Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Salta to San Pedro de Atacama (Paso de Jama)

Resting in Salta for a couple of days gave us time to fix the wobbly tent pole. We´re just about back to normal now. Here´s Gemma in Salta...

Salta was cloudy and rainy while we were there. It was lovely after such a long period of 40 degree heat. Seeming more tropical, Ian was starting to get excited about the jungle already.

After finding a special place for Ian, we came across this special place for Katie...
the world´s biggest Armadillo. That´s "Armadillo" Katie, go on... say it out loud.. Armadillo...

Out of Salta we rode up a hill into a cloud forest and enjoyed a fantastic descent into the city of Jujuy.
While here we enjoyed massive steaks for the last time in Argentina. It was a sad meal but very filling for two hungry cyclists. The picture is a bit blurry as Gemma was laughing at the 4lb steaks put in front of us.

The road then took us up, quite a lot of up, until we got just to the edge of town and decided to stop. Our still full bellies were refusing to cycle any further. While having tea and cake at a hostel we bumped into a couple of dutch cyclists (Michael and wifey) who we last saw back in January in the south. What are the chances? About the same as being trampled by a donkey, some people are just born lucky.

While at this hostel, we had our evening meal with the French couple who run the place. Their hospitality was exceptional. Gemma was served "Rabbit´s head au vin" and for somebody who was until recently a vegetarian, the conversion back to carnivore is very much complete.

Digestion complete, the next day we continued up the hill to Purmamarca. This town is known for it´s hill of many colours. Apparently like a painters palet, we thought they would do much better making it into a biblical musical. Far more entertaining. More entertaining was our campsite host. An 80 year old man who spoke to us for ages about the good old days in the town, we will remember him fondly for wandering around his garden with a machete, a catapult and a pocket full of sticky tape, metal bits and small tools that could fix anything on his property.

Purmamarca, sat at around 2,500m above sea level was comparitively low. We spent the next two days cycling up Cuesta de Lipan. This beast of a hill rises to near 4,200m in just 31kms (21 miles). As the road is built into the side of a mountain we had to camp on an emergency escape lane for trucks. Luckily all the trucks had good brakes that night. We heard every single one go past as we struggled to breath, making sleep difficult. Note the switchbacks in the mountain in the second picture...

Down the other side we came across our first salt lake. Salinas Grandes was dazzilingly bright and a great introduction for what more is to come in Bolivia.

Out here in the middle of nowhere at nearly 4,000m it was brilliant to come across a random cafe serving nice hot tea and biscuits. The family are obsessed with TV soaps and waving at trucks. Llamas, guanacos and vicuñas also live around here.

The next town was Susques which is rather shabby and rundown. Here children and adults alike, play marbles in the dusty streets. Basically a truckers stopover, we were worried about the road ahead when walking into a shop to find 4 truck drivers drinking beer inside.

The following day we managed to cycle 120kms over another small pass, across another salt lake, over another small pass and with an afternoon tailwind, all the way to the border town of Jama (pronounced "hammer"). It´s a very good name. The buildings look as though they have been beaten with hammers, the cars look as though they are repaired with hammers, and the locals must have been hit on the head with hammers to think it is a good place to live.
It is a difficult place to survive in...

At 4,100m above sea level we arrived just before dark. The border guards told us there was no space to sleep indoors and that we could camp outside. With night time temperatures falling below -10C we decided not to. A lovely lady in a tiny wooden shack of a kiosk gave us a small room to sleep in. With adobe buildings (that have thatched roofs) there is arisk of catching Chagas disease (untreatable) from small ticks which live in the roof. So we put the tent up inside the room, on top of the bed. It was our funniest camp site yet.

The next day we went through the border formalities and left Argentina for the last time. Eric was especially very sad to leave.
Back in Chile, the road continued to climb to 4,400m. Not being a conventional pass, Paso Jama has 3 real mountain passes. The second pass we came to in extremely strong sidewinds. Reduced to pushing the bikes we searched for a sheltered place to camp. Unfortunately we were in a valley with no natural shelter at all. We tried unsuccessfully to put the tent up behind a large rock but the wind was still too strong.

Worried that we would end up with no place to camp, in the dark of night above 4,500m, we headed back down the valley to lower ground. It was here that Francisco pulled over in his pick-up truck and saved us from a potentially dangerous situation.
The empty and very windy valley in front...

Francisco took us over the final pass which reaches 4,700m and then in just 45kms descends to 2,500m into San Pedro de Atacama.

Here, we are taking a couple of rest days to clean and feed. Preparations for Bolivia are being put on hold as we intend to head to the coast (Iquique) for a few days on the beach.

No doubt we will post on here again before we head into Bolivia in a week or so.

Love to everyone back home.

Ian and Gemma.


Globalmum said...

Another great posting! We all love reading about your incredible adventures - keep it up! Everyone sends heaps of love, we all miss you both terribly. Take care of each other and enjoy! Mum (2)

city traveler's said...

Hi-ya. love the monky standing next to the chimp sign were did you pick him up from gemma hehe only joking Ian hehe. missing you both. loads of love. julie & luke. xxxx

ian hodgkinson said...

Hi folks, it's 'big' Ian here. Sounds as though ur both having a blast. I retire in two weeks time and I intend to follow ur lead... not South America... but Oceanna, so I'll be tapping u up for some 'rough travel' tips. Lee and Gail send best wishes. I've also nicked the format from ur blog. Sorry - just blatant plagiarism.
keep safe, we're thinking about you (mostly envy actually)

katie said...

I hate you!

I actually shuddered for about an hour when I saw that picture.

Le odio - spanish for I hate you just in case your English is poor these days!!!!

Graham Durrant said...

Hi there

I'm a touring cyclist that has come across your awesome blog, and was wondering if you could tell me this: The road from Susques, Argentina to the Paso de Jama... is it now paved all the way? Thanks! Graham graham.durrant@gmail.com