Stealth camping HWY 144 to Nihuel - The long ride before the JackPot!

March 24: Ride- about 80 km

I blame the groggy 10:30 am start on bike the next day on the 2 bottles of wine we drank the night before.  The only reason this late start bothered me was because the strong headwind picked up at 11am, so we didn't really have much time to enjoy a calm ride.  Again, HWY 144 was a pretty boring route like the day before. Endless desert shrubscape.  But little did we know that it would all be worth it very, very soon.

Because we were moving a bit slower do to headwinds, we were starting to run low on water.  And every time we thought there might be a possibility of water on the horizon when we looked at the GPS, no services were found.  Until we realized we were looking in the wrong place.  You see, Argentina lacks streams and gas stations in the desert, but what it does not lack are shrines along all the highways - red 'Gaucho Gil' shrines, Difunta Correa shrines, and various homages to catholic saints, Jesus and the Virgin Mary.  An Argentine tradition is to leave bottles filled with water at these shrinesr.  Ryan spotted one of these shrines up atop a hill off the highway for lunch stop, and there we found 6 liters of water, beautifully placed below the shrine.  So, we were back in business.  No need to flag anyone down or stop at an old deserted farm to ask for water.

The Desvio rest stop, a great oasis along Route 40.
As we continued down the highway at the point where HWY 144/Route 40 intersects with HWY 180, we discovered a true oasis with actual people and beer!  The Desvio (aka "Detour" in english), was the name of the place.  The place had a bit of everything and the very hospitable owner gave us a couple glasses and a table to sit at with our liter of beer.  And sure enough, because this route is also part of Route 40, and very popular with bikers heading the entire length of Argentina, the owner handed us a biker guestbook that he wanted us to sign.  It was so great to sit and read all of the words of the other passing through on bike.  

It was at this point that we read that Canyon de Atuel to the East was gorgeous, and the owner told us although the roads were not paved, they were packed dirt and easy to ride with our bikes.  So we made a "desvio" and change of route on the fly and made our way to the canyon that evening.  We chugged the beer, said our thanks, and biked Southeast on HWY 180 for 20 more km.  We had a sweet tailwind and made it to the town of Nihuel 20 km away in 40 minutes.  

When we arrived we found the only camping with services right away along the river as you head up the hill after the first hydro dam towards the downtown.  As we read in the Lonely Planet the town is pretty po'dunk.  There are dunes nearby so everyone who lives there and visits either has a dirt bike or a 4-wheeler.  It's like one big adult sandbox.  And these bikes and 4-wheelers take over the streets, sidewalks, you name it.  So we put in the earplugs as the engines off whipping donuts in the distance lulled us to sleep.

 

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