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.
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.