Across The Pampas
During the 2 weeks of the 2022 South American Epic that I was fortunate enough to experience on a break from our virtual office, the riders pedalled out of Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, and across the famous Pampas, an area of incredibly fertile soil whose products include wheat, meat and wool.
At this time of year, spring in the Southern hemisphere, the new wheat shoots appeared as a mesmerizing emerald green against the dusty brown fields. Leaving behind the vast sprawl of Buenos Aires, huge ranches and farms began to appear. They reminded me of the North American prairies…but with bright green parakeets and towering palm trees!
Our route out of the city took us along the banks of the Rio Parana, South America’s second largest river, known for its incredible floods, hence the riverside towns being built up on the nearby bluffs. Each night we camped along the water and enjoyed the beautiful views across the water. In the small town of Baradero, as the sun came up, a half dozen wild horses came racing down the dirt road along the river, their tails whipping wildly behind them, their hooves spraying dust into the air. A short time later a guacho (akin to American cowboys) appeared on a horse and effortlessly corralled the escapees and led them back home.
Four days of cycling took us into Rosario, a vibrant city of over a million people, one that I had never heard of. After just one rest day, I knew I would love to come back. Parks, bike lanes, art and architecture. A revitalized park that extended for over 15 kms along the river. Streets lined with towering eucalyptus and sycamore trees. Waterfront restaurants that featured elevators for diners to descend to the river from the bluffs, there to gorge on the delicious local speciality – Boga, a large freshwater fish served whole and seasoned with herbs, lemon, white wine and a variety of spices. Huge ocean going freighters glide effortlessly past on their way to Paraguay.
In the city centre there are almost no stoplights/stop signs. It is all about yielding but when I asked Juan, our local Argentinian support, about the rules he simply shrugged his shoulders and said he had no idea. Perhaps that explains the few lights that I did see where the green pedestrian signal showed the traditional little green man but in this case his legs were moving quickly, as if he were running for his life.
Rosario is also where Che Guevara was born, is home to the incredible footballer Lionel Messi (left in background) and was where the national flag of Argentina was first raised. As I wandered the streets, I came across a memorial to the Armenian genocide which seemed totally out of place in this city until I found out that actually the country has a substantial Armenian community. In addition, a large number of immigrants from the Middle East made Argentina their new home. One of the past presidents, Carlos Menem, who was in power from 1989-99, had parents who emigrated from Syria. When I mentioned him to Juan, he hissed at me, as it is considered bad luck to even say his name out loud as a result of the disastrous economic polices that he implemented.
After our rest day here, we turned northwest and headed out across the pampas once more. The next 4 days introduced us to the famous winds including the ‘pampero’ – a dramatic blast of cold antarctic air from the southwest. This usually occurs in the Spring months and, as we found out, can dramatically alter the temperature. The second day out of Rosario, from Las Rosas to Villa Maria, was already going to be a challenge. At 158 km, it was the second longest day on the entire tour.
On the day leaving Roasario, the winds started to pick up and actually blew a canopy right off one of the support vehicles. That night, as I lay in my tent, the winds howled and the temperature dropped. By dawn, the only thing holding the tent in place was my weight. I figured the day’s ride might be cancelled but the riders insisted on giving it a try and off they went. By the end of the day, only 2 riders managed to cycle the entire distance but everyone gave it a try. Quite an amazing group of riders.
Fortunately, the winds began to die down over the next 2 days and the temperature returned to normal. The route continued across the endless pampas and we were thrilled to see how much bird life the fields supported. The most impressive was the huge bird of prey, the Caracara, which liked to perch on the fenceposts and watch us as we pedalled past. As we drew closer to the historic city or Cordoba, the landscape started to change, rolling hills began to appear and in the distance the shadow of the Sierras de Córdoba, the mountain range to the west that marks the end of the magnificent northern pampas, emerged.
South American Epic
This challenging expedition offers you the best opportunity to explore the vastness and diversity of South America by bike. In keeping with the TDA...