July 11, 2007 GMT
¿Por qué? Crossing the Andes in Winter?


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Virgin de Perpetua Socorro - Salta

A long and colourful parade preceded the appearance of the Gauchos Patron Saint, 'Virgin of Perpetual Help', who was carried on the shoulders of the faithful around Salta, ornately decorated with flowers and flanked by the congregation.

The crowd rose to their feet and became silent as the brass band struck up the National Anthem of Argentina. With hands on thier hearts an in one united voice every man, woman and child proudly sang along to the music.

In honour of the Virgen hundreds of Gauchos in thier traditonal finery proudly rode around the plaza on thier magnificent steeds.


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Gauchos - Salta

Bertha and Piggy, sporting new tyres and having been tweeked gently, left Salta via a pleasant mountain ride through the lush sub-tropical rainforest delivering us in Tilcara, a mere spot of a village, in the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Quebrada Humahuaca.


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Leaving Salta
Bertha, Hamish & Emma

The weather was surprisingly warm and it was decided that camping was a good accommodation option, even if the nights were becoming very cool.


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Valley View - Tilcara

Whilst Emma and Jules cooked up a storm on the parilla, Hamish and Grant cooked up a plan to take us over the Paso de Jama, famed for being open all year round, then on to Bolivia over the Salar de Uyuni.


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Cross - Tilcara

Hame was a champion researching the in's and out's of the plan in between us all relaxing in the camp ground, taking walks and visiting the small, but very interesting ruins Pucara.


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Pucara Ruins, Tilcara

Known locally as 'The Fort', due to its location perched upon a hill in the middle of the valley, the ancient peoples who lived there were farmers and shepherds until they were conquered and dispersed by the Spanish.


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Pucara Ruins, Tilcara

Archeologists have spent a great deal of time interpreting this site and restoring some of the buildings which gives the visitor and interesting perspective to a maze of low walls.


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Purple and Yellow Mountain - Quebrada Humahuaca


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Frozen Waterfall

'There is some ice on the road, so be careful' the young and cocky Gendarme informed Grant at the Argentine/Chilean frontier, Paso de Jama.

Concerned about the 180 odd kilometer ride ahead, Jules sought clarification.

'How much ice? A lot of snow? Does it cover the road or is it only in a few parts?' she questioned.

'Ony in a few parts, just be careful.' he replied, nonchalant.

We discussed whether to go on or turn back and decided to go for it, confident that Hamish and Emma were not far behind us should there be any problems.

Clear blue skies, icey cold head winds Piggy and her faithful mounts crossed into Chile.


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Blue sky, red earth, white snow

The road was good, dry and the scenery just as spectacular as it was in November last year.

'This is not too bad!' we thought continuing on till we hit a small patch of ice, slowly and carefull we crept over it with the back tyre slipping a little.

'Still not too bad, need to be careful.' we thought.

A little further up the snow was thicker along the sides of the road and a few trucks and cars had stopped.

'You will not get through, it's impossible!' yelled a truckie passing us by foot.

We dismounted to check it out. For 200 metres one lane of the road was blocked by thick ice, snow and a broken down truck. It did not look pretty but it was certainly possible. Grant gently manouvered the bike down the road and Jules followed on foot.

'This is getting a bit more difficult,' we thought 'Hopefully thats the last of it.'.

From there on things improved. Still blessed with blue skies and not so blessed with the wind we continued on our way. Sure the snow was getting thicker on either side of the 2 lane highway but the road was still clear and dry.


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'Seems to be a bit of snow and ice here'

Last year the lakes we are spectrum of colours and filled with flamingos, now they were frozen over and deep blue. The rivers and streams were iced up, however, it was after all a clear bright day.

Our next ice traversing feat arrived. This time there was heavy snow all around and covered most of Ruta 25 with just narrow thoroughfare down the middle that was thick with ice.

Jules jumped off to lighten the load for Grant. He slowly and surely navigated through a couple of hundred metres, stopping periodically for Jules to catch up.


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Worsening conditions

'Things appear to be getting worse' we thought.

Suddenly we were being bombarded by white wind and our blue sky was disappearing fast as an evil looking storm was forming at the apex of the pass 4,500m above sea level..... exactly where we were heading. We were 75 kilometres away from San Pedro de Atacama and a nice warm hotel.


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Viento Blanco - White Wind

We pushed on for another kilometer into the ferocious wind, blinding snow and intensifying storm. The road had disappered.... completely.

'This is really bad and potentially disastrous' we thought. Quickly deciding to turn around and head the 115kms back to the border just as it began snowing.


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Lets Turn Around NOW!

Attempting to re-ride the road we had just came along was very difficult and frought with danger as the new snow, driven by the storm, was now axel deep. We dropped the bike twice in the thick snow and twice on the ice.

Away from the storm and back on the 'good' part of the road we stopped to catch our breath near some Chilean road workers.

'Hey your friends are waiting for you at the border' they told us happily 'The road is closed!'.

'No kidding!' we thought, they could have imparted this information on the two occasions they passed by us earlier.

(We later found out that the stretch of road where we had turned around continued to be impassable for a further 28kms - storm or no storm.)

Half expecting to see Emma and Hamish we continued to the border with no sign of them. While completing our Argentine customs and immigration formalities, for the second time that day, the same cocky young Gendarme gave us a note letting us know Hame and Em had been told the pass was closed and had turned back to Susques. With few options avaliable to us we headed there too.

30 Kms down the road the gasoline warning lights started flashing. We were running out of petrol. With a maximum of 65 kilometres range in the tank left and another 90kms to Susques we had no option but to return to the border and hope to precure some gas.

'Hey Australia, whats wrong!' we were greeted by a friendly customs officer. Explaining our situation he told us that our only option was to wait until the following morning when a bus would return to the border post with some gasoline for us to buy.

They offered us a place to stay for the night in a small portable office inside a large shed. Great we thought shivering, the cold finally catching up with us.


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A warm safe place for Piggy, Grant and Jules

The Border Control Officers were very kind to us, provided us with safe shelter and a thermos of boiling water. Tired, exhausted, bellies full with our emergency food rations, terrible nasty cheap whisky and some chocolate we bunkered down for the night and were fast asleep by 7:30pm.


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Will the Butterfly emerge from her cocoon? - Camping Paso de Jama

The following morning we were greeted with 'I have some bad news!'

What now... surely riding over snow and ice, avoiding a blizzard, nearly running out of petrol and camping at the border in -18 degrees C was enough for two days?

'There is no gasoline coming, maybe a truck will come past today and have some.'

OK, these things make up the rich tapestry of life and the adventure of travelling, or something like that anyway!

We take Piggy out of the shed and put her in the sun to warm up, instantly causing curious stranded people to come over, look and hear our story as the border was still closed and there was little else to do.

Edgar from Paragauy spoke a little English and was more than happy to help. He asked people in cars if we could by some of thier gasoline, unfortunately, for one reason or another, we were unable to extract it from their vehicles.

As the morning approached mid-day a stranded bus driver overheard our plea and informed us he had petrol but we had to take 20 litres at approximately 5 times the normal price.... well what are you going to do?.... pay the money of course!


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Edgar helps us obtain fuel

Edgar and Grant filled Piggy's tank with the most expensive fuel we have ever purchased and we headed off, back to Susques where we were greeted with hugs from a worried Hamish and Emma who were just about to leave as the believed we had made it to Chile.


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Salinas Grande - the only salt lake we were going to see

'Well that's us for mountains and cold weather!' we declared leaving Hame and Emma at the bottom of the mountains in Purmamaca, planning to meet them again in Sant Cruz, Bolivia.


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Purmamaca

We were in desparate need of some warm weather. Jujuy did not provide much as a cold snap had taken over most of South America giving Buenas Aires their first snow in 80 years.


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Cemetary near Tilcara

Jujuy is like Salta's harlot sister. Established in 1593 it was besieged by earthquakes and wars for nearly 200 years. In 1812 General Belgrano ordered the city to be destroyed to prevent it being taken over by the Spanish. It lacks the colonial eloquence of Salta but has a definite charm and there is still much evidence of it's Spanish past if you take the time to wander through its streets.


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Sign - Jujuy

Back in the land of sugar, where the cane is still cut by hand. We wave at the groups of men gathered by the sides of the road as we glide past on Piggy. Used to a reception of smiles, whistles and returned waves, we noticed these men were unresponsive, wearing the weary faces of those that toil for little gain.


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Roadside Repair - Liberador

We took a break from the road for a day or two, which turned into a week, in the sugar and paper town of Liberador General San Martin before crossing into Bolivia at the crazy black market shopping town of Yacuiba.


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Everyone Comes out to say Goodbye - Yacuiba, Bolivia

Yacuiba and Calmira were finally warm though we both had developed colds.

Disapointingly it was difficult to travel north as the roads had been blockaded by protesters, we decided to change plans, yet again, and return to Argentina and work our way across to Brazil, thus disbanding Team Loose Plans (ie Hamish, Emma and us).


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Calmira - Bolivia

So.... why try and cross the Andes in winter?? 'No lo se'

Posted by Julie Rose at 03:22 PM GMT
 


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