Argentinian Chaco

12 february upto 08 march 2016: 1.031 km
Provincias de Salta, Jujuy and Formosa
Salta – San Pedro de Jujuy – Embarcacion – Formosa – Clorinda – Asuncion (PY)

In total we spend four days with Raul in Salta. He’s an easy-going guy and we enjoy the days of just hanging around, visiting city centre on a few occasions, and waiting for the zipper of our innertent being replaced.
When we set out again, we decide to take the exit out of town through La Cornissa, which is a very narrow winding uphill road and therefore forbidden for trucks and buses: Relaxed cycling for us through an impressive natural surrounding.
Up to Salta Capital, the only plants were desert-like bushes of grass, this part now has sub-tropical vegetation although it’s only some 25km further. We enjoy riding in the shades, with all kinds of plants, trees and animals which we haven´t seen in what seems ages.
In the evening we reach a beautiful campsite at the bank of a lake but when we want to put up our tent we get into a very strange discussion with the man in charge:
He wants to send us away from the lawn into the bushes where the ground is full of holes and thorny bushes with the explanation that our tent will attract cows which will then destroy the lawn…
Not really logical and since the place is free and for public use we decide to stay put and wait what happens which is nothing at all. We spend a quiet night and wake up to a beautiful sunrise above the lake 🙂
More of quiet cycling through dense forest the next day, a refreshing break at one of the many watercanals along the way – then we hit the Ruta 34, the main road up North.

A lot of traffic, many trucks and a big thunderstorm in the early evening which forces us to put up the tent only a few meters besides the road – quite the opposite of the previous night.
Four days more on this road and it’s exhausting. The heat sucks our energy, the surrounding, although green, offers not much variation except a lonely fruit stand from time to time and the hardest part is finding sleeping places.

As we did when arriving in South America two years ago, we often put up our tent at gas stations.
In Senda Hachada, which is only a few houses and a police control at the junction of Ruta 34 with Ruta 81, we find a nice campspot and get the company of some Caraguai, which are rather large leguanos.

When asking the owner why he keeps these as pets, the answer is rather astounding: to catch the vipers who live around.
From this place on we hit the Ruta 81, some 720km dead straigth towards Formosa. The villages on the way are nicely spread out, one each 35-40km where the old railway-stations used to be. Some of these villages turn out to be no more than a few houses, sometimes only the station itself, and in one case nothing (the town has been abandoned for some 20 years, and the jungle-like vegetation has literally swallowed it).

But as dull as the cycling was (dead straigth, billards flat and the obvious headwind accompanied by 40+ temperature), we had some very nice encounters:
In Fortin Dragones we were offered a room to sleep in and invited for dinner, in Los Chiriguanos we got to sleep in the school library which also had WiFi, and in Las Moratos we slept beside a kiosko where we had a cold beer with dinner.

But besides these the argentinian North for us was somehow disappointing and very different to the other parts. Expecting a green tropical vegetation like around Salta, we found a desertlike, dusty surrounding.

Villages along the way are not worth to mention (except for their funny names and the heaps of splattered plastic garbage around) and our general impression is one of a desolate wasteland.

The only thing in common all over Argentina are the shrines for Gauchito Gil, the guardian of travellers, well kept places and very often with tables in the shade to take a welcome break from the heat.

There were some other options to cool down as well, but we weren’t that desperate…;)

The dusty desert finally changes when we reach the province Formosa. Normally rather swamplike and humid it is now – due to many tropical storms – completely inondated and makes it impossible to put up camp.

We are forced to catch rides for the last 150km to Formosa Capital: The first an empty truck, the second a fully loaded one, transporting lumber to the factory 🙂

Once arrived in Formosa we are happy to leave the Ruta 81 behind and cycle the last 100km to Clorinda and the paraguayan border.

In Clorinda we are received with open arms by Miguel and Maria, our warmshowers-hosts. They have a more than beautiful house, with swimming pool, a big garden, and we even get a room with airco 🙂

When we go out for a walk at night, without hardly noticing, we are in Paraguay. Between Clorinda (ARG) and Puerto Elsa (PY) there is a bridge, la Pasarela de la Fraternidad (the bridge of brotherhood), which one can pass without any problem to do some shopping on the other side.

This same evening we return to Clorinda, but the next day we take it once more and this time with doing the obligatory migration routine to enter Paraguay officially.
Normally we were to cycle some 40km to Asuncion centre, but we get to hear that one can cross the river in Chaco-i, which is only 15km further, and the boat brings you to Asuncion Port, only 1km from town centre.
So we head towards Chaco-i but are stopped very fast: the access road is more than knee-deep flooded for several kilometers and we have to catch a ride on a motocarito.
The locals are used to live with the water, they tell us that this is normal for about three months every year and so for them it’s “business as usual”, just in gummy-boots 🙂
The boats crossing are rather small, but some way we fit our stuff on one and are off.
Half an hour later we reach Asuncion, and find ourselves on known territory.
We head towards Barrio Las Mercedes, where we will stay with Fidel Galeano, again through warmshowers, with thanks to Natalia Daporta who arranged this for us.
We immeditaley feel at home, courtesy to Fidel who recieves us like we have known him for years and we didn’t know it at the time, but we’ll visit Fidel and his house many times more…