Argentina for Christmas

Hostel Sonchek in San Pedro is comfortable. Two nights turns to four. Birds chirp in the mornings. Trees shade a back patio. Kittens roam around, getting up to no good and providing hours of entertainment. Empanadas can be had next door for a few pesos. We work hard to convince ourselves to leave, to go back out in to the desert.

At Valle Jere in Tocanao we sit in the shade and watch the local dog pack romp in the water.

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Gardens abound. Women and girls tend their orchards.

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The park is kept in fine shape by two guardaparques. We make to leave, but are stopped by a lunch invite from Maria and Martina.

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We learn about the flora and fauna in this oasis. We I eat a plateful of fresh apricots. The sun dips towards the west. Tyndall slathers his nose in sunscreen again and we go.

At the Tropic of Capricorn we stop for cookies. Five kilometers later I realize I forgot to take a photo. Loath to lose the bit of elevation I gained, I don’t go back.

We intend to arrive in Socaire this evening, but stop short to sleep in a canyon. We would both rather skimp on food and water than sleep in town tonight.

I watch the International Space Station wing through the sky and then fall asleep.

In the morning we waste an hour in town, waiting for a shop to open to buy supplies for the up and over to Argentina. I buy a giant loaf of french bread. It goes into the backpack for later. We climb. And climb and climb.

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A day’s effort gets us up an over one pass, to Aguas Caliente. The camp spot we had in mind is occupied. We search for another without any luck. I ask to share the space and they oblige. The wind howls and this is the only protection to be found. Out on the laguna, the flamingos could care less. They go about their business, cackling through the night.

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The road is empty. We see no one. The wind kicks us along on a smooth dirt surface. The climbs come easy today, and then they are done and we’re flying down towards the Argentinian immigration post.

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It’s Christmas and no one is prepared for two cyclists. Slightly rumpled officials appear and assemble in a line for us. First a Chilean exit stamp, then a question about where is the paperwork for our bikes, we don’t have any from San Pedro we say, then an entry stamp from Argentina and details about how to stay longer than 90 days if we would like to.

Rumors abound about this immigration post. Tyndall asks about a place to camp away from the wind. Instead we’re shown a whole house and told it’s all ours for the night. Beds, hot water, showers, even wifi. It’s a good way to pass Christmas, warm inside, listening to the wind howl outside.

The landscape stretches on forever it seems. We spin through silence. A small red car passes. A herd of llamas graze outside of Olacapato. Past town a few more cars appear, but in between, silence. Here there are SOS buttons and gas lines. I wonder who comes if we call.

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At the end of the day we find shelter from the wind and tuck in. In the morning we discover small hot pools, just a few kilometers farther up the road.

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Viscachas run up vertical rock faces. A man and his llama herd set out for the day.

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We spin, working our way up to 15,000′. At the top, a road grader awaits. I relish the elevation, knowing we won’t be this high in the Andes again. Tyndall asks the construction worker about empanadas in town. He says yes, we can find some there, and so we take off, going down down down.

From town there’s one more pass to crest. At the top we realize we should have brought a sacrifice for the Pachamama.

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Somehow, honoring Mother Earth involves litteiring.

After that, we begin to work our way down to Salta. It’s at about 4,000′.

A cactus appears. Then another. Then big bushy bunches of grass. The valley floor is a blanket of green. A creek rushes down it. The mountainsides still brown. Hamlets appear. Cows, goats, sheep, more green.

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Cactuses in bloom.

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The mountainsides turn green.

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A new road is being built, straight down the river bed.

We fight the wind the whole way, wanting to leave the barren and harsh altiplano behind. It doesn’t give us up easily.

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Photo by Tyndall Ellis.

In Salta colors abound: green hillsides, red mangos, yellow peaches, white wine. We’re back in the (crowded) land of plenty.

Where we rode: San Pedro de Atacama – Socaire – Piedras Rojas – Paso Sico – Olacapato – San Antonio de los Cobras – Salta

Route details from Andes by Bike.

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