Day 14 (Friday February 10, 2012) Today we rode more than 500 kilometers from San Juán to the city of Malargüe in the southern region of the Province of Mendoza. From San Juan to the city of Mendoza, Ruta 40 is a busy highway that runs parallel to the Andes through mostly flat terrain. This is the most productive wine region of Argentina—the fifth largest producer of wine in the world. The Province of Mendoza produces more than 60% of the Argentine wine. Due to the high altitude and low humidity most of the vineyards in this region face very few pest problems and thus can be grown with very little or no pesticides. From route 40 we could see the distant snow covered tops of many Andean peaks including the towering Cerro Aconcagua. With its 6,962 meters (22,841 feet), Aconcagua is the highest peak outside of Asia—and the highest peak in the Western and the Southern Hemispheres. We moved swiftly though the many towns on route 40 and took a quick break for lunch in Tunuyan. We crossed several shops by the road selling watermelons, melons, preserved fruits, and of course wine. Mendoza is quite a beautiful province, but the route we took is far from the photogenic areas. We were expecting to ride a gravel section of Ruta 40 south of the town of Pareditas. But less than 100 meters into the gravel road there was a sign announcing “Ex Ruta 40”. Apparently there is a new course for this section of Ruta 40. We had no information about the new layout so we decided to take a long detour that took us further east almost all the way to the city of San Rafael—center of another important wine producing region. Once we reached the town of Diamante we turned back west and entered a landscape that to me has very clear overtones of the Patagonian steppe. At the town of El Sosneado we took the final break before getting to Malargüe—there got a picture with a big Ruta 40 sign.
We will spend two nights in Malargüe (tomorrow is our rest day) before moving into the Province of Neuquén in Northern Patagonia.