Getting to Chile, but specifically San Pedro de Atacama, was quite a shock to the system. After more than four months in the thin air of Perú and Bolivia, coming to the heat of the desert was a novelty. After almost a year in the ´developing´world, we felt like we were back in Europe. Recklessly drinking tap water without asking its provenance, buying fancy foods from stores where everything isn´t behind the counter, taking advantage of the fast internet, and the beer and wine that cost less than an almuerzo. It definitely felt strange.
Our days in San Pedro were not like most of the tourists that travel so far to get there and see the sights that abound in the area. We were lucky to spend a few relaxing days in the good company of other cyclists and our Warmshowers host Carlos, just on the outskirts of town, almost ignoring the hustle and bustle of San Pedro.
But our time in the desert was short-lived. Before long it would be time again to head to higher altitudes, this time in the form of the Puna that forms the geographic barrier between Chile and Argentina. Crossing into Argentina via the mostly unpaved Paso Sico, we savored the remote landscapes of the high Andes one last time, before descending to San Antonio de los Cobres, knowing it would be quite a while before we are up that high again. So, we loaded up with five days of food and left the oasis...
|In San Pedro there was plenty of time for map-gazing... giving us far more ideas than we will ever have time to carry out.|
|Some of the landscapes were simply incredible|
|After a wonderful few days with Carlos, it was time to say goodbye, cut Alberto´s high altitude beard, and make a break for Argentina. We also said goodbye to Quique, Alicia, and Julien who took the main pass, Paso Jama.|
|Leaving San Pedro we pick up fellow cyclist Lee, and together made fast progress on the best paved road we´ve enjoyed for months...despite the bleak scenery.|
|But as the road turns East towards Argentina, the scenery changes and the the gradient steepens|
|The following morning we reached the first plateau, and get back to enjoying the magnificent views of the Puna|
|Then kept going round beautiful Cerro Miscanti (5622 m)|
|After another short climb we hit the salar de aguas calientes, one of the most beautiful we´ve seen|
|And as usual, our priority becomes to find a sheltered place to spend the night due to the wind. Check out the plants, which are permanently bent because of it|
|Luckily, we knew of a good sheltered camp place right by the salar, on its NW side.|
|Not much movimiento at the argentian border. Only a car every few days. Once we cleared customs, the gendarmes at the border crossing gave us a whole apartment in which we spent the night. Luxurious, and with free wifi. Welcome to Argentina!|
|The following morning we leave the aduana on the main road towards Salta - in much better condition that the suggested left turn by the Pikes´ that leads to Catua|
|Not much happening in the warm air of San Antonio, other than being a base for the high altitude army folks, and for having a great municipal campsite for free, just behind the church.|
|And of course, a new country means new currency. All tourists must get used to the high-tech argentinian pesos, not quite as fancy as their chilean neighours.|
|And at long last, empanadas!|
As always, our thanks to the Pikes and other fellow cyclists for their excellent route notes and comments on the Paso Sico. A few other points worth adding:
- The road on the Chilean side is paved and when not is hard-packed and of excellent quality. Once in Argentina, there´s lots of corrugation and sand, but we did not push at all.
- The wind was blowing from Argentina to Chile all the time while we were doing the route. From other peoples´comments and those collected from the people we met en-route, it´s almost always the same. So, allow more days and suffering if cycling it from Argentina.
- We carried five days worth of food from San Pedro, mostly because we are picky with what we eat and there´s more choice there. But there´s shops in Socaire (well-stocked) and Olacapato on the Argentinian side.
- We slept at the Argentinian border and then again in Olacapato with the police both times. The water at the Argentian border is not drinkable out of the ta but they can give you drinking water.