ESCAPING THIN AIR

San Pedro de Atacama > San Antonio de los Cobres > Salta

WARNING: May contain excessive traces of cloud photos.  I can’t help it.  I’m a cloud geek and they are pretty special here!

There’s been something of a hiatus in my blog-writing since getting down to Argentina!  A combination of things – a period of intensive rest and recuperation, followed by some more intensive mile-munching and an increased sense of urgency as the trip moves into its final stages, all alongside a considerably higher cost of living that has encouraged a lot more camping!  Add to that Chinese hackers taking my site offline – I’m not kidding – and, oh, I got a bit lazy too.  Anyway, excuses out of the way, here we go…

After several days in San Pedro de Atacama, recovering from the exertions of the Lagunas route and Bolivia in general, it was time to make the last big push over what was left of the Andes and get down to something approaching a sensible altitude!  As I intimated in my previous post, the months at high altitude had begun to take their toll and my body longed for the oxygen-rich and humid air down lower.  Not to mention the vastly greater choice of tasty fresh fruit and vegetables.

Just being amongst trees in San Pedro had been a real treat – there were very few throughout the whole section of Bolivia that I had travelled.  There are plenty over in the East of the country but the altiplano was relatively barren.  San Pedro is a desert oasis, sitting at the Northern end of the Salar de Atacama and right next to the Atacama Desert.  It also primarily exists to serve the tourism industry (the jeep tours to the Lagunas, that had been covering me in dust the previous week, operate between here and Uyuni) and the Chileans efforts to organise the place has left it feeling a little like Disneyland at times – a bit too ordered and homogenised.  It’s probably exacerbated by the fact that it’s full of gringos!  That said, it does have its plus sides, not least in useable internet and my personal highlight, La Franchuteria (the French boulangerie).  Needless to say, I gorged myself on croissants and fantastic fresh bread at every opportunity!

All good things must come to an end though, so I reluctantly rolled out of San Pedro (timing departure with the opening of the Franchuteria, of course) once again alongside Thomas and Tina.  Before we could descend down to Argentina, we had to climb back up onto the plateau from which we had descended on the way down from the Lagunas.  There are two routes to Argentina from San Pedro – the asphalt Paso Jama (ahem, boring…) or the dirt-road Paso Sico (wahey!) – and so we duly headed off in the direction of the latter!

As is often the way after a few days off the bike, it takes a while to get back into the swing of things.  Inevitably, you end up staying up late the night before leaving too, sorting through all the stuff that you’ve splayed out around your room, and then realise just before going to bed that, amongst other things, you haven’t boiled the eggs that you bought so have to add that to the already considerable list of things to do/pack when you wake up!  That’s a long way of saying that Thomas and I were both pretty tired so we had a fairly easy day of it and took a nice long siesta at lunchtime…

We pushed on into an increasing wind, before turning our attention to finding a sheltered place to camp in what is essentially a desert!  A large sign loomed in the distance and we were surprised to realise that it marked the Tropic of Capricorn!  The first Tropic that I’ve crossed on a bike…

 Fortunately, not long thereafter, we located a dry river gully that offered up great protection from the wind.  Our joy was somewhat cut short by the clouds of small flies that soon began to molest us whilst we cooked/ate our dinners, but our attention was soon stolen by one of the most incredible sunsets that any of us had ever seen…

The next morning was a matter of trying to get up and out of our campsite as quickly as possible, before the little critters awoke and remembered we were there!  After an essentially flat day the day before, we started the climb in earnest to take us up from 2600m to 4100m (and beyond).  Fortunately, much of the climb is asphalt, which makes things considerably easier and faster.

We found a not particularly sheltered but very scenic campsite to round out the day…

The next morning we finished off the climb and got a taste of the terrain awaiting us ahead…

Coming over the brow of a hill to be greeted by this sight was pretty special – I wasn’t expecting this route to be quite so beautiful…

And, it only got better…

Despite some crazy strong winds (Tina was literally picked up and thrown on her side by one gust), we decided to push on and try our luck at a mine camp ahead, which we had heard generally allowed people to stay.  Reaching Campamento El Laco and enquiring after a sheltered spot to pitch our tents and some fresh water, I was bowled over to be offered a room inside with two bunkbeds, use of the kitchen and bathrooms, drinking water and power!

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