How do you prepare yourself and your bike for the upcoming Andes-Cross?
I tried to service my bike, but when we wanted to leave Salta I had another flat tire (over-service!). You would usually rest the few days in order to gain energy for the big climb. In case we would have been fully recovered, the boozy diner with the dutch cycling couple (Bunno & Wietzke,(www.cyclingdutchies.wordpress.com) and the australian backpacker Stuart made it really hard to leave Salta on the 3rd day.
Holger and me, we somehow managed to get on our bikes and leave Salta. As another example of south-american disinformation, people directed us via the highway to San Salvador de Jujuy. It took us 25km to realize that and after 2 hours of cycling we were back in Salta and headed north via a small, beautiful and direct road.
The night we spent in El Carmen, 30km south of Jujuy. Holger was still missing in his “funny places I stayed in” the fire-fighters and so we asked us through to the “bomberos”. The town was to small to have a real firestation, but some lady in the street (in was pouring rain, the 1st time since long time) directed us to the house of the fire-fighters lieutenant. Getting to his house, we were invited for tea and the guy only said: give me 5 minutes, I’ll organize you a place to stay!
So it was, he brought us to a municipal hall, which we had for ourself. This is once again a great example how helpful people here are!
We had packed a little package, which we wanted to send to Germany (no extra weight for the Paso Jama!). The post office in El Carmen was supposed to be open from 8am on, but at 9am many people waited in front of the post office, but the postman didn’t turn up. To get rid of the package we had to cycle into the center of Jujuy. This was our luck: when I entered the post office, I asked the first girl in the queue where I have to go, it was Laura from Germany, a child doctor living now in Argentina. She spontaneously invited us for lunch and to stay in her house. We had a great day with Laura and her husband Santiago, crowned by our last huge Asado in Argentina. Thank you for the great time, I’m looking forward to meet up with them in Europe.
After this great and relaxing day in Jujuy, we were ready for the big climb over the Andes into Chile via the Paso Jama.
Leaving Jujuy with only a few degrees and dark cloudes, we expected the worst weather on the 3.000m higher Paso Jama, but as soon as the street started to climb for the first time, the sun came out.
When we had our lunch-break a car pulled up, to our surprise it was Laura, who brought my towel I forget in her house. She joined us for our usual lunch-break (goat cheese, we bought more than 2kg of it, tomatoes and bread). In the late afternoon we passed the last village before the actual pass, Purmamarca, filled up water for 2 days (we calculated 7 litres p.p.) and climbed up to 2.700m.
On Thursday we climbed 1.500m up to the peak of the Paso Jama. Thanks to the Coca leaves we bought in Salta we didn’t discover any serious problem in this altitude, but of course it’s way harder to cycle in this altitude. Our effort was rewarded with great downhill towards the 1st salt lake. The road went straight through the salt lake, absolutely stunning the different colors. We took some nice photos and made it even into the TV, when we were interviewed for some car show. After the salt lake (“Salar”) we asked at one of the few houses if we could set up our tents. This night we have spent on 3.400m altitude, the thermometer showed in the morning (before the sun came out) -10°C, the tent is frozen from the in- an outside…now I’m happy to have a very warm sleeping bag.
The Paso Jama is not only one pass, no – it consists of several peaks (between 4.200m and 4800m) and in between we had to cross huge plans (so called “altiplano”). Forget the picture (you might have) of nice little streams and glaciers, water is very rare in this part of the Andes.
The third day since leaving Jujuy, we headed towards the only real village on the pass, Susques. We stocked up with bread and water and continued for another hour. In 3.900m we camped that night right next to the road. As every evening we had a stunning sunset, more colorful in this altitude than elsewhere. But as soon as the sun goes down it gets freezing cold and we go right into our tents and sleeping-bags. Looking back I find one of the hardest part of the Andes-Cross that we had to spent so much time in our tents.
Day 4 brings us to another Salar in 3.900m. That day we felt the first time the famous altiplano winds (wind: west to east – cycling: east to west). In addition to that, very dark clouds came up. With this wind and a thunderstorm with snow ahead, we realized we won’t make to the argentinian border, so we pitched our tents a few meters off the road. Luckily the thunderstorm didn’t hit us fully, but it was still so uncomfortable that we went into our tents by 6pm. What we haven’t seen when choosing the camping spot, was that the sun would need extra time in the morning to get around some mountain and warm us up…so we had our poridge breakfast in cycling shorts at -10°C. This are the moments where you ask yourself: why am I doing this? The answer comes very soon after, when cycling through the stunning landscape up in the Andes.
We get to the Argentine border, but before we get the last “Salida Argentina” stamp in our passports we took the chance and washed ourself in the petrol station. GOODBYE ARGENTINA!
After a few kms we crossed the “CHILE” sign, but Chile doesn’t have any border post up there, the immigration is in San Pedro de Atacama, 180km from the actual border. We cycled with strong headwinds up to 4.400m and finally camped protected of the wind at a sightseeing spot above a beautiful laguna. We always had to decide if we wanted to see the spectacular sunset or hide from the wind behind the wall, of course it got down to -10°C that night again.
At day 6 of the Andes-Cross, we first wanted to cross both highest points (both over 4.800m) of the Paso Jama. After crossing the highest point with 4.830m we faced such a strong headwind that we had to push our bikes in altitude of 4.500m for several hours (this didn’t even happen to me in Patagonia!).
Then in the late afternoon, 3 other cyclist come across…I quickly realized that I have seen this guys before, it was Anne-Julie, Antoine and Germain, who I have met 2000km south in El Bolson. The 5 of us decided to camp right at this point (one of the only streams at the pass). The 3 French are a happy and funny crowd, we had a great time sharing our travel stories and might catch up with them later in Bolivia (www.amicyclette.blogspot.com).
We thought the final day shouldn’t be that hard, as it will include 40km of downhill into the Atacama desert. In fact this was one of the hardest days, the wind was blowing strongly already from 9am on and the road remained on 4.800m for 35km, always going up and down. The thin air together with the strong headwind forced us once again to push our bikes (“the one who loves his bike, pushes it”). Then finally got to the downhill. I’ve done a few downhills before, but this 2.000m downhill is unique as it goes with 7% straight down into the Atacama desert, without any curves…crazy!
We got into San Pedro de Atacama dirty and tired but happy about the great success of crossing the Paso Jama.
Usually the border controls have been easy until now, but when the guy wanted us to open all bags to see if we carried any fruits or vegetables from Argentina I forgot my friendliness.
But everything was good after a long and really fruitful shower, a cold beer and several burgers and hot-dogs.
Now we’re relaxing in the tourist town of San Pedro de Atacama, enjoy the beautiful surrounding (sunset in the desert, geysir).
We’re heading towards Bolivia in a few days.