No, I am not blogging as I don't know how to, I'm from the old school, no GPS just plain old road maps.
I write a diary, this is the part when I crossed the Andes from Chile to Argentina in June.
I have a few photos yet to put on.
Hope you like my first try at writing
From what I could understand from Patricio, the border had been shut for quite a while and he was telling me to be very careful of the caminos ( semi’s ) as there would be a lot of them waiting and very anxious to get over the border into Argentina before the next lot of snow arrived . That word a LOT proved to be an under statement.
As you usually do when it’s a nice day, a bit cool but sunny, riding along in the open countryside, as it is Autumn everything was brown and no leaves on the trees, I was just thinking how lucky I was to be here, wishing that the Yamaha had been sold and that this bike lived up to it’s reputation of being perfect for this sort of country. From Los Andes to the border was about 55kms, and you could see the mountain for miles, high and WHITE.
As I got a bit closer to the range I noticed how the snow was getting deeper on the edges of the road, it had been graded off and at this point it was clear going.
A few kms along I noticed a big line of semi’s parked up on the edge of the road, I thought straight away an accident, and so I slowly worked my way along, going around and around these trucks. lucky for me there was no traffic coming down the mountain yet. This went on for about an hour, taking it slow as there were many patches of snow on the road especially on the bends and I was getting a little bit anxious as I started to see how big this mountain range really was. It was very unusual to see all the little fires burning along the edges of the road; I thought that if there was an accident this far away from the summit, these guys must have been here for quite a while. The trucks were still parked up as I got further along and then I realised what was going on. I had weaved myself along for about 25 kms and this is the line up of trucks just waiting for the border to open that Patricio was talking about.
I reckon I must have passed 100’s by now and they just still kept on going as far ahead as I could see. Now things changed a bit, they were on the move and we were all starting to go up, and I mean up. I looked up ahead and I could see this small convoy of trucks crawling their way up this snake. The road had been cut into the mountain and made to go across to the left and up the hill a bit, then a tight bend and across and up again for another kilometre to the right. All along this snake, the trucks not only had to battle the steep ascent, they had now to contend with the guys coming down the hill. Travelling in low gear up this monster would have been hard enough to do, trying to keep the revs up and trying not to have to stop at all. The smell of brakes started to fill the air and it was getting a lot colder as I went higher, then I realised that there must be ice coming up soon, so I had to try and keep in the tracks of the semi wheels, as they had crushed what ever was on the road, this worked for a while until I got to the bends up ahead. Not only did the trucks have to stop before each bend, I had to also because as the semi’s were coming down the hill and approaching a bend they had to squeeze around as tight as they could and do it quickly because as the trailer came around behind them, a lot of the time the wheels would start to skid out onto the other side of the road and it wasn’t that wide up there. They would nearly all the way around and then they hit the throttle and moved on down. This is getting a bit serious I thought to myself, but anyway I have to keep on going so just don’t look down. The road was ok until I got to this man made tunnel. They have been built to stop the snow from sliding down the steep parts and blocking the road.
As I got to the entrance I could see that the tunnel itself was covered with snow and this wasn’t helping to let the snow melt during the daylight that was on the road inside, on the bright side, if I dropped it I would have only slid into the wall and not over the side, so as the heart pounded a little bit faster, I crawled my way through and welcomed the exit and the sunshine. I had about 14 on these heart starters to go through. Things were going well, I was shitting myself and I could see that I was no where near the top yet; this is when you stop and enjoy a smoke. A lot of the truckies would wave at me, some beeped their horns, and some would just stare out of their windows and shake their heads.
I had been going now for over three hours and the top was still not in sight yet. The snow was thick and every where, hardly a bare rock in sight, this made it even colder just looking at it all; it was a beautiful scenic ride but a hell of a way to see the Andes. We crawled on and up, overtaking when the guys put the left blinker on, sometimes I had to squeeze back in between two trucks fairly quickly as some were heading down the hill faster then I thought. I was so cold my ears were getting frostbite INSIDE my helmet, thank God for BMW making heated hand grips; they are heaven for the palms of the hands, not much good for the ends of the fingers, because they were now numb. I noticed the temperature gauge on the dash flashing; it showed the oil temp.of the motor at minus 5 degrees. I became very concerned now about the motor when this was happening and decided to stop and let the heat of the engine itself warm the oil up while it was stopped. This actually worked, and as I was still going up and the temperture was going down, I did this a couple of more times before reaching the top.
The top was in sight after 4 hours of crawling and sliding, it was a beautiful sight to see. The last thing I expected to see on top of this very steep terrain was a ski resort; people must have a hell of a ski up here, straight down the hill for about 4000 metres.
After about another 6 kms of level, but slippery riding, I finally saw the exit sign that took me off the main road and into the Chilean Border Post Shed. I have made it I was screaming out to myself jumping up and down on the bike, I was so proud of how I had handled the bike and the Andes. I had a couple of 100 close calls but I was on the top of the mountain and still standing.
Not to be.
It was about 500 metres from the road to the shed, all the trucks had to go on up further and only cars bikes and buses went this way. I had to go around two buses and when I was only 10 metres from the shed I noticed a thick layer of pure ICE on the road, so I slowed down and went on. 5 metres to go and off I went. The bike just slid from under me, it dropped and stopped and I went nearly into the shed on my arse. People near by were kind of laughing until I got up and went back over and kicked the wheel of the bike, then they all started to laugh out loud, even the custom guys came out to have a look. One guy pointed to the bike and then to me and put his arm out to show me where I had to go, everybody from the buses just cracked up laughing. No damage to the bike at all, I’m glad I made those pannier crash bars; they stopped the panniers from being bent or broken. With a few helpers I had the bike up and into the shed.
I can’t describe how it felt when I got to the shed, it was the most exciting ride I have ever had.
I felt like I had won the bigger challenge I have ever faced. The bike was what I have always dreamed of owning, the BMW riding gear is perfect for this kind of travelling, expensive, but warm, comfortable and will keep me dry. The BMW lift up helmet is great for taking photos without having to take the helmet right of all the time, its like all the things that I have done for this trip have been good choices and not a waste of good money. I have a long way to go and now I am starting to feel good about the decision to do this trip. Chile was hard for me as I had to put up with the frustrating wait, the customs crap and the money I had to spend just waiting. I felt fairly lonely bussing it around Bolivia and Chile. It was hard watching couples enjoy the travelling together, making decisions together, helping each other with all the hassles of buying bus tickets, trying to find hostels and not being able to speak Spanish, I am really struggling with the language but I seem to get by.
The scenery I had just seen is magnificent. I feel so lucky to be able to see so much of such an amazing piece of earth, I survive on just being in this sort of environment, and it’s like a drug.
Getting clearance from Chile was no hassle; the next stop was the Argentina gate just down the shed a bit. The lady sitting there waiting for my paperwork was stunned when I pulled up. She poked the guy next to her in the ribs and just stared at the bike. She pointed to the Chilean side and I signalled no, I was going into Argentina. She handed me a bunch of forms to fill out and then after I asked her what this question was, she came out and we went through it together. Pretty hard not knowing what she was saying, but we got it done, she stamped it all and smiled as she signalled it was OK for me to go. She actually gave me a little wave as I left.
My next task was to get fuel as I had used a lot getting up the hill and I am hoping to top up as I go as people have told me that sometimes in Argentina, petrol is hard to get in some areas and it’s a good idea to keep a full tank at all times. !2 km down the road is a petrol station, great I thought, fill up before I start going down the other side. I was pretty anxious to get off the hill as it was getting late and the wind was coming up, and blowing a thin wave of ice across the road and into my face. It’s weather like this that sticks in your memory bank, I’m on top of the Andes, it’s snowing, and just to make it a bit more of an effect, throw some snow flakes in his face at 60kms/hr so he doesn’t forget where he is.
Picture a service station with the big awnings over the bowsers, then get a metre of snow and fill the whole driveway with it. The bowsers were covered with snow half way up the sides and there was no way of even getting to the pumps let alone asking for a tank of fuel. So, I thought I’m out of here until this guy stopped in a car and came over for a look. He was amazed that I had actually tried to get over the range so quickly as the gates had only been open since 12 noon and it was still dangerous for cars even to travel let alone a bike. He said that the road down was good, just watch out at the bridges for ice, and I had about 55 kms to the next service station to go. He was right, it was great going down. The road still weaved and bent around this massive mountain as we descended. I was amazed at how the guys had etched this vein of travel, how they had worked to get such a smooth road and how it was cut into the mountain at some points where the rock formation was nearly vertical, at some point I was riding right next to a rock face that went up for 100’s of metres, straight up and covered with snow on the peaks, this kind of scenery is addictive even if I was frozen, it was great. Other parts the road went into a tunnel through the rock, some tunnels were quite long and it was great coming to the exit and seeing the mountains up ahead dripping with snow.
I finally got to the bottom and to a town called Uspallata just on dark; I fuelled up and found out about a hostel on the edge of town. I was cold, hungry, tired and very, very happy.
It was one hell of a challenge and I did it, as I always try and tell myself, nothing is impossible, it just depends on how much you want it and how far you are willing to go through to get it.
I will never forget this day.