. Tasty! For less than €30 we get a nice suite where we can cook our own meals in a huge communal kitchen, on our own.

The next morning we start with, yes, a flat tire. We quickly stick it on, but when we want to put the drive belt back around the sprocket, we notice that the sprocket is loose. It’s a miracle that Roelie didn’t notice this before. But it is clear that the gear needs to be secured. You need a special tool from Pinion for that, which we… yes, have with us. But what we also need is a 10mm Allen key. And unfortunately we forgot to take that with us. We have been looking forward to this key here in Argentina for a week or two now and then, but you can only buy it as a set with multiple sizes and we actually think that is a shame (after all, we have a set up to 8mm with us). We ask Guillermo via WhatsApp if he has a “10”, he does not have one, but he offers to take us to a bicycle rental shop in his pickup. The old landlord is someone who speaks some German. His grandparents emigrated to Argentina after WWI, he says. It takes the guy quite a while to find a 10 allen key (there doesn’t seem to be any organization in storing his tools), but eventually he comes up with a can with a bunch of junk and three “number 10s”.

As if we are very experienced mechanics, we fix the gear, during which we are offered another lump of fat with something in it that looks like meat. It vaguely resembles head cheese or preskop. Roelie and Guillermo sensibly refuse, but Harry thinks that is rude. With long teeth it nibbles half of it and then drops the other half unnoticed in the taller grass. But his acceptance of the preskop has made him a friend of the house and Harry asks if the best man would like to sell us an Allen key. The man immediately makes it clear that we can choose one and that we will receive it as a gift.

Some things took us quite some time, but today’s stage is short; about 45 kilometers to Villa de Soto. So we take some time for breakfast and buy fresh bread with a few slices of cheese and ham at a kiosk and eat it on the spot. With good intentions we start the stage somewhere around 11 o’clock, which we will remember for a long time as the “flat tire day”. To keep the story short: we hit the flat five more times today! At a certain point we no longer dare to stand on the roadside. What on earth should we do with these tires? Harry blames himself: he chose the Racing Ray and Racing Ralph from Schwalbe, mainly because of their crossover qualities and low rolling resistance. But it is now painfully clear that these tires are insufficiently puncture resistant and certainly cannot withstand the thorns that are everywhere on and along the road. He thinks back with nostalgia to the virtually flat tires we used to have, the Marathon Mundial and the Marathon Plus MTB, both from Schwalbe. We promise each other in La Rioja to tackle this problem by the horns, we have no idea yet what we are doing, but there are at least a dozen bicycle shops there.

Anyway, after all this material suffering, we finally cycle again on the relatively safe asphalt of Ruta 38 into Villa de Soto. It is now the hottest time of the day, we have the wind at our backs and that provides a wonderful support, but we also miss the cooling effect. It’s terribly hot. We fear the same straight road with even higher temperatures in the coming days.

Just before Villa de Soto we flee to the canteen of a gas station where the air conditioning is blowing wonderfully. We look at accommodation options and options

In contrast to the stretch across the pampas between Rosario and Córdoba, the towns here are irregular (and larger) apart. It’s a bit of a puzzle that results in another short stage of almost 60 kilometers, just a little more than yesterday. Since yesterday, our weather apps have been predicting bone dry and very hot weather for the next 10 days, but last night it rained heavily for a long time and now it is still dripping. The temperature is also not too bad: we think something like 20 degrees: wonderful. Even with this lower temperature, getting a little wet is not a problem, on the contrary. We leave early and in the rain. Along the way we stop at a gas station for a café con leche and the rain gradually decreases. The route is a bit boring, but today there are a lot of waves at us and we get a lot of thumbs up. We continue to love that.

Around 12 o’clock we cycle into the town of Serrezuela. Beforehand we thought that Villa de Soto would be a nice town and Serrezuele would be a not-nice town, but the opposite is true. Here in Serrezuele, Ruta 38 is somewhat narrower and has sidewalks and is lined with trees. It immediately gives a more pleasant picture. We order a hearty lunch with an oversized bottle of beer; We have a record to celebrate, namely a cycling day with the fewest elevation meters (10 today). A beautiful stray dog celebrates with us (or is he just pretending to play?)

With full bellies we report early in the afternoon at a hospedaje a few blocks away. This hospedaje is in fact two rooms in the house of a very sweet lady. As usual, we spend a bit of time in the later afternoon waiting until 8 p.m.; the moment when the restaurants are still completely empty, but are open. There is a restaurant/cafeteria in the bus station. When we get the menu, it turns out to be the menu with coffee and sweets, which is still more common for the Argentinians at the time. We cycling Dutch people ask for the dinner menu and fortunately the kitchen is open and it quickly serves us an unappetizing Milanese and a meh pizza. Half of the pizza remains and we take it with us in view of tomorrow when a long stage awaits us with only one stop.

The next morning Harry has serious problems with his intestines again. Fortunately, we are now armed with effective medication (loperamide). The sweet lady got up extra early for us to serve us a great breakfast at exactly six o’clock; the best so far in Argentina. Just before sunrise, which is currently around a quarter to seven here, we jump on our bikes.

Things are going well: it is still quiet on the road and it seems that the gentle breeze at our backs is making our shadows longer. We expect a sweltering day, but now the temperature is still pleasant: so put on the gas and make some progress!

After twenty kilometers we pass the provincial border between Córdoba and La Rioja. That is more or less on a spur of a salt lake, and at a height of 190 meters it is the lowest part of our stage today and actually of the entire plain. At this point there is a rather special monument/work of art in which we discover all kinds of things, such as the outline of the province of La Rioja, Inca shapes, hands, heads and a cactus. We stop for some photos and a sticker on the road sign.

And not long afterwards we are standing still again: with a flat tire. Aaargh, not again, not today. We still have so far to go and are trying to stay ahead of the heat. All the sticking around in recent weeks has ensured that we are perfectly attuned to each other and can bond together as a RedBull pit box team in no time. Not that this gives us any satisfaction, nope.

After almost 60 kilometers we eat half of yesterday’s pizza in the only village on the route today, Chañar. And it tastes better now than yesterday. Then follow the last 40 kilometers, which are a lot harder: the wind picks up and turns diagonally against and the temperature quickly rises to above 30 degrees. Harry is doing well in the last 20 and Roelie does all the leading work with a sweating and toiling ex-leader on her wheel.

We reach Chamical at exactly 1 p.m. and here too our expectations are not confirmed. We expected a somewhat rough industrial town, but it is quite nice by Argentinian standards. We book a room for less than €30 again in a hotel with a luxurious appearance that, if you look closer, is in urgent need of renovation and new linen. but hey, you hardly ever hear us complain about accommodations, especially not at this price. Later in the evening we walk to the center to eat. At a restaurant on the Plaza, a few tables are occupied and people are having coffee. In our best Spanish we conclude that although the kitchen is not yet open, we can cook pasta for us if we want. Yes, we want that. Ravioli filled with cheese lies in a cream sauce under a thick layer of cheese. Not very healthy, not very tasty, but very nutritious.


The hotel gives us a voucher to get breakfast at the gas station. This consists of a coffee and a mini just and two medialunas (mini croissants). That’s enough for now, but certainly not enough for today, so we buy two more sandwiches for the road. The goal today is the town of Patquia and navigation is not necessary today. It’s just always right, okay with a slight bend somewhere in the middle. Just after that bend, just off Ruta 38, is the only village with 500 souls. Unthinkable in the Netherlands, but here a village of this size also has a large police station. Fortunately, the village also has a mini shop with a bench in front of it, in the shade. Ideal break spot. Here we eat the sandwich (quite tasty), an apple and drink a bottle of pomelo, our favorite in Argentina. It is not yet siesta time, but nothing is really happening in the village, unless it is those two burly, or rather portly, policemen who come to our shop to get a few media lunas to support their investigative work in this village.

With difficulty we manage to escape the immediately addictive “daily rhythm” of this village and we get back on our bikes. The environment is starting to change somewhat: the earth has turned a red color that reminds us of those straight highways in the red earth in Australia. And in the distance we see the first foothills of the Andes. And reminds us of Argentina four years ago. We’re getting close!

Patquia is a town that derives its right to exist from the intersecting roads of Rutas 38, 74 and 105. And about 100 kilometers away is a Parque Nacional. Both facts result in a lot of freight traffic and bus transport, which in turn means that there are two important buildings here: the gas station and the bus terminal. There is also a somewhat basic (some would say shabby) hotel. The reviews are not great and regularly report the presence of cockroaches that walk in under the door at night. The price is not high, again just under €30, but we are getting spoiled: we have stayed in much better accommodations for the same price. But the towels and linen are intact, this time. The hotel is a series of rooms located behind the restaurant along a tiled path in the open air. That path is indeed littered with cockroaches that seem to have had their day: they are all lying on their backs and some seem to have given up the ghost. In the evening after dinner, just to be safe, we stuff the napkins we brought from the restaurant between the crack of our door.

We get up early again so that we can leave before seven o’clock. It looks like the napkins did their job: no cockroach seen inside. Today we cycle the last stage to La Rioja, where we have rented an AirBnb apartment and will stay for no less than four nights. Today there is no village or town on our route, but there is a customs and police checkpoint, about 35 kilometers away, exactly half way. There, on a sidewalk of something that sells something, we eat a bone-dry sandwich we brought with us and drink some lemonade we brought with us.

The Ruta 38 is a lot busier today than in recent days, but that seems logical to us so close to the provincial capital. That is why we took our route after this place over the old Ruta 38, the Exruta 38. It is unpaved and nice and quiet. The connecting road between the new and the old 38 still leaves us with some doubts, what a shitty road. But when we are finally allowed to turn right, we pick up speed again. It is then another 30 kilometers, and in the end we are quite happy that the last 10 are on asphalt again.

We arrive nice and early, around noon, in La Rioja. Our AirBnB host is super nice and speaks English. He shows us the mega apartment and gives us some tips. If we need anything else, he is happy to help us. We’ll keep that in mind. Before we take a shower, we first do some shopping at a large supermarket a few hundred meters away. We do not have to convince ourselves that a larger supermarket might have some products from across the border: foreign cuisine does not go further than Italy and that is due to the fact that the vast majority of the population directly or indirectly has Italian roots. In Argentina, it is not the case that you have a more varied range of products in a larger supermarket. There’s just more of the same on the shelves. And it is not the case that those Italian influences lead to culinary quality: the offering is rather basic, limited and unhealthy. And… the larger the supermarket, the longer the line at the checkout. But we have time.

Please allow at least half an hour to wait at the checkout

A lot of choice!

The next day, Roelie’s rear tire is flat again. We were already planning to think carefully about what we can do about our tire problem, but this flat (yes, another thorn) encourages us to look at other tires. We scour the internet and use our old cycling friends from Bariloche and the friend of our host Lucas (owner of a bicycle shop) as advisors. However, many tires are comparable to the ones we have now and most tires cost more than €80. We don’t dare to do it and can already imagine that we will have a flat on the first day on new tires costing around €80 each. In fact, we only come across one tire that everyone says is practically “deflatable”: the Schwalbe Marathon (Mondial). There is also an MTB variant of this tire: the Marathon Plus MTB. The tire is very expensive here in Argentina and difficult to obtain, but we made the decision anyway: we are going to order it. We do this on MercadoLibre, the Argentinian version of Amazon, or our Dutch Bol. Ordering is not easy, but Lucas offers to help us using his own account. Lucas sympathizes with us, because we also have to extend our stay considerably, since the waiting time is probably a week. That means five to seven extra nights, on top of the four we booked. Lucas offers that we only pay one night extra and stay the rest of the waiting time for free. What a very nice guy! We will immediately use this windfall. While we initially considered replacing only the rear tires, we decided to replace all four tires. It is now Thursday evening, hopefully the tires will arrive next Thursday and we can continue on Friday February 2.


The San Nicolás de Bari Cathedral is one of the taller buildings in La Rioja. There are hardly any high-rise buildings in the city because it is located in an earthquake risk area.

We put the extra time to good use. Arranging money and writing this blog, bicycle maintenance, watching live skating and cyclocross on YouTube, lots of Netflix, learning a lot of Spanish with Duolingo and a lot of orientating on the different route options to and in Bolivia. For the time being we are opting for the more adventurous routes, but either way: it promises to be very beautiful. We’re looking forward to it: we’ve already been on the road for three weeks, but it still feels like we’re only just getting started. But first we have to wait for the tires that will take us through the Andes without too much sticking. Because we cannot rule anything out, we do buy some extra stickers, the stock replenished in Rosario has now shrunk considerably.

La Rioja is a nice city. It is the provincial capital and therefore has more to offer than a normal city of a comparable size. There are so many shops in all shapes, sizes and merchandise. It is inevitable that internet shopping is still in its infancy here. Every day we walk to the center and drink a café con leche on one of the many terraces, with a media lunch. Always in the early morning because from 12 o’clock the heat here is unbearable. Fortunately, our now free apartment has four air conditioners…