Thursday, May 26, 2011

Back across the Andes – this time at 4700m and going solo...

Entonces... adventuras con mi moto (… and so – adventures with my motorbike). After leaving Diego and his very small backpack in La Serena after a very successful transfer of ownership of the bike, I headed north for the first time absolutely solo - my destination was Copiapo (yes the town of last year's big Chilean mine collapse)  

Part of the attraction of having a bike, is that I can take any turn off that looks appealing – and so I did that about 200kms north of where I started and ended up in a smaller fishing village called Huasco. There I met a Chilean – Fernando, a sailor who ended up living in Norway for 30 years but returned to his village about 10 years ago. He had some wonderful stories and I ended up spending 2 nights there enjoying the village, eating seafood and visiting Fernando's olive farm.

From there I headed along a desolate but beautiful coastline of sand dunes, where I had the first of my mechanical adventures – in addition to the self inflicted running out of fuel I also had a dead battery. With the help of some locals in Caldera (nice laid back coastal town) and Copiapo (um, sorry to say not terribly exciting) I got back on the road and got ready to cross the border back into Argentina – across a 4700m called Paso San Francisco.

starting out in the foggy morning

Steadily climbing up the tarmac

The road to the pass on the Chilean side is about 200km of tarmac and gravel roads, and after steadily rising in altitude and opening up my air box because of the thinning air, I reached the Chilean border around 2pm. The original plan had been to continue up, but after some warming tea and biscuits, I was very fortunate to be invited to stay in the casa de Carabinero (the Police in Chile), which along with my first hot hot shower in 5 days and the freezing nightime temps was totally appreciated!

At the border with Mario - the carabinero

The next day I had about 30kms of sandy fine gravel to negotiate, but I got through it successfully, and made it to Laguna Verde (Green lake) – a stunning salt talk at 4500m, set in yellow/brown high altitude desert planes – an absolute marvel when you chance upon it in the barren high altitude landscape! The next day after sneakily camping inside the carabinero summer post house I had fun taking copious amounts of pictures at the border – after all how many times do you get to cross the Andes solo with a 200cc bike?? I also passed the highest volcano in South America – Ojos de Salado (source/eyes of the salt planes) and other beautiful mountains.

Cerros Tres Cruces

Cerro Ojos del Salado - highest volcano in world AND 2nd highest mountain in south america

FIrst sight of Laguna Verde - it blew my mind. I was just yelling out loud to well no-one.

After suitably jumping around under the international border crossing and flying my kite in celebration, I made my way back into Argentina proper – and after all that gravel, to see pavement was absolute heaven!

At the border - 4726m high!

Cerro San Francisco

Why did the guanaco cross the road?

So it's been a week now since the crossing – I've met some very generous locals – both in Chile and Argentina (I'm soon going to do a blog on the characters I met), visited 2 Inca ruins at El Shincal and Quilmes, have passed through Cafayate (a fantastic wine region and also laid back town which is one of the places I'd like to return to), achieved my first helmet face tan (very attractive) as I passed through ancient rock pinnacles north of Cafayate, zipped through the cute touristic town of Cachi and rode pedestrian bridges to small campsites, and now I'm in my last big city in Argentina – Salta. From here the plan is to hopefully meet up with another female motorbike rider – and do the Salar de Uyuni – high altitude salt planes between Chile and Bolivia.

Back on Ruta 40

Garganta del diablo - near Cafayate

Quebrada de las Conchas - near Cafayate

A little bit dead and sore after 50kms cycling

Adobe houses on the way to Cachi

Way to Cachi

Amazing rock formations

Near Cachi

I am enjoying riding the bike so so so so so so much – the freedom, the 'bad ass'-ness of it all, and the reactions of locals (you are travelling – alone – on a motorbike – alone – a woman? – really?!), picking routes on the map, stopping waay to much for pics – all of this is definitely making it THE way to travel South America. Also getting to do things like ride over footbridges first thing in the morning....

Bolivia is next after a bit of bike maintenance in Salta – it's going to be a completely different country to travel in, and I am looking forward to it!”

So – until I've conquered the salt flats...adios amigos :)


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