We rented out mountain bikes for 35 pesos per bike from the the Rusty-k Hostel where we were staying. The man preparing the bikes gave us a quick lecture as he handed us a puncture repair kit and pump each. The gist of the talk was that we should only ride on the road and push the bikes on the gravel. We cycled off to the bus stop with a Swiss woman, Sonia, who intended to do the excursion with us. At 9.30 am we had put the bikes into the luggage hold of the El Indio bus and paid the 17 pesos each for the bus fare. Luckily the Swiss woman spoke good Spanish so she explained to the driver where we wanted to be dropped off.
The bus travelled up winding mountain roads for an hour before we finally disembarked. We unloaded the bikes and re-attached the front wheels. Then we locked them up and went to see the first sight on the tour, the famous Garganta del Diablo (the throat of the devil). It was an impressive gorge in the mountain side that started as a narrow gap and then opened up to a circular amphitheatre. The mountain face was various stripes of pink.
At the entrance to the natural rock phenomenon there were various hippy looking young people selling trinkets and snacks.
We spent 40 minutes clambering around the devil’s throat before pushing the bikes back to the road and heading off back to Cafayate. Before we started off we stopped to chat to another tourist who was struggling to replace the inner tube on his front tire. He had obviously not heeded the advice given to him when he hired the bike, or perhaps, he had not been fortunate enough to get the pre-departure lecture.
Ten minutes down the road we came to the next natural attraction called el Aphitheatro. It was similar to the previous place but opened up into a bigger amphitheatre with a sand floor. A hippy played guitar and sang. Her voice echoed eerily off the walls. By this point I wanted to buy a cold drink to quench my thirst. We had some water but I really fancied a cold coke to hit the spot. Bizarrely enough we could buy all manner of hand -made jewellery but not a drink.
We had 50 kms back to town so we didn’t linger too long at the amphitheatre. The road was all up and down and twisting. The wind blew viciously into our faces making the going slow.
Just past the rock that looked like a frog (el Sapho) we happed upon the young German who had been changing his inner tube. He was one lucky bugger. A van had stopped and the owner was helping him load his bike into the back. His wheel had never been right again and he had decided to hitch back into town. He told me all of this quickly as he squeezed in the van with his naff mountain bike and sped off. I was quite envious because the riding was hard going and our water was running low.
Not to be unduly disheartened, the three of us continued to ride the mountain road. Sonia was loving it. She brought up the rear of our little posse. She wanted to see everything. She had a guide book with her and notes from a local about all the sights along the way. At one point we left the bikes to trek through some scrub to a river. On the other side of the river was a rock decorated with lots of white pebbles. The scenery was stunning – vast and unforgiving under a bright blue sky, with no signs of human habitation for miles. The mountains were multi hued and oddly shaped by the fierce blasts of the wind. It was easy to imagine I was tripping because I could make out all kinds of figures in the lumpy mountain sides.
About half way into the ride we came across a shack selling pottery. I went to inquire about cold drinks. No they only sold vases and cups. Oh my kingdom for a coke. Sonia wanted to go off on a trek at this point to view another odd rock formation she had been told about. Bugger that I thought, I want a drink and I want to be back in the hostel. So we parted company: Sonia plodded off up a mountain path, and my wife and I got back on the bikes.
From there on the fun bike ride stopped being fun. It just goes to show it is all to do with your state of mind, and your supply of fluids. By the side of the road were signs every 5kms telling us how far we had left to Cafayate. At every marker I stopped and waited for my wife to catch up. Each time we had a fag and a sip of water and headed off again. I no longer took much notice of the scenery. My biggest thrill at this point was reaching another marker.
The final few kilometers of the road were flat. On our left were vineyards. We passed the occasional local on his horse.
As soon as we reached the 0km marker and the edge of town we spied a kiosk. With joy in my heart I finally got to buy the coke I was fantasizing about. My wife had a mineral water.
At 4pm we rolled into the hostel and gave back the bikes. I headed straight for the kitchen where I had put a bottle of black beer in the fridge. To my chagrin it was gone. That was the down side of hostel kitchens with communal fridges. I cussed bitterly and decided to seek my own justice. I grabbed 8 empty bottles from under the sink and marched wearily to the corner shop where I managed to exchange the empties for 2 full bottles. I was soon back in the courtyard quaffing on my cold beer when I ran into an Argentine hippy I had previously befriended. He owned up to stealing my beer. I had doubled my beer stash for no extra money so I didn’t vent my wrath on him. He was a nice lad with a beautiful girlfriend. Instead we chatted in the late afternoon sun.
That evening he scored a lump of grass and got us stoned so he more than made up for his transgression. As we smoked up in his room and laughed about this and that I looked back on the day and decided it wasn’t so bad after all.
The next morning I had not only the devils throat but the devils head to deal with, not to mention aching muscles.