San Pedro de Atacama – Socaire – Paso Sico – San Antonio de los Cobres – Salta
This quite spectacular route continues the scenic theme of the past few months – volcanoes, high altitude lakes and salars, flamingoes and barren shrub land. Riding on my own I was able to appreciate the quiet landscape in my own rhythm and with my own thoughts, the way the sun glisens on the golden shrubs, and the unique cloud formations. The lack of people in these pictures does however mean they just look like masses of blue on yellow.
In San Pedro de Atacama I was reunited with my friend Charmian who was now on the mend and almost ready to get cycle touring again. We had decided that we continue the journey south in Argentina as the route options sounded a lot more interesting to us than the deserts of Northern Chile.
To enter Argentina this would obviously mean crossing the Andes, and there are several options of how this can be done. Paved Paso Jama is the way most of the traffic goes but this sounded so dull that I never really considered it as an option. Nathan was keen to head into the wilderness and he is therefore taking the Paso Socompa option and then into the Puna de Atacama. I wanted to take a less deserted route, Paso Sico therefore became my natural choice. The majority of the route is on an unpaved road, with some climbing, with this and the fact that it would be necessary to carry water for a few days at a time and food for up to a week, our Charmian decided that this would perhaps not be the best re-introduction to cycle touring after her injury break, so we decided to meet up in Salta.
I am again indebited to The Pikes for not only providing the route notes but for riding all 3 of the above mentioned passes, making an informed decision easy. The route is now a lot busier than when they rode it back in 2010 due to mining and construction traffic, on the Chilean side I saw at least 1 vehicle an hour after Socaire.
22nd October – 29th October – San Pedro de Atacama
Almost a week was passed in San Pedro. This place is a tourist town, and feels like a seaside town without a seaside. I enjoyed the temperature and since we were staying with warm showers hosts outside of the centre we never felt overwhelmed by the tourists.
Back with Charmian we headed out to Valle de la Luna one day. She had fallen going down hill on sand so this was an exposure therapy session for her.
We had been staying with Guilerme and Katia, a couple from Sao Paulo, Brazil. Guilerme had ridden his bike here and decided to stay, and was then joined by Katia. These guys are beautiful in everyway. We also loved the company of their dogs, Sariri and Kachupin.
29th October – San Pedro de Atacama to Socaire
Charmian came to join me on the 40 flat km between San Pedro and Toconao. Here we refuelled on empenadas and fizzy drinks and said goodbye, she returned to San Pedro. See you in a week Charmian!
I pedalled quite fast that afternoon along the paved flat road.
In the late afternoon I began to climb towards Socaire (3270m), I decided to push on to arrive at the village that night, it doesn´t get dark until after 8pm. A family who owned a restaurant let me camp behind.
30th October – Socaire to camp
I had slept badly, I always forget that camping in villages means barking dogs til late at night, followed by early cockerel wake up calls. Nice view of the Salar de Atacama though.
I stocked up on more supplies in Socaire as there would now not be a shop for around 4 more days of riding, I pack for 6 days to be safe. I was also weighed down with water as I was carrying enough for a day and a half.
The climb was steep initially and tough with all that extra weight. The higher I climbed the better the views got. The asphalt ends around 40km after Socaire and the road continues to climb for another few km.
Volcano Miscanti. There was the option of detouring to Lakes Miscani and Miñiques, but Jukka who rode this route a few weeks ahead of me said that he was told at the entrance that he could not enter, so I did not bother taking the turn off.
I love the way the shrubs glisten in the sun.
Whoosh! I descend to Salina de Aguas Calientes….
… and along to Lago Tuyaito.
The road behind me, viewed from Lago Tuyaito. That day I leave my camera on the side of the road close to the lake, not realising until the following morning. I therefore have no photos of the great camp spot under some rock formations, around 11km before the mine.
31st October – camp to Aduanas Argentinas
I wake and realise my camera is missing, and therefore back track around the lake. I stopped to take a break somewhere on the edge of the road and the camera must have fallen out of my handlebar bags. The reason was that a carrier back tied to the back of my bike carrying my biscuits had split and I´d put the biscuits in the handlebar bag. 2 hours after I leave camp I find the camera, I was so so lucky this time.
Views from Abra El Laco. I stop at El Laco mine and use their bathroom facilities to freshen up. I am offered lunch, and they also suggest that I stay put the night and rest in the dorm room they keep aside for visitors. I decline both as I am determined to arrive in Argentina that day.
I head down to the Chilean SAG post. I think this carabinero´s job is to make sure no one is entering the country with fruit and vegetables.
I climb up to Abra Sico, the road is under contruction and is busy with contruction vehicles and I am offered a lot of bottles of water from workers keen to make conversation. I reach the top and can see Argentina in the distance.
I descend down to Paso Sico, and welcome myself in to Argentina. There is no traffic on this side.
“Pura pampa, nada mas”, is often the response I get when I ask local people what lies ahead. I say it to myself when I see these places.
I find this message. Te amo = I love you. Someone has started to write this message in coal, I mean it could be my name. Jukka denies it was him.
12km after entering Argentina I arrive at Adunas Argentinas, the customs post. I stamp in and get my 90 days. It is only 5:30pm and the longer days mean I feel I should use the remaining few hours of light for riding but there is open access wifi and a seperate space with bunk beds, it is too good to refuse. I am in a new country for sure, everyone is sucking on yerba mate, ending sentances with the word ´che´and an Argentine produced world map states La Malvinas (Falklands) as Argentine territory. I enjoy some conversation with the gendarmaria (border police), I was subject to lots of currious questions… Why are you alone? Do you get scared? Are you married or single?…… to that I replied, “Estoy libre como el viento”, which means, I am free, like the wind. One of the customs guys really took to that, and kept repeating it to himself.
1st November – Aduanas Argentinas to Olacapato
This is a desert plant called rika rika. It can be used in cooking, put in drinks and in San Pedro they even put it in ice cream. It smells divine and would love to put it on a campfire and have that fragrant aroma wafting around.
Salar de Cauchari.
The main colours of this route.
Cauchari, some abandoned buildings and nothing more.
No hunting of vicuña. Who would want to hunt those beauties anyway? I arrive in Olacapato and do not want to continue as I imagine finding a camp spot sheltered from the wind on the pampa would be tough. I sleep behind the police station, my tent is taped together with gaffa tape and the wind is so powerful I wonder if I will make it through the night.
2nd November – Olacapato to San Antonio de los Cobres
I am told by the policeman that there is no shop here but on my way out of the village I find a little one by this grafitti. I buy biscuits. I also notice eggs, bread and chocolate milkshake.
Olacapato is an old railway town.
The route is initially flat, and I arrive at the first running water I have seen en route.
Hehe, this camel looking llama.
The climb up to Abra Chorrillos (4555m) provides some nice views.
The Apechetas are important shrines for Andean societies. They are usually found at the high point of a pass and thank Pachamama (mother earth) for a safe passing. The rocks have been bought by travelers to be laid upon the site, amongst other offering such as coloured wools, drinks and coca leaves. The distribution of these shrines is consistent with the spread of the Incan empire. (Text taken from MAAM, Salta)
I then descend down to San Antonio de los Cobres (3770m).
Wall mural on the outskirts of town.
3rd November – San Antonio de los Cobres to Salta
I want to find some municipal digs in town but it´s Sunday and everything is closed so I take a place at a guest house. The night before had been windy and grey and the town had looked quite grim, still, on leaving it didn´t look too bad. I had intended to take this route over Abra Acay to Cachi and then down to Salta, but I changed my mind, thinking it would just be best to go and meet Charmian.
Around 20km out of town the paving begins.
Shortly after I reach the top of the pass, and I thank Pachamama.
It is down hill to Salta for about 120km.
I started the bike tour in the deserts of Mexico, since then cacti has had a very special place in my heart.
Down, down, down I go!
The descent was actually really hard due to strong head winds. There was one hour I manage 12kmph going down. I have to work really hard to arrive in Salta before dark, it´s my own fault for not dragging myself out of SAdlC until 11am.
As I cycle through country lanes and villages on the outskirts of Salta, and I can smell grass and plants and earth for the first time in so long. Those country lanes remind me of home. I arrive at the Loki hacienda hostel as it is getting dark. The hostel is on the routa 51, around 20km before Salta, so it means avoiding entering the city by bike. I bag a free bed through couch surfing, although I am too busy during my time there to take a dip in the pool which is a shame.
4th November to 8th November – Salta
Salta (1152m) is a nice enough city, with a really comfortably warm temperature. The city takes siesta between 1-5pm which makes getting jobs done quite difficult. We visit the MAAM museum, which is centred around The Children of Llullaillaco, they are said to be the best preserved Inca mummies of all time. The children´s hair, clothing and skin are all in amazing condition. Really worth a visit.
How strange to be in a place with palm trees after so long in the high Andes. Jukka is in town and it is great to see one of my favourite cycling friends again.
My laptop is broken and I initially take it to Marcelo on the right who tries his best to work out if it is anything to do with the battery or power cables, he feeds me biscuits whilst I wait, and his brother makes me state that the Falklands belong to Argentina. It is not the cables, or battey so I take it to one of his friends who diagnoses the problem as being the motherboard. He says that I can not get a replacement here in Argentina. This means no more laptop, at least it´s one less thing to carry, although this will make blog writing more difficult (I am writing this in an internet cafe).
- The High Desert, Lagunas, and Cream Crackers of South Bolivia
- Cuesta del Obispo and Valle Calchaquies