Thursday, 9 July 2015
The news from Las Rosas
It's mid-summer in the northern hemisphere, mid-winter where I'm currently travelling in Argentina. Today I'm in Las Rosas in the province of Santa Fe, a town unlikely to be mentioned in any guidebook although large enough to have at least three hotels for local business visitors. It's the sort of place that a tourist would be unlikely to seek out, but that you find yourself in when you are travelling by bicycle -- the counterpart of a small town in the "flyover states" in the USA (such as those I passed through while bicycling across Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan in 2013).
In the last month, travelling slowly and stopping often, we've ridden about a thousand kilometers and crossed a little more than half the width of Argentina from Mendoza in the west towards Buenos Aires in the east.
It's been physically harder than we expected, but rewarding. I'll have a detailed report on bicycle touring in Argentina after our trip, for anyone considering travel by bicycle here. And I'll have more about travel in Argentina in my columns about the next season of The Amazing Race 27, currently being filmed, part of which took place in Argentina. I'll update this article with links below as I publish more articles about about this trip.
One of the best things about travelling by bicycle is that except on a few established routes, it forces you off the tourist track. I can't go far enough in a day on a bicycle loaded with 20 kg of camping gear, water, etc. to rush from one tourist highlight to another. Most of the time on a bicycle tour is spent in the places in between, where tourists haven't worn out our welcome or come to be treated as part of an industry rather than as visitors, guests, and friends.
I've spent several months in Buenos Aires on previous trips, but that gives about as accurate a picture of life in the Argentine provinces as time as a tourist in New York City does of life in Lake Wobegon or the rest of the USA.
In more than a month, we haven't met anyone else travelling by bicycle, although many people use bicycles for local transportation and/or recreation. We've gone weeks without seeing another tourist or hearing anyone else speaking English. This is a cosmopolitan and connected country, but we've been in a city of almost 100,000 people where the arrival of two tourists from the USA on bicycles was unusual enough to get us greeted by the mayor (we met by chance at the installation of a new mural in the town park) and featured on local TV. We've stayed in hotels catering to local business travellers that have never before had a tourist or anyone from the USA as a guest, much less anyone travelling by bicycle.
We were spotted at the edge of the smaller town where we ate lunch yesterday by some 12-year-old boys on BMX bikes, half a dozen of whom escorted us to the one lunch counter in town (at the soccer club, of course), popping wheelies along the way. They are studying English in school, but had never met a foreigner or talked with a native speaker of English. "Do they speak English in the USA?", the boldest of them asked us in Spanish.
Today it's the 9th of July -- Argentina's independence day and a national holiday. Cyclists we met on our way into town and while looking for a hotel insisted that we join them at the town plaza, where the local recreational cycling club, "Grupo Pamperos", (with 80 members, 30 of them women) is holding a charity ride of circuits around the plaza to raise money for the volunteer fire department. We're looking forward to mate and conversation while we watch the ride and the other festivities.
- FAQ: Bicycle touring in Argentina
- FAQ: Bicycle components for touring in Argentina
- Sites of memory of state terrorism in Argentina
- What's a "typical" provincial (tourist) town?
- Some places we found that we weren't looking for