After a rest day in Fiambala I headed on. To be honest my motivation to cycle was quite low. Over the last two weeks I was always focused on getting over the Paso de San Francisco and that was done now. I needed a new goal.
Luckily I bumped in to Luis, who was on the way back south to his home city San Juan. I joined him and we had two great cycling days. After more than two months of cycling along I enjoyed having some company, it’s so different to have conversation. When we reached a junction with the Ruta 40, we had to split up. I turned north towards the city of Salta, while Luis cycled south. Though I wasn’t alone for a long time. Just 30 km later I met another cyclist. Adrien from France was riding north as well, so we teamed up.
Most of the time we were surrounded again by the typical dry environment I had experienced already further south so often. But then there were surprisingly lots of green areas, especially around the few villages, what was new for me and didn’t feel like Argentina to me. It was a nice change for my eyes.
A few days later we rolled into Cafayate. It’s surrounded by vineyards and so it wasn’t a surprise to be a quite touristic town. It turned out we got there just for the right time, as at there was happening a wine festival with free tastings at night. Of course we didn’t miss that and I could improve my knowledge about wine quite a bit.
Salta is the capital of the same named province and the biggest city in the north of Argentina. I wasn’t really keen to go there, but I had to pick up my new passport, I had applied for in Bariloche, from the German consulate there. The plan was to stay two nights and then head back straight into the Andes.
It came differently. Although I had received a mail from the German embassy in Buenos Aires that my passport is already in Salta, it wasn’t there. For a week I got every time I went to the consulate the answer that it will arrive tomorrow. Of course it didn’t. I thought it would be the Argentinian Post, who messed it up. But then it turned out the embassy in Buenos Aires has never sent it to Salta but had marked it in the computer system as sent. Anyway, at least I knew then, that the passport will arrive a few days later. In the meanwhile I organized my yellow fever vaccination, what was surprisingly easy and even for free. After almost two weeks I got eventually my passport and was free to leave the rather boring city of Salta.
Ruta 40 – very often it’s just a straight road like this
What a place
The camping in Salta. There I spent two weeks waiting for my passport. Not really exciting.
Together with Adrien, who waited with me in Salta. It felt so good being on the bike again and not being trapped in an ugly city. Through a long valley, past lots of cactuses and a few villages we got over 4000m pass to San Antonio de los Cobres, a small town in the middle of nowhere, just surrounded by rocks and dust. It felt different to other Argentinian towns. Like already in the villages before, most of the population is indigenous.
We rested a day to get more acclimatized before we started our last cycling leg of Argentina. Our bikes were heavy, as we were carrying supplies for about a week and already after a few kilometers I figured out, that it’s not going to be an easy ride. The road condition wasn’t the best and especially the headwind made it very slow. Still we got over the first highpoint of 4500m.
Another problem is finding a suitable place to camp in this wind. Some dunes gave our tents just little protection, but it worked out somehow. The nights are freezing cold over 4000m. The water bottles were completely frozen the next morning, but once the sun was out, it became quite warm quickly.
One night we spent at the border control. The guys there were great and gave us a luxury room with bunk beds, a kitchen and a hot shower. But the best were the bowl of Empenadas they gave us for dinner. Not a bad last night at all in Argentina.
Before we could leave the next morning we had to go through the customs again. After crossing the border between Argentina and Chile nine times, I was used to the process, but this time they made it bit more complicated than usually. For a reason one guy was determined to find an ID number on my bike, although I told him more than once, that he won’t find one. He figured it out himself after searching on the complete frame for a while, but he still needed that number for document. All the border crossings before no one needed it. Anyways, at the end he took just any number and gave me the papers. Border bureaucracy can be weird sometimes.
From the high point on 4080m before Sant Antonio
And the first high point of Paso de Sico
The mornings were freezing in high altitude
Olacapato – tough life there I guess
Ten kilometers later we crossed the actual border to Chile. Time to say finally good bye to this huge but impressing country. I had definitely a great time there and hope to come back one day. There’s still heaps to see. Thanks to all those kind people, who helped in a way. Muchas Gracias!
The landscape changed a bit, it got more volcanic around us and it looked even more other worldly. We descended after another high point into a flat area and suddenly the wind started to go nuts.
Soon the crosswind made it impossible to ride and forced us pushing our bicycles. We could already see a police station 4km away, where we hoped to stay overnight. Initially I thought it wouldn’t take us too long, but we were slow, super slow. After two hours of pushing we only made 3 km. The wind got stronger and stronger and it went uphill for the last part. After every hundred meters I had to stop, but that wasn’t easy too. Without leaning my body against my bike the wind would have just knocked it to the ground. At one stage I realized the wind or rather storm was too strong. Too strong to push on. It was frustrating, as under normal circumstances it would have taken just a couple of minutes, but now it even seemed to be impossible to make the last 800m – at least with my bike. I laid my bike on the ground and sat down to think what to do.
Suddenly a car stopped, only the second vehicle, what passed us that day. Some French tourists offered to drive me and my gear to the Police Station. Usually I would have refused their kind offer. I actually never accepted any ride or have taken a bus to skip a part. I always had the idea to cycle every single kilometer, where it’s possible. But that day it wasn’t possible to get on with my own power. Relieved I accepted and packed my stuff in the car. Though it was clear that I’ll cycle back for this 800m the next morning. After they dropped me they helped Adrien, who struggled same as I did, but he was as usually a few hundred meter ahead of me, as his bike is much lighter. We entered the police station and asked if we can sleep somewhere on the floor or if we can pitch a tent in the windbreak of a house. Usually the Carabineros in Chile don’t have a problem with that, especially in such a location and situation. But they didn’t want to let us sleep there, instead they insisted to drive us to a mine just 6km away. There we would get a room, beds and a shower. Sounded tempting and I should have been very thankful to that offer, but it meant I would skip 6km of cycling. I explained it to them, but they still insisted to drive us there. There was no other possibility. With that crazy wind I would have never reached mine by myself and around the police station there was no wind protected place to pitch a tent. Even heading back was no alternative, as the crosswind would have made it hard as well.
Good bye Argentina – Hola Chile – for the last time
So I found myself packing my gear a second time disappointed into car and a few minutes later we were at the mine. Indeed, thanks to the nice guys there we got a room with bunk beds again. The next morning I woke up early, I still had the plan to ride back, but the wind was still hauling. Luckily a bit weaker than the day before, but the in total 14km I had to ride, would have taken the whole morning and usually the wind got stronger after noon. I was still kind of scared of the wind and definitely didn’t want to get trapped at the same place again. It was a hard decision, but finally I decided not to go back and continue riding towards San Pedro. Later I regretted that and it took me few days to forget about it. It’s my only gap I had to leave so far. Hopefully it stays the only one.
After 30km we reached a great wind protected place behind some rocks with an awesome view on a salt lake. Even though it was early, we decided to stay, as the wind was picking up again and who knows if we could find such another good place.
From there it was just another day ride to the village of Socaire. We were finally back in civilization. We left behind the freezing nights, the strong icy wind and even the sandy gravel roads. With tarmac beneath our wheels we reached easily San Pedro de Atacama the next day. It’s the last stop in Chile before I cross into Bolivia.
And back in the tropics…