San Rafael, Argentina, October 23, 2009.
CROSSING A SALT LAKE, RED VOLCANO'S AND WORKING ON THE FARM.
In San Antonio de los Cobres the wind is howling and there is dust flying all over the place. Not an attractive place to be. And it's cold. We find a place to stay in this mining town, it has heating as well!
We buy a lot of fuel, loads of water, crackers and tin food. We are above 4000 meters, we can't breath very well, our lips are already cracked and our skin is dry as leather. We follow for 70 km the track in the direction of the Paso de Sico, towards Chili. Then there is a turn off. On the map it looks like a little village, but all we find are some abandoned houses in the middle of nowhere. We start to follow the 17, an interesting track. No cars, no people, nada. Loads of space, pinky, purple and red colors.
The higher you are, the more pastel. Some deserted villages and lama herds.
It's cold during the day, we are wearing all our clothes. At the end of the day the temperature drops quickly and at night it's around minus 12-14 Celsius. Higher up in the mountains we find snow, but the track has been cleared.
At night we try to stay warm in our sleeping bags, but the wind keeps blowing, so the tent flaps around sometimes. Except for that, there is totally, pure silence. No barking dogs, no people, even no snoring Andy.
There is mining going on, so there are some big trucks on the road. All the drivers smile and wave, so do we. We can't find our way around an enormous salt lake. The track just stops and there is a big bit that you can't cross, it's to rough. We can see the track continuing, but we can't reach it. We decide to follow another track, only one car, possibly a 4 x 4, has been driving over this one. And it goes right through the middle of this BIG salt lake. Strange holes in the salt are growing bigger as we are going along with the speed of maybe 5 km an hour. I don't like these holes, what is underneath this, can we trust it? And I also know that we can't turn the bike here. The last bit of the track turns into something that looks like the top of a burst homemade bread so I have to walk for a while. Nice if the air is very thin. Andy is driving very carefully in font of me, the bike has just enough ground clearance. He and the bike get smaller and smaller while I am still walking in all my bike gear and 6 layers of clothes over this huge salt lake. Maybe someone from space can see me. I would not be surprised if a space ship would turn up. But I don't want to go home yet, like ET, it's to exciting.
We find each other again and when we look back, we discover that we have covered an enormous distance.
We want to find a place to camp and cook dinner. At the end of the afternoon we have beans and some rice while we are overlooking this lake that has turned into pink. Speechless we are.
In Antofagasta de la Sierra, a nice little tiny place, we find to our surprise a gas station. But they don't sell fuel. The owner, a woman, points to a house, that's where you can buy some fuel she says. After 10 minutes of talking to people we find out that an old woman sells fuel out of a barrel. It takes a hose, a plastic bottle, 2 more men and a lot of patience to get this golden syrup into our tanks. While this procedure is happening another woman asks us if we are looking for a room. But we want to go on, it's still early in the day, but we tell her we are hungry. Restaurants in Argentina are always closed when we want to eat, so she offers us to cook a meal. 'Can we have chips with it?'; Andy's most asked question if it's about food. No, it's not possible. But when we are waiting at her kitchen table, she comes in with a big smile, chips and milanesa (battered meat).Andy is happy now.
Just after this little cute town you will see some great volcano's, black they are and around them the sand has all kind of colors. It's the start of a great ride through an area that shows RED volcano's with pure white salt lakes, white shiny glaciers and red, brown and yellow mountain ranges. I have never seen this kind of beauty before, it's one of the most special places I have ever been through. Andy is enjoying it a lot as well, for him it's the combination of nice scenery, 'interesting' riding (he means shit roads) , space and loneliness that counts.
If you look at Google-earth and follow the 17 and 27 you will see some amazing weird things, in reality it's like being on the moon.
We camp again and sleep very well.
The pass we have to cross is not as difficult as we thought it would be. To early farms are showing up, and cactus. We get overheated. In Belen we find a nice hotel, but, again, everything comes to live at night. At 3 o'clock in the night kids are walking around and crying. The hotel has those horrible tiles everywhere,so the sound echo's. Andy gets out of bed, naked, and shouts to a guy that he has to control his kids. But he isn't the father. I go out of the bed, dressed, find the owner of the hotel and after 2 minutes it's quiet. Nobody has been killed.
We follow route 40, great fun, the ripio (wash board) isn't bad. We are riding through red mountains with cactus everywhere and because it has been snowing there is snow on top of them!
We contact John and Annette in San Rafael and they tell us that they have snow, a few inches of it. What's going on??? But while we are driving South there is no snow on the road, but loads of it on top of the Andes to our right.
In Mendoza we find a Wall Mart, a big supermarket where we try to find some nice things to eat.
There is a check point, but we didn't get checked. What we did get was getting sprayed. It might have been the purpose to avoid fruit flies and other little creatures to go with us into a new Province, but all what happened was that, totally unexpected, some biting wet stuff got out of two poles next to us. My helmet was open so it got right into my face, nowhere else. Luckily I was wearing sun glasses, I was cursing in all the languages I know, trying to wipe it of my skin, using baby wipes.
The road to San Rafael is so boring that I am using, for the first time on this trip, my I-pod. And while I am listening to Rory Gallacher I see more farms and vineyards, we are back in the wine and fruit area. We are excited, we are looking forwards to be back in San Rafael, to see John and Annette. They have been traveling around the world on their motorbikes, couldn't settle down again in Britain and bought Finca Rita, a farm in Argentina. We have been at their place before. Curious we are. Also we are looking forwards to sleep in a real bed and to eat good food. Annette's kitchen qualities are excellent and so is the Argentine meat!
Travelers can stay at their place and have free food and board in exchange for giving them a hand on the farm. So here we are. There is something in the coke here that makes us wobbly and we should lose weight, we move around a lot, but we are probably putting on weight. Wonder why that is.
The farm looks great, neat. There is a new vegetable garden, a camping area, a duck and chicken house, 2 more dogs and a snobby cat that fights with the dogs. The house is painted, new tiles on the floor (Phil you did a wonderful job!), INTERNET and a swimming pool!
Annette managed to organize a birthday party (I got 50 in August, but we where in the Amazon), without me having any clues about it.....and there are many people we have met before. That was such a nice surprise!
Every morning I go to the field to tie up the vines, followed by 5 dogs, a chicken and a cat and Andy is creating a galleria from real Argentine wood, banana shaped it is, so it's difficult to build something that is excepted by high British standards. But is looks very good to me. It's fantastic to be 'normal' for a while, to enjoy the spring here. All the trees have changed their fragile green into darker green and the buds on the plum trees are coming out. There is still snow on the mountain tops far away, but some days it's hot already. What a bad life.
Till now we traveled 32.000 happy kilometers.....
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