I desperately wanted to do some mountain biking on my first trip to Argentina in my adult life. My plans were only to be in Buenos Aires (I didn't know how flat it was, nor how far the nearest mountains or hills were: It's flat, and the mountains are far away!) Since i knew no one in Argentina that was a mountain biker, i searched the internet and found MTB Tours, a small company run by a mountain biking enthusiast named Mariano. They happened to have a trip, called TrasCandonga, planned for my last weekend there, which was perfect timing for me.
I signed up for the trip, not really knowing what i was getting into. I basically wanted to see Argentina, to ride some singletrack, and to meet people. Mariano explained to me that the mountain biking infrastructure in Argentina simply isn't big enough to have created much singletrack, so to only expect dirt and gravel roads on this trip. I was cool with that.
I ended up being the only non-Argentine of 29 people, including the van drivers and guides. Although only about four people spoke enough English to have meaningful conversations, the trip was a lot of fun, went great, and was a great opportunity to try and practice my crappy Spanish. We met at 8pm at Mariano's home-based office in downtown Buenos Aires and packed up the trailers and packed ourselves into the vans. Some people came in pairs, some knew each other from prior trips, but a lot of people were like me, and didn't know anyone else on the trip. After we got into the van and people began speaking, people slowly begain opening up, but it took another day for friendships to really begin starting.
After a long night in the van, we had breakfast outside of Cordoba and met the other half of the riders (in the other van.) We loaded back up and travelled to “Valle Hermoso” where we moved our stuff into the Hostería (sort of half-way between a B&B and a hotel) Los Abrojos. This would be our base all weekend: Each evening, the vans would shuttle us back to Hostería Serrana Los Abrojos for showers, dinner, and hanging out. We were too tired to think about actually going into town for any reason.
After settling into our rooms, we loaded back into the vans and shuttled to La Cumbre where it was finally time to don our helmets and gloves and get the pedals turning. We began our ride on a wide gravel road that eventually led us to “Cuchi Corral:” A beautiful panoramic point 1100 meters above sea level, and a launch point for paragliders and hang gliders. As we looked hundreds of meters down into the valley, we could see the road ahead of us, the Rio Pintos, and our eventual lunch spot.
After our fill of photos, we turned around and headed back to the fork, where we began to drop into the valley on a rocky road so steep, it made me wonder how all those old cars make it up or down (not to mention our support vans!) We crossed the same stream several times, always wide but shallow. The road flattened at the bottom and met up with a cafe that is the hang out of all the paraglider and hang glider folks. We set up our picnic lunch right on the river on what i assume is the grass landing strip, and ate, relaxed, and swam.
Dark clouds started moving in as we finished lunch, so we got moving. The wind picked up, then got worse, then the rain started. As the rain grew worse, those that had rain jackets put them on, and we waited under a tree for the van to show up for more jackets. Mariano made it clear that no one had to ride in the rain unless they wanted to, but almost all of us suited up and rode into the increasing storm! Despite the rain jackets, we were all soaked to the bone, and it was kind of a refreshing change from the heat.
We pushed through the storm and, after a while, the rain began to slow, then quickly disappeared, and before we knew it, we were in blazing sun again, with our clothes drying on us.
We continued on with some more ups and downs, and eventually dropped into San Marcos Sierra, an tiny old “hippie” town with a lot of personality. We gave our bikes to the van drivers who loaded them up while Mariano led us in group and partner-assisted stretches in the downtown square. We shared some beers in a great little streetside bar right across from the park before heading back to Los Abreojos for desperately needed showers, dinner, and rest.
We did about 20 miles on the first day.
After a nice, light breakfast at Los Abreojos, we again shuttled to “La Cumbre,” but this time we headed the other direction. We started off with a good uphill, then as we entered the mountains, the rest of the day was continuous ups and downs, with some great, fast descents through grasslands, and occasional wooded areas. The first long uphill gave us some great views of La Cumbre. Nine miles into the day we hit the highest point at nearly 5000 ft.
The lunch spot that MTB Tours selected was again a beautiful grassy spot by a river. As pretty as the lunch spots were, they really must have placed some serious effort into organizing the trips to be at right place at the right time for lunch. We took our shoes off and put our feet into the water and waited for lunch to be set up.
After lunch and a short climb, we dropped into the valley where Candonga lies. It was barely even a town, but there was a cute little Spanish Church and a restaurant. After a short break to take some pictures and view the chapel, we climbed out of the valley and began more rolling ups and downs with more great views. We rode to the end of the gravel, finishing the longest day of the trip at around 25 miles.
We were to leave directly from the end of the third days ride, so we cleaned up our rooms, and packed the vans with all of our stuff. Our third day paralleled the second day, but on a more southernly route. We began at La Falda, south of La Cumbre on the same road. “El Camino del Cuadrado” (the square road) was the name of the road we took that day.
On the way up a long ascent we pass the “Eden Hotel,” an old hotel constructed by German immigrants after the Second World War. In just a couple of miles, we gain over 1000 feet. After another day of climbs and descents, we get to the fastest downhill of the trip: A long, wide, rough, gravel road that you can really let go on. After another climb, we dropped down another descent to our last lunch spot. After lunch, more ups and downs awaited us, with a fun steep descent to pavement, where we rode the last couple of miles single-file on pavement.
I ended up having a great time! Although we were only on gravel roads, the scenery was great and we hardly saw any cars (although there were plenty of blind corners where you had to really pay attention!) In addition to the scenery, we saw plenty of horses, cattle, and sun!
Our trip ended at what i think was a boarding school, where we showered, changed to street clothes, and exchanged emails and phone numbers with each other. Our goodbyes before loading into the vans were pretty intense, and i really felt an incredible amount of friendship for a group of people i'd only known for three days, and had a major language barrier with most of them. It was a great feeling, and the perfect ending to my trip to Argentina.