“JU-LI-O! JU-LI-O! JU-LI-O!’ we chant in unison as Julio the hero waves, gets into his car and drives off, leaving us beaming, and alone once again at the roadside.
We’d decided to go lady-balls deep today. To make a push to arrive in San Juan earlier than expected and munch up 85 miles in the process. 85 miles which we discover to be a wildlife extravaganza. By 10am, we’ve already got a (live) snake-sighting under our belt, and I’m deep in a lyrical exchange with Shania Twain when I see the second attraction of the day. ‘MEGA SPIDEEERRR!!!’ I holler at Faye.
We inch closer to a gigantic beast of an arachnid in the middle of the road. All eight hairy legs, bulbous torso and beady eyes are entirely intact, and thankfully entirely immobile. It is a mid-road GCSE Biology lesson waiting to happen. We prod it for a good ten minutes, take pictures and wince at the thought of having not long left our camp spot. ‘OhMyGod it just moved!’ yells Faye and we leap backwards.
Soon we realise that the spirit of the spider has not escaped the underworld, but a gust of wind has blown one of his hairy legs up in the air. And so it stays: legs akimbo. Oh the lack of dignity in death. After some googling, we learn that we have happened upon a tarantula. I know. A freakin’ hairy bodied, chunky legged I-thought-they-only-existed-in-fairytales tarantula. And no sign of Micheala Strachan, what a waste.
We then spot a giant ’GRASSHOPPER!!!’ in the third round of biology-bingo, and finally…“FOX!!… I mean RABBIT… I mean… WHATTHEHECKISTHAT?!” as a creature the size of a small dog bounds out from the bushes and across the road. Followed by another, and another until we realise there are a whole gang of these things. All bouncing around like caffeinated ping pong balls. After googling (and this is a direct quote): ‘Animal Argentina looks like cross between rabbit and deer with pig nose and black bum.’ I discover that we have just seen a group of Patagonian Cavies. Well I never.
But in the end, the day, today – it belongs to one creature. A creature with just two hairy legs: Julio.
Faye and I are fussing at the side of the road. I am armpit deep in my left pannier, searching for an inner tube to fix a puncture in the front wheel, and she is offering moral support, when a white car pulls past us and onto the shoulder. ‘Awwww’ Faye and I coo, thinking it lovely that someone should take the time to stop. A man emerges from the car, clutching a giant bottle of frozen (oh yes I said frozen) water. ‘Quieres esto?’ (do you want this?) he asks. To which we nod in earnest. He looks past our nodding heads and spots the punctured tyre, and the repair kit on the road.
Now. As a female I sometimes (read: more often than I should) get het up about accepting help from big burly men. The last thing I want is for Julio to leave this roadside with a ‘I helped two girls who had no idea what they were doing today’ story. And so at first I thank him for his offer of assistance, but politely let him know that we’ve got it covered. But it soon becomes clear that Julio isn’t going to let us do anything. Not a thing. And so (safe in the knowledge that I can change an inner tube in less than 90 seconds after 5 glasses of champagne, as demonstrated in 2015) I sigh, tell my lady-ego to pipe down, and relent. I let Julio get stuck right on in. Which, in the end is (of course) actually rather lovely. And leaves us free to practice some spanglish on him while he works.
After some photos and hugs, Julio leaves us at the roadside once again. We set off on our merry way and while away a few more hours towards the bright lights of San Juan. In the afternoon, and at regular intervals, we are descended upon packs of road cyclists. Chatting, smiling, waving men clad head to toe in pro-replica lycra. I hear Faye behind me, having a nice chat in Spanish with Mr Movistar. Five minutes later, he rides past me and waves. I turn to Faye: ‘That was nice – what was he saying?’ I ask. ‘I have no idea!!’ Faye smiles. ‘But he was very nice.
By 4pm the the final pack of cyclist’s have passed and we are alone again. I begin to reflect on what a wonderful day it’s been – with wildlife a plenty, and kindness in spades and that there’s nothing in the world that could make it bet…. “ARMADILLO!!!!!!” I scream at Faye. Spotting my first ever wild armadillo as it dashes across the road and burrows into a hole on the sandy banks at the edge. Arms a loft, faces plastered with grins, we celebrate a full house in today’s Biology bingo. Soft on the inside, crunchy on the outside: the Armadillo was the icing on the cake. How fabulous.
Metres ascended on bikes so far: 41,601m
Track us as we kickstart 2017 by heading back across the border to Chile, and to Santiago: http://z6z.co/AndesAdventure