Throughout the trip we've had our eye on various Aguas Termales with the intention of getting a good soak on. In Villa la Angostura I did a quick search for some "Termas" and hit on an obscure blog with the words "Undeveloped Hot Springs". This led me to some photos on Google Earth of some springs near Lago Queñi, which could be reached from our next destination, San Martin de Los Andes.
We arrived in San Martin, and declared the next day to be a planning, research and plug back into the internet grid. Now into Autumn, the High season busses were no longer running out to the start of the Lago Queñi trail, so we rifled through our other options. Car rental : 900 pesos (250$) per day. Nope. Tour: only if there were at least 8 people going. Not likely. Pay a truck to take us out to the trailhead: 600 pesos. Ride our bikes: severly tired of putting our asphalt loving road bikes on more warzone ripio roads. We finally found a mountain bike shop to rent us some newish bikes for 50 pesos a day. One day out, one day at the springs hanging out, and one day back and we were looking at 300 pesos, and a much better way of getting there. The elevation profile on google maps showed a nice long grind out of the city, topping out with a drop, re-climb and then a steep bomb down to the lake level - doubleplus good.
I knew we were asking the wrong people when we inquired about the forecast at the bike shop, as they showed us some rosy weather outlooks with a slight chance of minor rain on wednesday, and nothing thursday or friday. Little did we realize that their forecast was for San Martin, and our destination was at one of the wettest places in Argentina. In any case we paid them for the bikes, repacked our gear onto our rental "beecees" and took off the next morning.
After climbing the 4km uphill slog to the top of the hill where the asphalt ends, I was able to feel some sort of 'flubflub flub' under the back tire. It felt like I was not riding on a round wheel. Concerned that all the weight we'd added to the back of the bike had thrown the wheel out of true, and forgetting to pack our spoke wrench, we decided to go back to the bike shop and make sure everything was hunky dory. Turned out the *tire* was a bit out of wack with some random dirt bits shoved in between it and the rim. The bike shop fussed with the tire with some soapy water and I was back to riding on round wheels. There were other things they should have done, perhaps advised or warned at that point after seeing how loaded we were, but they simply smiled and waved and we were on our way.
We re-climbed the hill out of town, and hit some *fugly* ripio. Probably the worst rode we've been on so far with a lot of serrucho (washboards) and road I like to think of as 'dinosaur skin' but would probably be more commonly referred to as cobblestone. Being on the mountain bikes was a dream compared to how we would have fared on our touring rigs. Many, many times we cursed the road, but finished with "yeah, but if we were on our bikes, we'd be pointing fingers or turning around, so this is so much more awesome." Right before another uphill bit, we saw the scariest "impending climb" sign.
We rolled down the day use peninsula to one of the little beaches just in time to get hit in the face with a wind that was pissed at somebody. And his ugly older brother "big black clouds" was rolling across the lake with great ferocity. After maybe 10 seconds of contemplating whether to stay on the beach and mow down our food, our faces felt the first taste of cold, cold rain pizzling down. We ran back up to some tree cover, wolfed down our food and hit the road to see if we could beat any of the rain.
Almost immediately after getting going again, I hear what sounds like a zipper through a megaphone come from something close behind me... I immediately put on the breaks and as I'm breaking hear an impressive whistling *pop*. Stopped, I see that I have my first flat of the trip. Sigh. Rental bikes. Unfortunately I dont have the arsenal of spare parts for somebody elses bike, like 26" tubes, so I dig out my biggest patch and slap it over the top of the smiling inch sized pinch flat I have sliced in the tire.
I probably should have stopped to consider *why* I had a pinch flat like that in the first place, but I got the tube fixed, and had it back in the tire and did one final check before trying to get back on the bike and get going again.
Oh. I see. The tube is sticking out of the side of the tire. Through a *hole* in the side of the tire. The sidewall on this cheap rental tire had failed - that was the zippering sound. And we *definitely* do not have a spare 26" tire with us. We're stuck.
It's 4pm, drizzling cold rain that looks like it could get worse, and we're about 7 km from the first campground. We pow-wow and decide that MacKenzie is going to try get to the campground, drop off her stuff, come back for my stuff, and afterwards I'll walk. If either of us gets a chance to flag down help we'll catch up with the other person.
After she rolls away, I realize that If I swap the front tire for the back, I can at least *push* the bike without ruining the rim - I'd have a good back tire with weight on it, and a sidewall tire hole front tire with almost no weight, so it might work without slicing the tube again. I make an unfortunate decision to swap the tires (though this ends up paying off in the long run).
I'm on the side of the gravel/sand/mud road with the mountain bike upside down and wheel-less, swapping them when a truck pulls up with 'Estancia Y Aserradero Quechuquina' written on the side. The window rolled down and the driver asked the question I had hoped for. "Todo Bien?" Everything was not todo bien of course and I explained our situation. He said let's get out of the rain and figure something out, So I tossed the bike in the bed of the truck along with my bags and caught up to MacKenzie plugging away at getting to the campground. We weren't sure what the plan was, but Ernesto was taking us somewhere dry. When I saw the word Aserradero on the side, I had hoped it had something to do with burning up meat, but unfortunately Aserradero doesnt have anything to do with Asado (Argentine BBQ) . An aserradero is actually a sawmill, and their estancia was a historically owned tract of land within the park where they grew oregon and pinon pines to make Log cabins. Rain, sawmills, oregon pines, It's like we havent left home.
We work out a plan where he (Ernesto) is going back to San Martin at 7pm that night with my crap tires and exchange them for new ones at the crap bike shop we rented them from, and when he comes to work the next day he'll bring the wheels back in. Meanwhile, he has a primitive cabin thats 80% complete that we can stay in to keep dry - no electricity or plumbing, but dry, and space to set up our tent inside and not get soaked! Awesome.
So our first fortunate mishap was blowing out the tire which set us up to have a dry place to stay, and be on the receiving end of Argentine hospitality - we would otherwise have been camped out in the rain, failing miserably at keeping all our crap dry