Fortunately, Ben is feeling better and we have finally resumed our journey. Even though painkillers are still on the menu, we have managed to survive a celebration in honor of the town saint of Talapampa and cross the Quebrada de las Conchas, a beautifully bizarre desert ravine with stunning rock formations, to make it to the town of Cafayate, famous for its excellent wines.
Ben and I nervously cycled out of Salta, carefully avoiding potholes and going slowly over cracks in the pavement. It was perhaps not the fastest way to get to the suburb of Cerrillos, but this time, we did not have to turn back! Even though road conditions were far from perfect and Ben had to lay down every once in a while to relax his strained back, we were making good progress. Happy to be on the road again, we high fived when we left the town behind.
In order not to push our luck, we had set ourselves a rather modest goal for the day. When we arrived at the town of Coronel Moldes, we were glad to escape the intense heat and sit down to a snack of empanadas and a cool drink. It turned out that for once, we had underestimated our own strength: it was Ben who proposed to push on and continue to Talapampa, the last town before Cafayate. We carried on in excellent spirits. After a few kilometers, we met an older man pushing his bike through the merciless afternoon heat. He had a flat tire, and the cause was obvious at first glance: the tire was so worn that it was riddled full of holes patched with cut-out parts from old tires. To think that I had thrown away one of my tires due to a single hole in the sidewall! While the tire was mysteriously held together by the makeshift patches, the inner tube was punctured beyond repair. We installed our only matching spare tube which, unfortunately, had a slow leak that we had not been able to fix. However, while the tire slowly lost air, it would take a while before it would become unrideable. At least the old man was able to cycle again. I hope he made it to his destination, Coronel Moldes, alright.
The town of Talapampa was in an uproar: it was time for the annual celebration of the village saint. The only room we managed to find was in the tavern preferred by most of the townsfolk, and at first, we were glad to sit down and enjoy a few beers as everyone around us downed impressive quantities of wine. A little while later, things started to get out of hand when the band played their (very danceable) interpretations of traditional folklore songs. Drunk men clad in heavy leather cowboy suits carried the women across the dance floor with the same ease with which they carried their curious riding accessories. A drunk man distracted us with wild ravings about falling planes and by showing off his admittedly impressive beard while snacking on our food, and one gaucho was actually too drunk to ride his horse. The poor beast went back and forth in circles as the inebriated man on its back laughed histerically. We decided to retreat discreetly and left early the next morning, cycling around the debris left over from the mad party.
Shortly afterwards, we entered the Quebrada de las Conchas, a hot and dry ravine made up of extraordinary rock formations. We had a difficult time keeping our jaws from dropping as we passed colorful rock walls, enormous stone pillars and countless cactuses that stood several meters high. At times, we forgot that we were cycling as we looked around in wonder and awe.
The sun was already low in the sky when we approached the exit of the Quebrada, and we were running low on water. There could not have been a worse moment for a puncture, and I cursed when my bike began to wobble due to the rapid loss of tire pressure. It took us an hour to fix the flat, and all the while the sun was burning relentlessly. We felt like in a furnace, and the patch we had put on the inner tube peeled off right away since the glue melted in the heat. There was no solution but to use my last spare tube. Worst of all, I had not been able to find the cause for the puncture. I felt extremely uncomfortable on the last kilometers to Cafayate, and our throats were as dry as the wastelands around us. Luckily for us, my tires stayed inflated on the way into town.
Before coming to South America, I had been told that the wheel size of my bike was very uncommon and that spare tubes would be impossible to procure. Needless to say, I was very nervous since I was already using my last spare tube. My relief could not have been bigger when we found a matching inner tube at a small local store that, among many other things, was specialized in bicycle parts. While it is difficult to find exactly the right spare parts, all it takes is luck and perseverance – and sometimes, a willingness to improvise.
After days of eating only empanadas, we enjoyed a generous plate of pasta with vegetables in our hostel. This is by far the most sparsely populated area we have come through so far, and most of the time, the only food options contain meat, so we have decided to abandon the part-time vegetarian diet we had been following since Brazil. After all, who wants to starve in the desert?