Monday, January 24, 2011

The Dwarf Road

Daryll writes:

So after being hyped up about the possibility of crossing into Argentina sooner than later, we headed for the Paso de Jama pass that leaves the Atacama Desert in Chile and climbs to 4800m / 15,748ft and crosses into Argentina.  The funny thing was that the Chilean Migracion and Customs were in San Pedro de Atacama and the Argentina Migracion and Customs wasn’t for another 160km.  We were literally in no-man’s land.  At the Chilean exit, we met 2 Brazilian riders that were doing a trip around Argentina and Chile.  They were travelling a lot faster than us and passed us after the border.

On the way up the pass, the temperature changed drastically and we had to stop to put on a few more layers and plug in our heated jackets.  The landscape was incredible along the way as we rode towards a dormant volcano, a few Laguna's stocked with their own resident flamingos and vicuna’s.  I just wonder how anything can survive at this altitude.  We had stopped to take a few pic’s of the flamingos and I had to walk down an embankment to get a better shot and was totally out of breath and breathing heavily by the time I got back to the bike.  I hadn’t even gone 20 steps.  At this stop, one of the Brazilian riders that we had met earlier had left their notebook – apparently it had all his notes about his travels for a future book.  Another tourist had found it and gave it to us, thinking that we would run into them again.  As they were already ahead of us, I didn’t think that we would catch up to them again but as we got to the Argentinean border, they were frantically asking all the passers-by if anyone had found their book and as Angela passed the notebook to the one rider, we could see the joy and relief in their faces and they hugged both of us, before posing for the customary photo opp.

As we continued into Argentina and descended the valley, the weather warmed up to warrant another stop to take off all those layers added on a few hours ago.  One of the highlights that our Argentinean friends had told us about was a salt flats that we would pass through.  So this warranted a stop for a few pics and a walk onto the flats.

Thus far with just over a week in Argentina, Argentina has delivered some of the best roads we have ridden on and one of the worst.  More on that later.  Our destination for our first night in Argentina was Purmamarca, a small town located in the middle of no where and surrounded by mountains with an array of colors that will have any Geologist in heaven.  The road that led to this small town came down a mountain pass with over 25 switchbacks.  The one thing that our Argentinean friends didn’t warn us about was that Argentineans take their siesta very seriously and rightly so as it is in the high 30’s during the day.  As we arrived in Purmamarca, it was deserted and looked more like a ghost town.  Everything was closed and there was hardly anybody on the streets.  Normal trading hours are from 8am-1pm and then again from 5pm-9pm and the good restaurants don’t open till 9pm and some as late as 10pm.  It was about 6pm, we had set up our tent and after a long riding day, a border crossing, we were starving and trying to find a place to eat was yet another challenge.  We managed to find something that had Empenadas and beer as the daily special which we settled on and then watched the sun go down behind the gorgeous mountains.  The sun doesn’t go down till around 8:30pm and it is hot well into the night.

On the way out of Purmamarca, we had to backtrack about 25km’s to find a gas station to fill up to get us to our next campsite for the night.  Camping in Argentina seems to be well organized and there are several campgrounds to choose from, either private or normally every town will have a municipal campground.  The one thing that has struck me is that Argentineans love to backpack, hitch-hike and camp around their lovely country.  There are backpackers everywhere and they are not always foreigners.  Our next destination was going to be a municipal campground in Salta and true to form, the road was another that was designed for bikers in mind as it snaked alongside a lush green mountain and later descended into an urban environment.  The only problem with this road was that both opposing lanes were the width of maybe a single country lane.  Not that much space to carve those corners.  It reminded us of Chuckanuat Dr. in Washington but throw in some cows, and take away all the guard-rails.

It’s summer holidays here, so families are out camping and the campsite was busy and our neighbors were as curious as 5 yr olds and wouldn’t  leave me alone to set-up the tent.  From Salta, the scenery changed again from the lush green vegetation of the previous day to the most incredible rock formations that we’ve seen as we rode towards Cafayete.  It wasn’t a long day and we arrived in Cafayete by noon and as usual, everything was closed so decided to stop at a gas station that sold food and supposedly offered wifi.  After ordering, we found out that the wifi didn’t work, but the lomo (steak) sandwich that we had was so good.  Before leaving, I ended up having a argument with the guy behind the cash for the lack of internet and the fact that our lunch worked out more expensive than was advertised.  As we were planning on camping for the rest of the week and weren’t going to have internet access, Ang found an internet cafe to email home while I watched over the bikes, all still parked at the gas station.  While there, I noticed several cars stopping to fill up without any problems.  When Ang returned, we decided to fill up as we were at the station.  As we rode the bikes close to the pump, the attendant starting saying no and that we should go elsewhere and there wasn’t any gas here.  What the hell!  So I went off at him, in English or course and he didn’t understand a word of my rant.  My guess was that the guy inside told him not to sell us gas.  Ang was nicer to him than I was and he explained that there wasn’t any gas and we should return tomorrow.  We did return the next morning, found a different attendant and filled up.  I kept my mouth shut the whole time.

At the campsite in Cafayete, we camped next to two families and where I met Martin, a young 10 year old that spent the entire evening sitting at our campsite asking me a million and one questions about our trip.  Every so often he would go off back to his tent and bring candy or cookies back to us.  He wanted to learn a few English words and I had a good opportunity to practice my Spanish as well.  It was getting late and I had said that we are leaving early tomorrow morning, so I had to go to bed.  It was about 10pm – that is late for me and he said that he would get up early to say goodbye the next morning. During the evening, I had given him one of our stickers, I guess he felt that he needed to return the favor and give me something and he pulled out a toy soldier from his pocket and offered it to me – it is times like these that really make this trip.  I declined his toy soldier as I really couldn’t take his toy.  As promised, Martin was up just before we could leave, and I noticed that his mom brushed his hair before he came over with his dad for some photos.

We were headed for Catamarca and during the morning stopped off at a few wineries for some photos of Argentineans famous vineyards and the rain clouds that loomed ahead.  As we continued, it started to rain, and we could see in the distance that we were headed towards the eye of the storm, so decided to stop at a gas station for a break and hope that the storm will pass before we got back on the road.  We must have waited an hour and thought that the storm had moved along.  To our dismay, as we started back up, we headed up another mountain pass and we started to ride right into the rain.  It was too bad to start, but then the wind picked up and it was the worst wind we have driven in.  It was a biting cold wind and neither of us wanted to stop to add on more layers as we didn’t think we could hold up the bikes if we had stopped as the wind was so strong.  The road had some potholes, which was bearable, but as we would pass a mountain, and it would shield us from the wind for a moment, the instant we came out of it’s shelter, we were blasted again.  I’m sure that this was just preparation of what’s too come in Patagonia.  I held my handle bars with a death grip for the next 100km’s.  From the rain, to the wind, then came the fog and when we thought that it couldn’t get any worse, parts of the pass were under construction and there were dirt sections that turned in a slippery nightmare for me.  I’m still running the original tire that I had left Canada with, so there isn’t much traction on dirt and as we came down a hill, the back-end would slip and slide all over the place.  An hour and a half later, we descended into the most peaceful little community (Tafi de Valle) and then on to our campsite.  Most of the camping we have been doing thus far have been in full service sites with a bbq, pool and hot showers, all for about $5.  Well worth it for our budget.

The next major stop for us was Mendoza were we needed to catch up on blog, emails, change my rear tire and have a few good meals and sleep in some comfort for a change.  Mendoza is a nice town, big city with small town feel.  it was destroyed in an earthquake and when the city was rebuilt, it was designed with wide side-walks and streets that are lined with trees.  Definitely worth a visit.

New photos of Chile and Argentina added to the respective photo albums.  I had mixed some of the photos and have now resorted them into their correct locations.

We plan on camping for the next week as we make our way to Bariloche so will be out of contact till next weekend.
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  1. Greg writes.... excellent entry to the blog. Daryl you are becoming a very good writer! LOL! a new career for you I see! Enjoy and ride safe? is it me or did Ang become 10 feet tall LOL! picture of her on the road looks really funny, and I can not believe how narrow that road is!

  2. Greg, are you being sarcastic about my writing skills as I suck at it. I sat up till midnight with the last blog post knowing that we won't have another one done for another week.

  3. greg writes... not sarcastic at all, it is a very interesting write up and I grade this one your best to date! take care...greg an jill

  4. Greg writes... how are things guys? Hope all is well. Jill and I are looking forward to the next update. ride safe. Greg and Jill

  5. All is well and we will have another update as soon as we can upload more photos - probably in a day or 2.