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abra acay

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.


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.
The next morning the view had changed dramatically and the mountains were covered in snow. Photo also taken by Alvaro.
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.


At almost 5000m, it was rather chilly…
and though a lot of the snow of the night had already melted, we still found enough to built this snowy compañero.
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.
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.
Especially at first, the road crossed the river very often, around every kilometer, which made for some wet feet.
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

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.


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.


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


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


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.


Whiter than the laguna blanca…


and greener than the laguna verde.


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.


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


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


Rock formations just before the borderpost of Argentina.


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

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.


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

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.


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,


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.


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


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.


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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adventures in-between

After all that salt, we were riding straight into a mud bath when we left the salar. By then it didn’t matter much anymore.


We stopped for lunch in Yonza, where we were offered a place to stay next to the plaza and could also wash the salt and mud off our bikes. The next day saw us cycling to san pedro de quemez, where we camped in the yard of the staff of the centro de salud and cooked up some good dinner for him when he returned from work.


Crossing the main tourist trail at san juan the following day and the rail line coming from Uyuni, we were soon on our way to Alota and Villamar.


A sandy ascent, but with nice skies to look at while we had to push occasionally, was followed by a descent on a much better road surface…


and delivered us into this valley were llamas were munching on algae in the river.


The road was heavy washboard and so we were glad, while thinking we would have to ride another twenty kilometers, to suddenly arrive at the international road and the pueblo of Alota. Time for an icecream at the plaza.


On the way to Villamar, we were stopping at these rock formations close to the valley de las rocas.


From Villamar the idea was to rejoin the main route at the Laguna Colorado. That didn’t quite happen…