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los alerces

February 14th, 2015 · No Comments

The road kept follwing lakes towards the south. First the lago Gutiérrez and then lago Mascardi. I passed El Bolson, a town many hippies from the capital chose as their new home in the 70s, and also known for its surroundings and outdoor activities. What seems like a place well worth visiting, the description reminding me of Vilcabamba, where i spent more than a week relaxing and exploring its surroundings, i just passed as i didn’t feel like making a stop for a longer period of time. Just as i was about to exit town, somebody yelled my name, and i was pleasantly surprised to see Simon, one of the lovely folks of the Huayra Sanipi family of Cafayate and had some time to exchange our latest experiences.

From Cholila, where i spent a nice hour with good coffee and wi-fi at the café above the tourist information, i cycled the last part of asphated road towards the PN Los Alerces.

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Camping not far before its entrance, i was up early and had the whole day to explore. When i stopped to filter water, this curious fellow was hopping around the bike for a while, closer than most birds would dare to in other parts of the world.

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While looking for a place to rest along the road, i stopped at the beginning of the path to the viewpoint over laguna verde and postponned my planned picnic for a while. Which was well worth it to see this.

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If someone would want to study the colour blue, this would be a good place to start as almost every body of water seems to add another shade to the palette.

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Some of the lakes had beaches…

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And on one of these i pitched my tent for the night. There are only a handful of free campings along the road through the park and a good place to meet other travellers. I met some Argentinians who invited me to have mate with them while preparing dinner over the fire. The next day i already left the park again as there is just so many lakes you can look at, which probably holds true as well for photos of lakes…

so how about some clouds…

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or rivers…

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This is already in Chile on my way from Futaleufu towards the Carretera Austral.

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the lake district

February 14th, 2015 · No Comments

We arrived in Junin at night and found a camping that was overpriced but both didn’t feel like cycling out of town at this hour. Only in the morning did we see what nice spot we had, only some meters from the river which did go unnoticed the night before. Bread was organised and together with mermelada de mora and a cup of hot chocolate, this is still a combination i have to get tired of. I started a little earlier than Daniel, a cyclist from Colombia i had met the day before on the bus, as he still had to buy and eat his breakfast, but with plans to meet up later that day again. Which we did sometime before San Martin de los Andes. From there the road of the seven lakes starts towards Bariloche. The road followed the shore of lake Lacar for the first kilometers, with San Martin still visible nestled its northern shore.

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There are lots of campings with different standards of luxury, most of them pretty crowded. We preferred to get the climb, that starts when the road leaves the lake, out of the way the same day. Almost at the end of it, we found a beautiful spot to camp and through the trees one could still see the lake in the distance.

It is amazing how unequally water is distributed on this planet. After the lagunas route and riding in northern Chile, water is plenty here in the south. Some waterfalls kept the ride interesting if, for a short while, there was no lake in sight.

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And sometimes the mountains around the lakes offered that little extra that seemed worth it to take the camera out.

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The wind was favourable until reaching the ruta 40 towards Bariloche and i envied these guys a little while pushing onwards against the wind.

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I bypassed Bariloche as i arrived late, which would have left me with little time to explore it. The road of the seven lakes ends there, but they could have easily let it run further south as there seemed to be no end of lakes in sight.

 

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new year’s and new territories

February 14th, 2015 · No Comments

After the fantastic time we spent in Cafayate, it was time to hop on the bike once more and start heading south. It was also the time to say goodbye to my companion for the last two month, Alvaro. Our plans were congruent in direction but not in time. While i had already purchased a return ticket, he will have more time to explore Patagonia. You can follow his blog here.

The plan was to cycle over Tafi del Valle until Monterros, where the main road is coming from Tucuman in the north and traffic considerably heavier. Because riding wouldn’t be much fun, the plan was to find a truck towards the south or, if that wouldn’t work, a bus to Mendoza. Sadly both things were more difficult than imagined. After a wonderful downhill part from Tafi, the cycling indeed was pleasureless along the ruta 38. There weren’t many trucks at the service stations, and if there were any, no sign of the drivers could be found. So i continued cycling south and stopped at every opportunity that seemed worth it and inquired. Only towards the end of the day were there any serious leads. I heard of two drivers at a rest point twenty kilometers to the north on their way to Mendoza, but how to get there or contact them? Another driver suggested to try out a plant that produces sugar nearby, as he was sure that they had constant shipments to Mendoza. Taking the chimneys as orientation, i soon stood in front ot the entrance where two security officers seemed to do their best to help me. But in between christmas and new years, even in a globalised world, business is not as usual.

This should also prove true for busses in Alberdi. After having checked already three terminals along the way, the answer was again ‘no’, too many passengers, not enough space to take a bike. It is hard to get an overview of all the bus companies, as there are many different names. But in the end they all belong to only two or three different companies which have usually similar policies when it comes to luggage. After getting a positive reply regarding the bicycle from a company i hadn’t tried before, things finally seemed to be on their way. The downside was, i had to wait until midnight. When i came back, the guy was sitting on another counter, which didn’t seem too strange at that time. But when a bus from another company, which never takes bikes, arrived and he said i should ask the driver, i was getting slightly upset. It turned out the guy is selling tickets for all companies, so no matter at which office you show up, you end up with the same bus companies. I waited for another bus at two in the morning, but unsurprisingly there was no place for neither me or the bicycle. The two security officers had offered me to camp next to theit office if things wouldn’t work out. So, slightly disappointed but not in a bad mood, i left the terminal and headed back. What an inconvenience it was, when i found out that these two jokers forgot to tell the guy from the next shift about it. And the guy would’t wanna hear about it as here feared his boss would’t be too happy if he would see me camping there. By now a little frustrated after a long day of trying and a fruitless search for transportation, rather aimlessly, i steered my way to the plaza and asked a woman cleaning the sidewalk in front of her café if there is any cheap hosdedaje nearby. After a small chat, the man who had been chatting with her, offered me a place to crash. Being the clerk of the campo de deportes next door, he could offer me to set up camp there, where there was also a hot shower and later he surprised me with some food offerings in form of fruit and a cake. What a day, full of disapointments but in the end, one meeting changed all that and we were sitting and chatting for another hour or so in the empty sport court.

The riding from La Cocha was much more enjoyable with less traffic and nicer scenery. A little climb added to the change in an otherwise boring straight road until i reached the small pueblo of La Merced. A good place to rest at the plaza and to get some fresh produce from the tienda at the corner and roll over to the municipal camping. Directly next to the road, it is still a nice spot. When i arrived none was there but i took a shower and set up camp anyways. It was still fifty kilometers to Catamarca, which should be a short day on the last day of 2014 and i should have enough energy left to join a celebration.

It was indeed an easy ride. Shortly before town i had almost a whole watermelon for lunch and Catamarca wasn’t that big to get lost in and rather easy to navigate. To meet some people, a hostel seemed to be a good idea and i was glad with my choice. The people staying there were almost exclusively from Urugay and Argentina. An asado was agreed on, and i found an open store to add some veggies to the feast. We had a relaxed night, stayed at the hostel, ate, had some glasses of wine, brought out the stereo and later some instruments. Especially when arriving only hours earlier, it surprises me everytime how easily you can form a connection with some people. Which seems especially true here in Argentina.

On the first day of the year, i finally managed to source a bus company that would take the bike, and as luck would have it, it seemed that Alvaro was taking a bus from another town that would arrive around the same time in Mendoza.

A night bus later, i arrived in Mendoza early in the morning and after entering the terminal saw Alvaro getting his bike ready. We had a recommendation for a hostal we checked out first. Confronted with a pricetag at least double of what we were used to until now, we continued our search a bit further from the centre and found something agreeable. But what a lack in atmosphere, hardly anybody greeting other people, and the staff as helpful as uninterested.

We got some money things sorted and decided after two days to change location and visited the bomberos. Especially for those readers who are not familiar with long distance travelling on a bicycle, some explanations: It has become one of the most visited public institutions where cyclists seek shelter. Either to save money or to immerse themselves more into the country they are in. And most cases probably a mixture of both. Because of it being a public institution, i had my reserves about it, especially as some cyclists seem to hop from one station to the next and using it almost like a hostel. But there are also these stories of stations having their own guestbook for travellers and being proud for offering hospitality. What side overweighs, depends i think on each individual. Only one way to find out for myself… In Argentina the profesional bomberos are often police officers and maybe because of that, we had no luck at first, but were friendly advised to try our luck at the volunteers instead. After we arrived and stated our case, we were handed up the hierarchy two or three times, just to find out that the big boss wasn’t there who would have the last word in the matter. So we had to wait until the evening. But what better way to spend an afternoon than buying some bread, avocados, olives, tomatoes and cheese and make a picnic in the park. Something that has evolved to a favourite pre siesta habit. We had already left our bikes with the bomberos and it was rather a matter of form that we received the invitation once we got back and could use their showers and got a bunk bed in their dormitory.

Im the morning i had already purchased another bus ticket for the next day, as i was keen to get to the lake district and wanted to make the most of my time in Patagonia before returning to the north. Alvaro spent the day finding a welder who could fix his frame, which broke while cycling the Salar the Coipasa. He was getting back in time to say a last goodbye before i made my way to the terminal and boarded a bus to Neuquén.

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la guitarra

February 14th, 2015 · No Comments

Already in La Paz, the guitar was out of shape. Sadly unlike with cyclist, this could not be mended by some days of resting. With some meddling and putting a piece of a bicycle tube under the bridge i could get it back to a level that it was playable. Another month of riding through one of the driest climates on this planet and it was beyond my skills to repair it. The neck was bend. And most of the frets produced only a rattling sound with the highest point of the neck now being around the 14th fret.

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While there were no outer signs visible at the beginning, by the time i had reached Cafayate, cracks were obviously showing.

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Also on the top where body and neck are joined. Luckily this was more cosmetic and nothing substantial.

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I adressed the problem as one of the first things after arriving at the Huayra Sanipi. Pepo, one of the two owners, was quick to call up a friend of his and twenty minutes later i was talking to Pedro, an immensely helpful guy, still a  student but soon to be a luthier himself. He took the guitar to his professor and came back with some suggestions how to solve the matter. Some rather cheap, but only the most expensive one offering a solution that would last.

As the neck adjustment screw was still intact, the luthier changed to the medium expensive version without replacing the fretboard. Which brought the price down to about half of what we had agreed on and i still had a working guitar. In the evening we played a small concert to celebrate the rebirth of the that guitar.

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If someone is looking for a good budget guitar, this is a good choice. I’m not sure if the variations in quality are a big issue. Playability and sound were outstanding for an instrument with a such a low pricetag. Just be aware of dry climates while travelling with wooden instruments. I weren’t thinking about how to humidify my guitar until the neck was already bent.

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cafayate

February 4th, 2015 · No Comments

We had received a recommendation for a hostel which is quickly becoming the cyclist hangout in town: the Huayra Sanipi. It turned out to be a stroke of luck and soon all plans to reach Mendoza until christmas were forgotton.

Five kilometers from town starts a trek to a series of waterfalls along a steep valley. The idea was to visit some of them, but in the end, when we reached a pool and the sun was blazing down on us, we decided to have a swim instead.

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Once again i met fellow cyclists Maggie and Bryan, whom i met now i think for the fourth time during this trip. You can read Maggie’s account of the time during christmas here.

Cafayate is famous for its wine. Some of the bodegas are within walking distance from the hostel and so we went to some tastings.

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‘Nanny’ is one of the winegrowers who produces with strict ecological norms. Their patio, which we visited during the short tour through the premises, is one of the nicest in town.

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The hostel displays the spirit of its guests, who left all sorts of paintings and notes on the walls.

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Camping under the vines was as good as it gets. The first grapes were getting ripe during our stay, and especially bryan was lured out of his hammock from time to time to grab some.

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Goat cheese became a favourite for lunchtime in northern Argentina and when we heard about a goat farm not far from town, it was just a matter of time until we paid them a visit to taste their cheese. A small tour explained the process of making cheese and took us through their farm, before tasting some variations with different herbs and we left happily with a piece of flavoured goat cheese in our bags.

One of the best things about the Huayra was the communal dinners every evening, or rather every night, as it would hardly start anytime before ten. Especially on our first evening this was a challenge as sleepiness and hunger were battling against each other. But after a day or two it became normal. And with the adjustment to local habits, mainly taking a siesta in the afternoon, we were soon embracing this way of life (photo by Alvaro).

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Here with Christian and Pepo, the two owners, who are investing heart and soul into this place. On one of these occasions, rather at the beginning of our stay, i foolheartedly agreed to prepare the next dinner. That night we were only eight people sharing the dinner table, but towards christmas, more and more people arrived, and the next evening, our number had doubled. So i was in the kitchen for four hours preparing ‘Käsespätzle’, a dish i had prepared before but never from scratch with making the dough for the ‘pasta’ myself. Luckily, a girl from south tyrol helped out with her experience without which this would have certainly ended in disaster. It turned out great, the wood fired oven in the garden adding a flavour that went well with this hearty dish, and even though it looked like you could feed a peloton of cyclists with it, there was just enough for everybody.

One evening we went out to the ‘el ombu’ restaurant, where Andrea, a talented singer from Rosario and also guest of the hostel, was playing a concert.

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We arrived with everybody from the hostel during the concert, almost doubled the number of the audience and hopefully gave some moral support.

For christmas we prepared an asado, the argentinian version of a barbeque, which is never just about the food but also a social event. In a country famous for its meat, we also put sufficient veggies on the grill.

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The atospehere was like “en casa”. The temperatures stayed pleasant throughout the night and so we had, also because there was not enough room inside as our number had grown to around thirty, the dinner on christmas eve in the garden.

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After which Pepo Clause was arriving with the gifts.

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And after so much work, he stayed a while to have a proper rest with a small bottle of christmas spirit.

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After christmas most people left town. Here a last goodbye with most members of the family.

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And we also got ourselves ready to leave that cozy place and say our goodbyes to people with whom we had shared an amazing time.

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quebrada de las flechas

February 4th, 2015 · No Comments

Cycling south from Cachi, one is passing the small village of Angastaco and from there the Quebrada de las Flechas. Textured mountains flanking the river set a nice backdrop for travelling along the valley.

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It is these places where travelling on dirt makes the experience special, as it feels like the road is part of the country.

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Now on the argentinian side of the andes, black clouds were looming over us but still hardly any rain fell. Along the quebradas, apart from the rivers, the landscapes are still mostly barren (photo by Alvaro).

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A tour guide on the side of the road waiting for his group of tourists, who were allowed to roam freely for a while, told us of this viewpoint which revealed the spectacular rocks a little better.

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Some kilometers further down the road we set up camp at the river with just as spectacular skies (photo by Alvaro).

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Cooking on fire takes more time and energy, but in some places it is well worth the effort.

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It wasn’t as challenging as the cycling within the last weeks but still, we were looking forward to an extended break once we would reach Cafayate.

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abra acay

January 4th, 2015 · No Comments

Luck found us in the way of Rosario. Not only had he a replacement suspension fork for Alvaro’s bike and could change dollars at a good exchange rate, he also offered us an empty apartment to rest in. After fixing the bike, we spent the evening with him and his family to say ‘thank you’ for all is help. Alvaro was preparing a spanish tortilla on this occasion.

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Leaving San Antonio, we soon gained altitude before turnong off on the famous Ruta 40, whichs spans almost the whole country from north to south for more than 5000 kilometers. In the afternoon the clouds looked anything else than inviting and around the mountain tops lightning could be seen while blasts of thunder resounded around us. We found shelter in a tool shed of a cemetery, a rather cramped spot and the surroundings with the tombs probably not to everyone’s liking, it still made for a good night’s sleep and a photography playground for Alvaro.
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The next morning the view had changed dramatically and the mountains were covered in snow. Photo also taken by Alvaro.
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The weather was nice and we started the real climb towards the pass. With declining energy it was a bit disheartening after turning a bend, to see that we were not even halfway there and the view of the whole road ahead up to the top seemed to be the work for more than one afternoon. But taking it one turn of the wheel at a time, we soon had the last turn of the pass behind us.

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At almost 5000m, it was rather chilly…
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and though a lot of the snow of the night had already melted, we still found enough to built this snowy compañero.
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The descent was spectacular. Had the ascent been a bit monotonous, now the scenery changed every five kilometers and we stopped every so often to take in the views, which passed almost too quickly now going downhill.
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We had planned to reach the next village but camped at an abandonned house instead with a river flowing nearby. The following day, the road descended more gently along the river through this beautiful valley.
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Especially at first, the road crossed the river very often, around every kilometer, which made for some wet feet.
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After all the rigidness we had seen over the last weeks, this valley seemed to be the land of plenty and every tree seemed to be an invitation to take a rest.
Shade was also starting to become a necessity, as we were dropping into a drastically hotter climate. When we reached Cachi, it seemed to be too good a place to just pass through. And after we had settled in at “la mamama”, it was clear that we would not be cycling the next day.

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paso sico

January 4th, 2015 · No Comments

The road out of San Pedro at first is straight and flat and there is nothing much to see around. We made good progress until i headed into Toconao and stopped at the first little shop with Alvaro some minutes behind. Since it was the only place for the day along the road, it was clear to me that we would make a break. Only after half an hour i was growing suspicious that this might not be the case for all members of the team and i returned to the main road. It was hard to stop passing cars and some drivers just waved at me in response to my sign to stop as if i had greeted them instead. And the driver of the first car that stopped, coming from the south, was cocksure that there was no cyclist in the road ahead. So i waited longer. The second person i could ask was coming from San Pedro and this time the information was, that they had seen a cyclist coming from there. But by that time i was already past the point of believing that Alvaro could still be lagging behind and i approached the other passengers of the truck and they told me that they are pretty sure that the cyclsist they had seen was me, an hour ago. Perfect. Finally the next driver confirmed that a cyclist was about twenty kilometers ahead and some kilometers down the road i found further proof.

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I caught up with him in Socaire, where we camped next to the plaza and the church. The real climbing started the next day, for half of the day on asphalt until we took the turn-off towards the lagunas Miscanti and Miñiques, a sandy and rocky road climbing towards the entrance six kilometers further. The idea was to cycle along the lagunas and exit on the other side, rejoining the main road towards the pass. But at the entrance we were told that the road is closed because of a protected bird nesting on the shore. Usually a friend of laws protecting wildlife, this bird wasn’t making it easy for us to become friends. All efforts with the person present were to no avail and in the end we paid the entrance fee and started with the bikes unloaded to explore the two lagoons. Alvaro in front of the laguna Miscanti.

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The road is closed. ¨Fucking ave (bird)¨ became a line often used these days for anything annoying that happened.

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Laguna Miñiques, just a kilometer down the road from Laguna Miscanti.

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We were not allowed to camp within the park and thus returned to the main road and cycled some kilometers more before finding a beautiful spot to camp between beautiful rock formations, that also provided protection from the wind. The next day brought more lagunas and by now were felt compensated for having missed out on some in Bolivia.

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Whiter than the laguna blanca…

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and greener than the laguna verde.

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We had heard from other cyclists that the miners just before the border are very friendly and from time to time offer cyclists a place to sleep. Nicolas, the man in charge, offered us a room and later a soup that was boiling on his stove. We also met a familiar face in form of Armando, a motorcyclist we had met in San Pedro, who had no luck entering Argentina without international insurance. But being a guy with good spirits, he hadn’t lost his smile just yet.

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Things became distinctly greyish just before crossin the border.

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Recovery service seems to be rather poor in these parts and so cars are just ‘parked’ next to the road after an accicdent.

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A last look back towards Chile and its, at least in these times of the year, seemingly always blue skies.

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Rock formations just before the borderpost of Argentina.

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Just in front of the building, Alvaro realized that his fork had a crack, that wasn’t inspiring confidence. The people of the border let us sleep in one of their unused buildings and we made plans to make it at least to San Antonio de los Cobres and see if it would be possible to mend it there. If so, we would continue to the south and the highest pass in Argentina, the Abra Acay.

 

 

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san pedro de atacama

January 4th, 2015 · No Comments

Our arrival in san pedro was a bit overwhelming at first. After a month of being surrounded by bizarre landscapes and hardly any opportunities to get fresh produce, here we were in a posh tourist place with everything that money can buy. After changing our bolivianos for chilenean pesos, we went straight for a heladeria. Only later did we realize that we had each spent five dollars for that treat. We camped at a hostal, which seemed to be the cheapest option, and spent the first days regaining some calories and tending to the equipment. On the weekend there was a fiesta at the plaza and the feeling was refreshengly local while the tourist where crowding the shopping street, a block away. Two bands were playing and delivered the perfect soundtrack for a sunny afternoon in the park.

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And so i was spending a good while of the day in the shade of a tree listening and also getting used to the heat after we had dropped around 2000 meters in altitude since leaving Bolivia. Towards the end of the concert, a lot of people were dancing in front of the stage and wouldn’t let the band leave the stage before another encore.

There are quite a few interesting places around San Pedro, put being a bit tired and still processing the experience of the lagunas route, we did not explore these. After having lots of sand around me for the last couple of weeks, i changed my plans and, instead of riding through the atacama desert, i joined Alvaro once again over thePaso Sico towards Argentina.

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lagunas route

January 4th, 2015 · No Comments

Well, we did the lagunas route only sort of and, accidently, circumnavigated most of the lagoons sovereignly. Since a fairly new road had degraded the former main trail to the Laguna Colorado to an inconspicious turn-off, we ended up at the Laguna Chalviri instead. But with a hot pool to soak in, we soon were reconciled with our route choice.

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Since we had slept at almost 5000 meters the night before, this was especially rewarding and the cold was soon forgotten. We slept at the restaurant opposite the hot springs before we crossed the desierto del dali the next day,

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crested a last pass and a had to overcome a bit of sand. But with hardly any pushing involved, we reached the last of the lagoons, which for sure was a cause for celebration.

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First we stopped at the laguna verde, that is supposedly more ‘verde’ if there is wind.

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We met a super friendly lady from La Paz, who insisted to give some fruit to us and also to do a ceremony to honour Pachamama, the mother earth. Cycling along the shore of the laguna blanca, we soon reached the immigration on the bolivian side before cycling into chile.

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The immigration of Chile is in San Pedro de Atacama, some forty kilometers downhill from that sign. On this stretch we met Laura and Barbara, two girls from Switzerland we had met in the casa del ciclista in La Paz, cycling into the other direction towards Argentina. Back on asphalt, progress was fast and we were looking forward to some reward in form of icecream and other food we had dreamt up during our ride through the lagunas in that oasis, that San Pedro had become in our thoughts within the last weeks.

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