In the land of wine and sun

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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Andean Adventure

In the land of wine and sun
June 10, 1997

We were thrilled to find sun and good wine in San Juan
To be between Mendoza and San Juan is an Argentinian expression for having drunk too much.

It's a fitting phrase, for as we pass from Mendoza en route to San Juan it is indeed a beautiful place to be. To our left, the Precordillera sits bold and rugged like a reptilian spine, its brownish tones running to purple on the horizon.

In the foreground, rows of golden pampas punctuate the mountains, with tropical palms growing curiously alongside. Mile after mile we pass the parallel rows of grapes, the treasure of the region's vineyards. The sun shines brightly and the temperature reclines at 75. A perfect day in the land of the sun.

San Juan and Mendoza share a friendly rivalry. Along with San Rafael to the south, the three form the holy trinity of Argentina's famous wine-producing region. Each boasts their climate the best, their soccer team superior, their city more lovely.

In truth, it's like peeling the skin of an onion. We are elated by the warm climate, enchanting landscapes, and — for once — pleasant tail wind. Two months ago we crossed the Chilean border into Argentina full of dread that our ambling ways had led us into winter's chilly embrace. The cold nights coated our bikes in frost, and we shivered in the tent. The poplars we passed, devoid of leaves, were like mocking skeletons. We'd been too slow.

In Bariloche our dread intensified as a week of winter rains pounded the streets. The gorgeous fall colors in the mountains offered some solace, but we still obsessed on how we would endure the colder conditions to come.

Curiously, our march north had turned back the seasons' clock. With every passing kilometer the trees regained their leaves and the temperature pushed up a notch. To the north of San Juan, we are told, even warmer climes await. Strange, considering we are climbing toward Bolivia's altiplano.

Indeed, it seems we possess cosmic good fortune. Had we arrived earlier, as intended, the scalding summer sun would have made cycling impossible.

Regardless of season, locals tell us San Juan is Argentina's cycling capitol. This seems to be true, judging from the numbers of neon-clad racers who hummed by us on our way into town. Hopefully we'll find well-stocked shops for spare parts and new tires for the remoter stretches ahead.

From San Juan two paths lead north to Salta, the last major city before Bolivia. One runs along the pampas' edge, through the main cities of La Rioja, Catamarca, and Tecuman. The other through the mountains, Ripio and towns whose names don't appear on maps. Two paths diverged in a pampa. I took the one less taken.

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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