CAFAYATE, Salta, Argentina, 18/09/19
During my first few days cycling in Argentina I had my nearest miss ever (excluding the time I was actually hit and injured in Indonesia). It was very scary and I am scared about cycling here.
It is clear that when I have a choice of roads in Argentina it will tend to be between unpaved roads made of corrugated gravel and sand (‘ripio’), which is utterly hideous to cycle on, and paved highways which are too narrow and too fast for the variety and volume of traffic they carry.
In addition, while many people ride bikes around towns here (and cycling in towns and cities feels ok), I’m not encountering many other cyclists between towns, which means drivers aren’t used to sharing the road.
There’s not much to say about the unpaved roads except that the gravel/sand mix isn’t compacted so it’s like trying to ride a loaded bike along a corrugated beach. Scream-inducing.
As for the paved highways, they are not an inch wider than two buses or trucks, and the shoulders are of unrideable gravel.
Many more people have private cars than elsewhere in Latin America, so the volume of traffic is often high. Almost everyone drives too fast, apparently not chastened by the endless roadside shrines to people who have died in crashes. (I don’t say accidents because most road crashes are entirely avoidable.) When they have space, they pass me plenty wide enough. When something is oncoming it’s usually OK if both are cars, but no one seems to have a strategy for when two wide vehicles and a bike coincide.
What happened last week is the bus driver coming from behind me perceived that there was not enough space for him, me, and the oncoming bus, and simply lent on his horn. Perhaps he expected me to steer off the road so he would not have to slow down for a few seconds. If I had, I’d undoubtedly have fallen off my bike. I did not, and instead showed him the palm of my outside hand to say ‘wait’. Only then did he - presumably - take his foot off his accelerator and perhaps even touch his brakes.
At which point the convoy of cars travelling behind him (too fast and much too close to each other) presumably had to take evasive action so as not to run into the back of each other. (I regularly observe people travelling at speed with 10-15m stopping-distance.) One of these opted to swerve off onto the gravel shoulder, and came hurtling past me on my inside while the bus and the rest of the convoy hurtled past me on my outside.
How neither the bus nor the out-of-control car on my inside hit me I truly have no idea.
In my opinion the two most significant factors in road danger are roads being too narrow and people driving too fast. Both are ubiquitous in Argentina and I fear for my life here.
It's popular to build a barbecue and picnic table next to your roadside shrine, presumably so you can have family get-togethers in memory of your splatted relative. Argentina, wouldn't it be better to slow the fuck down?