We've had an adventurous past month, travelled with friends and even made a bit of headway. Irrespective of the fact it's been in the wrong direction!
Click below to read more...
Leaving Santiago the plan (I use the term loosely), was to return to Argentina and take an easterly meander towards Buenos Aires. Only it didn't quite work out that way...
The ride back through the 3850m high Cristo Redentor tunnel into Argentina was a cold one, our high-tech fish tank temperature guage indicating zero at one point. I was kicking myself for not investing in those heated grips in whilst in Santiago.
As a result of the recent snow fall, the pass was closed the previous day, hence the massive back log of trucks winding their way up the pass.
Click on the link below to see us in the snow...
After going through the motions at the border crossing, it was on to Uspallata for the night, arriving just as the sun was going down. The Youth Hostel stove was met with a welcome, even Bertha got in on the act.
Bertha at the bar
Opting once again for the ripio, we rode to Mendoza via Ruta 52, part of an old trading route to Chile. Stopping was a must for spectacular views of the Andes and Aconcagua, at 6959m South America's highest peak.
Looking towards Aconcagua
Once over the pass the road wound ever downwards, hairpin after hairpin, to the plains below, not a bad way to spend a Monday morning!
Click on the link below to see our Monday morning...
Instead of living up the nightlife in Mendoza, we opted for a pizza and a bottle of plonk in front of the telly, we must be getting old!
Going round in circles, we returned to Uspallata via the bitumen this time, to take the Ruta 412 north to Barreal (ripio of course). Just before Barreal we came across the Barreal de Leoncito, a 3km wide, 12km long natural fossil sand flat. It was of course too good an opportunity to miss. Riding onto the flats I stopped and turned to Em, "Now's your chance to take the bike for a ride!" After removing the panniers, Em took off over the flats with surprising confidence. After all, Bertha ain't any Kate Moss! She was as chuffed as I was proud of her, that's ma girl!
Em goes for a ride
Riding into the village of Barreal we opted for the first hostel that came our way, with no other guests and an open fire in the room it was seemingly appealling. It wasn't until later that night we realised there was no glass in the door, what little warmth the fire provided disappearing rapidly outside. With a less than concerned caretaker, we resorted to nailing a blanket to the door ourselves. No wonder there were no other guests!
We'd read tours were possible of Argentina's second largest observatory, located nearby in the El Leoncito national park, so were keen to check it out. Proudly boasting 300 clear nights a year, the odds were good for star gazing. Unfortuantely we picked one of the 65 days a year...
Not to be deterred, we were upbeat of seeing a planet or two at least, what with that massive telescope it must be possible! Em was somewhat disappointed to learn a little later that we weren't actually getting to use the wopper-scope, instead its little sister out in the carpark.
Not that one, that one!
Despite the cloud cover, we managed to see Jupiter's stripes and Saturn's rings, along with a few constellations, so all was not lost. We had an interesting chat with Arturo, our English speaking guide and DJ in his spare time. I was to learn of Cuarteto and Cumbia, (latino pop) and their respective social devides.
Well versed in the Argentine skies and music scene, we departed for San Juan, coming across some interesting rock formations along the way.
Seeking out a cheap hostal with parking for the bike was proving to be a problem in San Juan, the tourist info unusually less than helpful. So what to do? Ask a biker of course! Stopping off at Pablo's Moto-Cross, I was immediately directed to Zonda Youth Hostal, complete with secure parking - result. Intending to spend only a night (the story of the trip), the effects of beer, rugby on the telly and swallowed ATM cards saw us stay three nights.
Replacing Em as pillion, fellow traveller Alfonso joined me for a ride out to the Ullum valley and later to check out a local moto-cross race. I was instantly jealous, wishing I was fanging it round the track with the best of them. Perhaps if I was ten years younger and ten times fitter I'd have a chance!
Bertha gets left behind
Having at first retrieved my retained ATM card, we set off for San Agustin, our stepping stone to the Ischigualasto (Valle da Luna) and Talampaya national parks. Along the way we stopped off to check out Argentina's most loved pagan saint, the Difunta Correa. According to legend, the Difunta Correa's child survived at her breast when she died from thirst in the desert. Throughout Argentina we'd spotted the mounds of plastic bottles left as offerings to quench her thirst and therefore provide a safe journey.
Arriving in San Agustin, we immediately became organised (an unfamilair concept) and booked a tin box (mini-bus) tour of the parks for the following day. Although able to ride round Ischigualasto park whilst following a park ranger, Talampaya park is only possible to be visited by mini-bus. We were forced to comply. Having been spoilt by the wide vision the bike offers, the view from the bus was the equivalent of looking through a letter box, however we were able to disembark and wonder around the quite stunning rock formations. Despite the four wheels, a good day was had.
Em takes in the view
Bidding a fond fairwell to Tony at Los Olivos, we made a bee-line for La Rioja, where we hoped to hook up with fellow travelling friends, Grant and Jules. Stopping off along the way, I noticed the left hand brake caliper leaking - bummer. I suspected a similar scenario to that of the right hand capiler whilst in Ushuaia, where the o-ring mating the two caliper halves disintegrated. Saying a prayer to the Difunta Correa, I nipped up the caliper bolts and pressed on to La Rioja.
Praying to Difunta Correa
After a few laps round the plaza we spotted Grant and Jules, joined them for a drink and began plotting our route from there on in. This is where the plan began to go awry...
Struggling to make a directional decision, I noticed an X marked on our map further north and remembered friends Adam and Val recommending this particular road. (Quite why we'd ask ourselves a little later!) It seemed a good enough decisive factor. Decision made, we next headed north together with Grant and Jules, once again through some spectacular scenery.
Stopping by the road side for lunch, I realised the left hand caliper was covered in brake fluid - shit! Where was the Difunta Correa when you needed her! Not having any brake fluid I was unable to carry out a road side repair, therefore upon Grant's suggestion, I instead made do with a prophylactic solution.
Arriving in Belen for the night, I found a ferreteria (hardware store) selling DOT4 brake fluid, a bit of a result, and rebuilt the problematic caliper with a spare o-ring I'd carried from Ushuaia.
Problems solved, we took in El Shincal, a former Inca settlement from around the 15th Century.
Em and Jules, El Shincal
It was then once again decision time, uh-oh! Do we take the relatively easy, partly paved Ruta 40 direct to Cafayate, or alternatively, take Adam and Val's hot favourite, the ripio Ruta 46 to Andalgala and then the Ruta 47 north? Ruta 47 resembled a wiggley line on the map, a sure sign of mountain roads and lots of fun. The only thing was it ran out half way, but hey, a track continued. It must be possible!
X marks the spot
Unable to convince my fellow travellers, the unanimous decision was to take Ruta 40 north. Oh well, fair enough. Filling up with fuel the following morning we bumped into local rider Javier and his two riding companions, en route to Ruta 47, a cracker so they'd been told. "What d'ya reckon?", I asked Grant as we fuelled up.
Before we knew it we were riding east along Ruta 46 and not north, along Ruta 40. What we failed to observe was Javier and his mates were on unloaded dirt bikes, their partners safely left at home. Instead we were on large, glorified road bikes, having our houses and spouses loaded on behind!
Click on the link below to see us ripio riding...
Loaded on Ruta 46
Rattling and rolling along the sandy corrugations to Andalgala we questioned why Adam and Val should recommend such a road. Indeed, it is a point I wish to discuss with them personally when we get to California! Arriving in Andalgala covered in dust and later than expected, I felt somewhat sheepish at swaying the decision.
After a late lunch, we departed north on Ruta 47, a narrow ripio road, winding ever upwards. In fact two hours later we were still climbing, having made only 50kms or so, but a least 2000m in elevation. Needless to say the views were stunning.
Somewhat concerned at making it much further before the sun came down, we were relieved to come accross a hosteria signposted at the 3100m las minas de Capillitas pass. The mention of "servicios de bar" was enough to clinch the decision! Riding the rough 5 km track to the hosteria was entertaining to say the least, although more so for Grant and Jules!
How not to go up hills... sorry guys, just had to put this one on...
Click on the link below to see Grant and Jules having fun!
Expecting a mountain refugio, we instead came across a surprisingly plush hotel, inclusive of balcony, bar and roaring open fire, located by Argentina's largest Inca Rose mine. Yet another result. A few drinks later and the fact the road ran out at the pass didn't seem to bother us.
Grant and Jules take on Ruta 47
Taking off the following morning the road as expected deterioted into a track, winding its way down to an amazing plateau of cactus, sand and river stones. Of course, this made for "interesting" riding. Holding onto a loaded 1100 motorcycle with pillion whilst squirming through sections of sand and river stones can be fun!
View over the plateau
Adopting a technique we established in the Australian outback, Em would look ahead and pick the best line, shouting "far left" or "far right" as the case might be. Before long we ended up in hysterics as Em would change her mind at the last minute trying in all earnest to find any good line at all, the bike waltzing around as a result.
Hitting the pavement of Ruta 40 we stopped and celebrated the completion of our breif adventure by attempting to fly Grant's kite, as you do.
Kite flying attempt
Having less success flying the kite than riding Ruta 47, we continued north to Santa Maria for the night, before continuing north to the ancient settlement of Quilmes.
Quilmes not only is Argentina's national beer, but an ancient settlement, once home to 5000 or so Quilmes people. Whether they were Argentina's first brewers or not is open to question. Nonetheless, they did manage to survive the Incas, but unfortunately not the Spanish, who in 1667 marched the surviving 2000 all the way to Buenos Aires. Apparently few survived the journey.
Pressing on to Cafayate, an idyllic small town surrounded by vinyards, we found ourselves grind to a halt, the al fresco steak and wine too good to miss.
One evening, having gone to bed before midnight, (still unable to get to grips with the Argentine nocturnal habits), we were soon to hear shouts and horns in the street. Getting up to take a look we realised Argentine footy team, Boca Juniors, had won the Copa Libertadores the reason for all the festivity. Football being somewhat of religion here in Argentina, we joined the party, had a beer and watched the dwindling procession circle the plaza.
For the first time in a while we noticed the increase in temperature, we must be finally moving north! Eh, but that wasn't the plan was it?
To complicate matters further, Grant one night spouted, "Since we're this far north, why don't we go to Bolivia?". Why not indeed. We'd need a rear tyre before we did, but we'd be sure to find one in Salta, further to the north.
How did we get here?
And that's the beauty of travelling, not having a plan, a deadline or knowing what lies around the next corner.
Opting for the ripio of Ruta 40 versus the bitumen of Ruta 68, we left Cafayate and enjoyed a great (if not breezey) ride to Cachi.
En route to Cachi
Mud bricks drying along Ruta 40
Riding the 40
With its narrow cobbled streets and colonial architecture, Cachi was the quintessential Latin American town we'd envisaged.
However, the colonizing Spaniards hadn't factored in motorcycle access into their design!
Where there's a will, there's a way
Taking a walk around town, it was obvious that local elections were about to take place.
Fanny for Governor!
Cachi footy strips
Leaving Cachi for Salta it wasn't long before we reached the 3348m high Piedra del Molino pass and were presented with stunning views of the surrounding mountains.
En route to Salta
Piedra del Molino pass
Winding our way down the Cuesta del Obispo made for a stunning ride. We lost count of the number of bends.
Click on the link below to see the Cuesta del Obispo...
Cuesta del Obispo
Arriving in Salta, Grant and Jules lead us to a hotel they'd checked out on a previous visit, inclusive of foyer parking - result!
Over the next few days, Grant and I treated the foyer as a workshop, checking valve clearences and changing oil amoungst the pot plants and bemused fellow guests.
It's been refreshing to travel with kindred spirits Grant and Jules. As with us, they adopt the "loose plan" theory, so we've had a great couple of weeks, stumbling our way north, not always knowing what lies ahead. Check out their blog for their version of events; link below...
Thanks for the pics guys!
Team Loose Plan
We've taken in the sights of Salta...
...and the beer too!
After our less than successful star gazing experiences earlier on in the month, Em finally got a view of the moon on the streets of Salta.
Grant moon gazing
Having serviced the bike, sourced a new rear tyre and caught up on the blog, we're now ready to tackle adventures new. Bolivia here we come!
The route so far
Em's pics of the month...
Continuing on with friends Grant and Jules we explored the far North of Argentina and headed towards Bolivia.
Our trusty steeds
(Thanks for the photo Jules!)
The four of us left Salta after an enjoyable week and rode North on Ruta 9 – pretty soon the scenery changed totally and we found ourselves riding through lush green forests; it reminded Hame and me of Malaysia and the road up to the Cameron Highlands. It was also full of bends which made Hame’s day!
(Thanks Jules for the picture!)
See the video below for a dizzying pillion's view!
We rode on into the Quebrada Humahuaca – a UNESCO World heritage area of outstanding beauty. The hills were of every colour and ancient rock formations lined the valley on either side of us.
We arrived in Tilcara and as the weather was warm for the first time in ages, we decided to camp. It may have been up in the high twenties during the day but at night it dropped to four or five degrees – a little chilly but we enjoyed being back in our canvas house! It was good to get back to the asados too!
Flame grilled...or scorched?
Tilcara was once populated by a tribe of indigenous people - mostly shepherds and farmers - until the Spanish came along. The remains of the village - the pucara - were interesting and we enjoyed exploring them.
Pucara Tilcara from above
Tilcara itself was a sleepy town with a large Quechua population and lots of adobe houses.
In Tilcara the four of us tried to make a decision about where to go next. We’d been thinking about the possibility of visiting the Salar De Uyuni in Bolivia via San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. Hame did lots of homework and got GPS co-ordinates, road reports and fuel information - we decided it would be a good adventure. We planned to ride over the Paso de Jama; apparently the only pass over the Andes which never closes, (ha ha).
From Tilcara we headed to Pumamarca and saw the amazing ‘hill of seven colours’
Traditional farming methods and the seven colour hills
The road wound its way up and up and we quickly climbed to 4100m.
The land was bleak, dry, rocky and colourful. Here and there we passed poeple seemingly scraping a living off the land and farming llamas. We soon came to the Salinas Grandes – a huge salt flat stretching across the plateau.
A gomeria (puncture repair place) on the Salinas Grandes
Grant and Jules remembered a hotel in Susques they’d stayed at before so we decided to break the journey there and head to the Paso de Jama the following day.
The next morning came – bright and chilly with a temperature of -2º. Grant and Jules had decided to ride on to Calama while we checked out San Pedro as they’d been before. They set off about an hour before us.
Bleak, high plateau
It was about 140km to the border across a 4100m plateau with bleak rocky land either side of us. I don’t think I’ve ever been so cold – at one point I was in tears because I felt cold to my very bones. We arrived at the border and tried to thaw out with cups of tea and coca tea, the latter supposedly helps with altitude.
I'd decided to catch a lift over the pass in a truck as I was so cold but as soon as we got our passports out we were told the border had just closed, due to bad weather on the Chilean side. We explained that our friends had just gone across - the border officials told us they'd left 20 minutes before us and assured us they'd soon turn around because the weather had turned nasty and the pass was now impassable.
We were slightly concerned about them but a car load of Chilean officials turned up soon afterwards and assured us Grant and Jules were on the way back. Except that they didn't appear. A truck driver then came in from the Chilean side - he told us they'd continued on to Chile so we weren't quite sure what to think.
We waited for a couple of hours but Grant and Jules still didn't appear. At this point the border guards said they must have got across. Busloads of people began to arrive only to be turned away again and we became worried Susques would fill up and we'd not get a room.
I was still freezing so while Hame rode back I hitched a lift in a Paraguayan lorry with driver Antonio Banderas and co-driver Tom Cruise. I told them I was Madonna and had a lot of fun teaching them to swear in English. In return I was educated in all kinds of South American music and watched Antonio Banderas drive the huge truck with one hand and pass a cup of mate back and forth with the other.
Hame, taken from the truck
I said a fond farewell to Adolfo and Amargo (as they soon admitted their real names were) and promised to buy them some whisky when we got to Paraguay. They'd been really excited when I told them Hame was Scottish - "Ah, whisky!!" they said with gusto. I had a good laugh and enjoyed practising my Spanish. I can also swear well too, now!
We arrived back at the hotel to find it quickly filling up with disappointed travellers all wanting to get to Chile. We kept a room for Grant and Jules but by nightfall they hadn't turned up - we could only assume they'd been lucky and got through.
Hame and I passed the evening and the next day meeting llamas and playing paper planes with Ezekiel, the manageress's son, and talking to other travellers.
Some of the other guests
Hame meets a llama! See the video below
We watched the weather reports and discovered that Buenos Aires was experiencing its first snow-fall for 80 years. Pictures on the TV showed delighted kids jumping about in the snow and building snowmen. It had also snowed in many other parts of the country. The weather reporter was very eloquent in his description of the forecast - "Muy frio o frio" ("Very cold or cold")! Like the rest of the world, Argentina seems to be having weird weather patterns.
The next day we woke to a temperature of -6º and the news that the pass was still closed. We hummed and hahhed about what to do; we needed to e mail Grant and Jules and tell them we were stuck but Susques didn't have internet facilities. It didn't have a lot actually - Hame strolled into town to buy wine and described it as 'Brown'.
Warming up the engine with a llama skin, Susques
We thought about riding back down the hill to Pumamarca where at least there was e mail, or waiting another day... while we were in the middle of deliberating, Carlos, one of the Paraguayans we'd befriended, rushed in saying, "Sus amigos, aqui!" ("Your friends are here!")
We ran out to greet a very tired and cold Grant and Jules - they'd ridden for 110km, found a hell of a lot of snow and ice, fell off a few times and turned round as they saw a storm approaching. They would have had enough fuel to get to San Pedro de Atamcama but they didn't have enough to get back to Susques so they had to spend the night in a shed at the border.
We were glad they were okay and we celebrated by having a glass or two of wine.
The next day the pass 'opened' (however it had been open when Grant and Jules first left, and it was very snowy and icy) but after hearing what it was like from Grant and Jules we decided it may not be the most sensible route to take - lots of snow, ice and two wheels isn't a good mix....
Disappointed, we rode back to Pumarmarca and had lunch. If nothing else we got to ride the hairpin bends again.
More cool bends!
Hame and I wanted to ride North to La Quaica and cross into Bolivia there, but Jules and Grant had had enough of the cold and had decided to cross the border at Yacuiba, a town at a lower altitude where it might be warmer.
We said farewell and made plans to meet in a couple of weeks in Santa Cruz to ride the road to Corumba (Brazil) together.
Hame and I North headed to Humahuaca - crossing the Tropic of Capricorn on the way.
Back in the tropics... or not?
Humahuaca was a quaint - if a little touristy - town of cobbled streets and adobe houses.
Street in Humahuaca
While looking for a hotel a lady stopped us and asked if we needed help. She gave us a few ideas for hotels and then said she owned a bar in town called Tantanukay and that we might like to go later - she handed us a leaflet before saying goodbye. We found a great little hotel that was half-built and had parking for Bertha in the restaurant.
I did a bit of laundry, within five minutes of hanging it out it had frozen on the line! So much for being back in the tropics...
We wandered out to explore the town and ended up at the Tantanukay bar - we spent a great evening eating traditional local food and listening to live music. The lady we'd met, Elba, came and chatted to us - it turned out she was the wife of Jaime Torres, a famous local charango player. The charango is a popular local instrument, like a very small guitar or mandolin.
Traditional music and dancing
Elba and her husband had set up the bar as a meeting place for local musicians and a cultural centre for local traditions. We had an excellent evening - great food, wine and entertainment for eight dollars each - and it was pretty upmarket. It'll be hard to live in an expensive world again...
We stood with about one million other tourists to watch San Fransisco Solano pop out of the municipal building and bless the crowd. Every day he pops out for five minutes at midday - it was quite bizarre!
We left Humahuaca's cobbled streets and headed up to the border, seeing yet more amazing and ancient rock formations on the way.
570 million years ago this was the sea bed...
La Quaica, the border town, wasn't very inviting so we rode West, out to Yavi - a small adobe village with a way of life which seemingly hadn't changed for the last 200 years.
Outside the kitchen door in our hostel
Traditional roof-building methods
We spent a great evening with a family from Rosario (East Argentina) who invited us to stay if we go back that way.
We've come a long way....albeit slowly!
In the morning we finally managed to escape Argentina, after a really fantastic few months. It was exciting to be in a new country again.
Next blog - Bolivia!
Me and Bertha on the road
Em and Hame's big trip... or Hame's beer tasting tour of South America?!
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