Thursday 19 June 2014

Day 45: The Desert By Bike

Biking in the devil's canyon (note absence of mud)
The wind stopped, the rain stopped, the snow stopped.  The solar-heated showers in our hostel remembered how hot water is produced.  The world started looking good again.

We celebrated by deciding to take mountain bikes up to Death Valley and the Quebrada of the Devil - appropriately cheerful names, you would agree?  We wandered into a nearby bike rental shop, said we would take two bikes for the day, and got our wallets out.  But the owner had other ideas.  He simply glanced at the muddy street, which was trying and failing to swallow all of yesterday's melting snow, and shook his head.  Apparently mud is a reason not to use a mountain bike in San Pedro.  This seemed a trifle odd to me given that, in Britain, mud is exactly the reason why you would choose to ride a mountain bike rather than a slicker machine.  If this shop owner decided to set up in Scotland, he would have to change his policy on muddy rentals pronto.  But as he lives in San Pedro, home of a few muddy days a decade, I suppose he can afford to be choosy.

Feeling thwarted, we shopped around town for a bike shop sufficiently careless to let us rent bikes IN MUD and duly found one.  The next couple of hours were spent riding along the road and then up Death Valley, which threatens far lower possibilities of death to mountain bikers than its name implies (approximately none at all).  It was another beautiful desert landscape though and we had amazing views of the higher volcanos clad in snow.  I won't name a particular one of them for fear of sounding like a CD player got stuck, but rest assured that we photographed it.  The only downside of the trip was the company of a pair of friendly (nasty!) dogs.  They were pretty swift on rough ground so it was only once we got to the road we had the chance to out-sprint them.  How do you make Susan ride a bike really fast?  Put a dog on her tail and see how she goes.

After Death Valley we headed to Quebrada del Diabolo, which was about 8km up the road from San Pedro.  It was all going well until we discovered that the road was covered by a river, about 10m wide, knee-deep, very cold, and not at all rideable.  We rolled up our trousers and began wading it with bikes on our shoulders, seeing that four guys ahead of us had just crossed in the same way.  I am deeply indebted to the chivalry of Argentines after one of them waded back to take my bike from me and carry it across the river.  These days, knights wear biking helmets rather than the shiny armoured ones.  (Alas, no one offered to carry me across the river on their shoulders - just my bike.)

The ride proved well worth the river crossing.  We threaded a narrow canyon with steep walls on each side, twisting and turning upwards onto the hillside.  In a couple of places we had to dismount and lift the bikes up waist-high steps - features to watch out for on the way back down.  But the rest of the route was gentle enough to be easily rideable but challenging enough to be fun.  Let our tiny London flat be warned, we have now developed a taste for mountain biking and may need yet more gear when we return!

Back in San Pedro, it was time to fill up on pizza and dress warmly for our evening star-gazing tour run by a Canadian who has set up ten man-size telescopes in the desert to wow visitors with the clear desert skies every night.  He was knowledgeable, enthusiastic and humorous (the rough standard of humour being along the lines: 'those three stars over there are Orion's Belt and I'm afraid to say, ladies, that the stars hanging from them are just his belt'.  You get the idea.)  He started with a general talk about what we could see in the sky, including an incredibly bright Milky Way and two satellites - the Greater and Lesser Magellanic Clouds.  Then we got the chance to look through the telescopes.  One was trained on Saturn which, it turns out, looks exactly like it does in the picture books - pale-coloured and wreathed in rings.  Another showed the star Sirius, about the size of a celebrity engagement ring and shimmering with every colour of the rainbow.  Others focused on areas of the galaxy where, unbeknown to the naked eye, a mesmerising number of stars hover.

The evening ended with hot chocolate, as cold evenings should (and who better to know it than a Canadian?) before the return trip to San Pedro.  On the whole, it was an enjoyable last day in San Pedro, where we are beginning to turn into permanent pieces of the furniture!
Uh-oh, Licancabur again... oh, and Susan on a bike too.
Valle del la Muerte covered in a dusting of snow
The slope on the left is supposed to be for sand boarding. Maybe snow boarding is more appropriate?
Big skies in the Devil's Canyon. Can't remember the name of the mountain on the right though?
San Pedro's relaxing main square

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