Yerba Matè

Fearghal tasting Matte

Fearghal

Passing through Argentina we’ve been amused and slightly bemused by the Argentinians’ near obsession with their national drink; Yerba Matè. To describe it simply as a tea made predominantly from the dried leaves of the Yerba plant, that argentinians seem to drink morning noon and night is too prosaic. As we Irish might just think ” so they like their tea just like us”. They don’t just like their tea, they are obsessed with it.

Yerba Maté is drunk through a metal straw, from a wooden or pewter handle-less mug. Unlike Irish, Chinese, or any other tea, tisane, or infusion that I can think of, a serving of Maté is not brewed in a pot or in a cup with a bag. Instead, you fill your cup with leaves and then top the cup up with hot water a sip at a time from a thermos flask. This makes it quite labour intensive as you can’t just brew up a nice pot and sit back and relax as you have to keep refilling your cup every time you take a sip.

Yerba Maté

Argentinians don’t seem to let anything get in the way of their Maté drinking and we’ve had many a chuckle at bus drivers, policemen, checkout girls and shop attendants trying to work one handed encumbered with a maté cup in hand and a flask tucked under their arm.

Once we tried it, though, we could almost see what the fuss is about, its a refreshing blend of anise, peppermint and verbena and dried leaves from the Yerba plant and it tastes not unlike an aromatic green tea. Contrary to what you might think, drinking little hot sips of it through a silver straw is actually quite cooling and the ritual packing of the cup with tea, topping up with a little hot water and puffing on the silver straw has all of the relaxing benefits of smoking a pipe.

Wikipedia has more…

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Update; Madrid to SALTA

Rusty Truck

Fearghal

Distance since Greystones: 4,273km

We type this update from the foothills of the Andés, sipping on chilled melon juice in a hot and noisy Internet cafe in Salta. We’ve had many adventures since leaving Madrid. Our first revolutionary joined us, Myself and Si got food poisoning, were overwhelmed by the generosity of the people we met, camped in some interesting places, and ground out some arduous hours in the saddle.

A month ago we packed up our bikes and flew from Madrid to Buenos Aires where we were joined by Marina . Cycling with Marina added an interesting new twist to our journey. After six weeks on the road in Europe we had become used to our routine, eat, cycle, eat, cycle, eat, camp, and we were used each other’s moods and habits. Adding a new member shook up these routines, and made us think about a group dynamic. Marina’s Spanish was an invaluable asset and saved Si and I from our Dell Boy attempts at conversation in spanish, as we’ve been learning the basics from our new team-mate.   

 Christmas Dinner

Our first two weeks were spent in Western Uruguay, which is a cycling paradise. Friendly and safe, with relatively quiet rolling roads and an abundance of fresh fruit and beef, it was a perfect introduction to South America. We spent a  relaxing christmas at a hostel beside a thermal spring, and cooked christmas dinner on a wood fire in 30 degree sunshine, we spent an even quieter New Year’s eve in a deserted hostel in the town of Mercedes.

 Salto Grande Dam

Crossing back into Argentina we had a bit of hassle with a 3km long dam that was officially off limits for cycling. We then headed north with the intention of cycling up to the Brazilian border and the Iguazu Falls, and spent a few days on the two laned and busy highway 14 which would take us all the way to Iguazu. It was not a bicycle freindly road, narrow and very busy and we didn’t feel comfortable on it.  After two days we reached the town of Chajari where we were met with overwhelming hospitality when we were invited to a BBQ, and dined on an orange farm with a charming family. Everyone warned us about what they referred to the road as the “road of death” ,route 14, so we decided to re-route to a safer road and travel to Iguazu like normal people, on a bus.

 http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=2774433&server=vimeo.com&show_title=0&show_byline=0&show_portrait=0&color=00ADEF&fullscreen=1

After visiting the widest waterfall in the world at Iguazu and spending a few days enjoying Caiparhinas we left Corrientes and began the 1,000km across the Chaco Plain to Salta and  the foot of the Andès. The landscape proved challenging as it was quite sparsely populated, and unstimulating. A bout of food poisoning and an 80km wrong turn didn’t help matters either. We asked Marina to bus the last 400 or so kilometres to Salta, so that myself and Si could have some space, to regain our focus, and dynamic, before we hit the Andés.  En route to Salta we were given a taste of things to come as the road pointed up and we were treated to a 35km uphill.  

 Andés in the distance

The road will get more challenging from here. There are 3,000m’s of altitude to gain before crossing into Bolivia, and we will no doubt, get good use out of our mountain tyres on the unpaved roads and have our stomachs tested again by dodgy hygeine. We are in good spirits, and the legs, and lungs are stronger than ever, and we’re looking forward to the road ahead.

We’ve also been researching an exciting route change for central Asia which includes two new “stans” and a mountain range known as “the roof of the world”,  as the prospect of 4,000km through Siberia in winter time doesn’t really appeal.  More info to follow when we get a clearer idea of the route we will take.  
                      

Rollercoaster

First Glimpse of the Andes, Argentina

Simon

After last weeks sickness, we were dying to get on the road and push on to Salta. Route 16, the road we´ve been on since Corrientes hasn´t been particularly good to us, we took a wrong turn, got sick and I got my first puncture of the cycle. It´s been a long, boring road, covering 1000km in total, around 1/4 of our total distance so far. We asked Marina to get the bus to Salta, to ensure that Fearghal and I keep our team, (I watch your back, you watch mine) spirit that is so essential to completing this expedition.

We packed our things from our hotel-come-hospital, clipped into our pedals and set about finishing the last 500km to Salta. Route 16 was straighter than ever, with 25km sections without even a slight bend. The high scrub that lined the road gave a feeling of being in a tunnel, trapped on this seemingly endless conveyor belt. The towns we passed by were lonely, dusty places and gave little reason to stop. I did however see my first live wild snakes (I nearly ran over one), and vultures pecking away at road kill that are frequently seen on these roads (which are usually accompanied by a nasty whiff).

At last though, after two dull days, we cought our first glimpse of the Andes. What a beautiful sight. After a night camping in a dried up river bed, we started our first day of cycling in the Andes. The quiet motorway meandered its way through the mountains, the steep hills and tight turns making me feel like I was on a rollercoaster. The hills were just the right height so that the momentum from the downhills would almost carry you up the other side. For the first time in two weeks, I felt the rush of adrenaline surging through my veins, on one of the many downhills, I cried out a loud “yeeee- haaaa”!

After 6 hours of cycling we got to the last 35km uphill that would take us into Salta. It was hot, sweaty work, the buildup of suncream and mosquito repellant from the last few days meant I was literally dripping. The fuel from lunch having since exhausted, I crammed myself full of Oreos and Coke, trying to get a last bit of energy to carry me up the final hill. My dream of a downhill into Salta was answered with an exhilerating 10 minute ride down into the valley.  We´ll have a few months in the Andes, and hopefully there´ll be many more rollercoaster days to come.

18.01.09     Pampa de los Guanacos to Monte Quemado     Distance: 127.3km

19.01.09     Monte Quemado to El Quebrahai     Distance: 145.2km

20.01.09     El Quebrahai to El Galpon     Distance: 127.3km

21.01.09     El Galpon to Salta     Distance: 137km     Ascent:around 2100m

Iceberg dead ahead!!

FEARGHAL

 

The day before yesterday, the inevitable happened and Simon and Myself succumbed to food poisoning. We’ve adopted a laissez faire approach to what we eat, trying not to be too uptight and ignoring the; cooked, boiled, peeled or packaged rule, figuring that if the locals can manage it then so should we. We also hoped that as we left the urban cleanliness of Buenos Aires and gradually made our way to more remote areas and then to Bolivia we’d have the stomach fuana of a Manilla street dog and be able to eat anything.

Unfortunately our iron stomachs weren’t unsinkable and by mid morning it was clear that we were sinking fast. So we made for a port to weather the alimentary storm to come. I’ll spare you the details, as they aren’t pretty, suffice to say that Jackson Pollock’s name, and the word pojectile were used to describe the night’s passings.

Luckily Marina managed to escape, and this helped us to figure out who the culprit was. As Marina didn’t have any ice in her drink at the truckstop that we ate at after our frustrating detour, see below, we reckon that it was responsible. Hopefully, touch wood, we should be inoculated for South America now and it’ll be full steam ahead till Columbia.

Now that our the seas have settled somewhat we’ll be on the road again, heading towards Salta, again. Its 550km so it would be nice to be there early next week, but no predictions this time ; )  

Tonight, we’re off to the circus and no, we won’t be taking ice in our drinks.           

Confusion

straight, straight road, Argentina

Simon

After starting at sunrise, we´d made good progress, had 2 nice reststops in the shade, and were on track for doing 80km before lunchtime. I was ahead of Fearghal and Marina, rolling along nicely with my tunes going, passing sunflower fields and singing away to myself. Everything was good.

As I came to where we were to stop for lunch, I was surprised to find that the large entrance arch welcomed me to some other, unexpected town. Now there´s very few towns around here, and had been going along the same, cue straight road (see map & photo above) for the previous two days so I was pretty confused as to how I managed to find myself here. I looked on my map which showed me some 40km down a road perpendicular to the road we were on. How did I get to be so far off the main road? Had I somehow been in a daydream and swerved onto this road? Was this still a dream? Did someone switch the names as a prank on the silly foreigners?

After sitting by the side of the road, confused, perplexed and bewildered, I eventually came to terms that somehow, I was indeed miles away from where we were meant to be. I met Fearghal and Marina and, as always, we thought the best way to deal with this situation was to get some food. This came in the form of a great parilla (BBQ), where the chatty owner told us that many people had done what we had, people with GPS, in cars, on motorbikes. It made me wonder whether he had taken away the sign as a way of increasing his number of diners.

Dodgy junction, Argentina

We reluctantly got back on the bikes and headed back where we came from. We afternoon heat making the same journey much more difficult. We finally got back to the place where we had gone wrong. Through some strange road design, in order to continue on the dead straight road, we should have turned sharply right onto what looked like a minor road. Out of 110km of cycling, we only managed to take out 30km of the distance to Salta, our next main town. We cut our losses and pitched our tents behind a petrol station. A very frustrating day.