Donnerstag, 22. April 2010

English Summary No. 4

Sorry guys, I know I promised to write more English Summaries, but it takes all so much time, I don't think it's going to happen more than once a month:-(

So, from Bariloche we cycled along the "siete lagos" to San Martin de los Andes. The street led mostly through dense, hilly forests with many beautiful lakes. One noon during our lunchbreak we met Marlis and Matthias, a Swiss cyclist couple we had met many weeks ago in the Torres del Paine National Park and decided to cycle together that day. Me met again on the campground in San Martin, where they chose another route to Villarrica in Chile.

We continued to Junin de los Andes and arrived again in the usual arid pampa. Only along the river grew bright green bushes. Closer to the Paso Tromen, the pass to Chile, there are impressive Araucaria forests. Araucaria are an ancient tree species, apparently about 250 million years old and few of them are left. Of course, our most loyal friend, the headwind, accompanied us all the way to and up the pass and it rained for the first time for weeks. The next day was sunny and the landscape was awesome, to our left there was Lanin, a snowcaped and majestic volcano. At customs in Chile we had to surrender our honey we just bought in Bariloche and the last of our dried apricots.

The downhill ride on the other side was on a steep gravel road until suddenly there began pavemant, as broad as if they intended to build a highway. We arrived in Pucon in the evening and found a nice camping close to town. Pucon is a small, touristy town with great views of the volcano Villarrica.

Next we did only a few kilometers to the house of Elke and Uli. We had met Uli and two more German motorcyclists in the Torres del Paine national park and he invited us to stay at his house, should we pass through Villarrica. Elke and Uli are a German couple who life in Villarrica half of the year. The other half they spend in Germany or travelling. They welcomed us with a wonderful dinner, something that's hard to get while camping in the wild. Elke is indeed a very good cook, thank you very much, Elke and Uli!

Two days later we went on to Villarrica where we met Martina and Fazl. They are a Swiss-Pakistani couple, cyclists as well. Fazl figured that he didn't like cycling that much after all and is returning home. We had invited Martina to join us and she wanted to travel together for a few days to check whether we were compatible. The following days were a mix of nice, flat paved roads and bad hilly gravel roads, sometimes with strong headwinds. Fortunately, the road up the paso Pino Hinchado was paved, as we had to climb about 800m. On the top, at the border, the nice pavement stopped and all that was left until customs was the normal crappy gravel. There we got searched closely for illegal fruit and vegetables and ... drogs??

The other side of the mountains the landscape was brown-yellowish and dry. Instead of an easy downhill ride we had to fight headwinds again, but we made it to Las Lajas the same day. This is a small very untouristy village in the pampa but has a very nice and friendly camping municipal. The next three days a Gaucho Fiesta was going to take place, so we stayed two nights to get an idea of this kind of event.

After las Lajas we got a long strech of dry and hilly pampa. We spent one night in the gym of a "reserva indigena", a native reservation, two more in camping municipales, one of which was deserted and quite desolate. While it was hot during daytime, now it got very cold at night. Fazl didn't appreciate of this temperatures at all and decided to shortcut the trip to Mendoza by bus. In Barrancas we said goodby to him and Martina as Flo and I would keep cycling until Malargue.

Just after Barrancas the flatlands laid definitely behind us and we met steep climbs through old volcanic mountains. You cycle up those dry red hills expecting to find nothing more than dry red hills and suddenly, there is a green, lush valley, even with two lakes. What a surprising land! We got another bad surprise there, our first flat tyre of our trip. Flo fixed the problem and shortly afterwards the nice paved road was finished and we once again "enjoyed" the real ruta 40, here a very bad sand strip. Once out of the mountains the road followed the local Rio Grande, but never flat, always gently up and down.

This day a lot of colorfully marked cars passed us. We wondered what this meant until one of them stopped to chat and we found out that they belonged to the car race "Desafio Ruta 40". Obviously, the weren't racing that day, which they could't do on a public road anyway. They'd do that on narrow secondary roads with no traffic. And they do some 900 km each day!

After a nice camp in a dry riverbed we continued our trip to Bardas Blancas. In spite of the dryness of the area it rained that afternoon, so we were lucky to arrive early in this small town. Apart from a halfway sheltered campsite and a warm shower, there was nothing to do there. So, next morning, we rode up another pass, another time on a extremely dusty road. Sometimes we felt like on a childrens' playground, so deep were the patches of sand we got stuck in. At least it was sunny again. Ironically, as soon as we reached the top of the pass, the road was sort of paved again. And the landscape became greener and greener as we sped down into the planes of Malargue.

Malargue is an interessting town. Its area is completely flat but the mountains are close. There is an astronomical observatory (closed to the public) and a planetarium which offers shows and guided tours. Another part of its scientific tourism is a museum which displays a lot of bones of dinosaurs that were found in the area. And they have good empanadas there!

From Malargue we took a bus to Mendoza where we met with Martina and Fazl. Fazl was going to take a bus to Buenos Aires to return to Switzerland, Martina would join us for our trip north. We spent another day in a bus to reach Jujuy, where we started our first crossing of high mountains. The Paso de Jama reaches over 4'800 meters twice and was going to be our test mountain.

We left Jujuy on a cloudy day, but the further up we came the sunnier it became. We made the 65 km to Purmamarca, which lies at an altitude of 2'300 m. So far, so easy. Things got harder the next day. We only made some 26 km and camped at an altitude of 3'660 meters which caused me quite some headache. In the morning we climbed the first pass (4'170 m) and sped down to the Salinas Grandes. We had had headwind all day but in that plain it became too strong to continue, particularly as there was no shelter at all on the salar and the next mountains were 45 km away. An old man allowed us to camp in his sheep coral which was built with blocks of dried sheep dung. The place was sheltered but very dusty.

Next morning, after a colorful sunrise, we rode across the Salinas Grandes. The wind was gone, so we travelled quite fast through the perfectly flat valley. We had a second pass, the "mal paso", coming, but as it is "only" about 3'800 meters high it didn't bother us much. It should have. This pass wasn't one hill to cross and that's it, but it was actually four steep climbs until we could enjoy speeding down into Susques.

Susques is a cute mountain village with houses built of the same red mud as the landscape surrounding it. In the hostel we met another cyclist, Matthias from Germany. Two days later we set out all together. After some climbs we reached the salar Olaroz. On this salar we finally had tailwind but also rain. In the afternoon, Matthias decided to take a break while we continued towards a dark gray wall of clouds. Soon we were in the center of the bad weather and later, the rain even turned into snow.

Because there was no way to pitch a tent in such a flat area with so strong wind, we continued until the Argentinian border station, which is at 117 km from Susques! Obviously, we arrived quite late and just made it before nightfall. The new motel seemed too expensive, so we camped in the police station's garage. Next morning we waited a while to make sure the weather had improved and than started out to climb the next pass. We had just crossed the Chilian border when a Argentinian police vehicle overtook and stopped us. The cops were concerned about wind and snow further up and wanted us to return. Flo was very annoyed by the idea and we had just convinced him to go back, when a group of motorcyclists arrived and confirmed that the road was in a good condition. So we went on.

Unfortunately, the police men were right, two hours later it was snowing again. We hid behind some boulders, ate something and hoped that the bad weather would pass. It didn't and Martina and I were too cold to continue, so we pitched the tents and crowled in our sleeping bags.

Again, next morning the weather was nice, not a singel cloud was in sight. However, the wind was so strong and so cold that we didn't make it very far. We tried to hitch a ride to Chile but no cars passed, the pass was closed. Finally, we turned back to Argentina in the hope to find a ride as soon as the road was open again. On the way back, we met Matthias, our German friend who had reached the border the day before. The road was never opened that day, so we checked in the motel as we didn't like the idea of another cold night in the dusty garage. The motel certainly was clean but not that much warmer, the heating didn't work.

In the morning we checked with the police men and were told that the road was still unpassable, we should wait for news. At noon, two cars of the Chilian vialidad, the road authority, with the message that the road was open again. Wile queuing up at the migración we organised a ride to San Pedro for Martina who didn't feel like cycling over the cold and windy pass. Flo and I as well hitched for a few kilometers in order to beginn that day's trip more or less where we stopped the day before.

Fortunately, we didn't encounter too much wind that day. We cycled through a valley with lagunas and vicuñas, relatives of lamas, and camped sheltered by large rocks. Next morning, the road began to rise steeply, and at this altitude (around 4'500 meters) climbing high passes is very hard work. Near to the top, we met Matthias again. We teamed up for the day and enjoyed the ride down into the next valley. To our surprise, there was a large dry meadow with many bonds, although frozen. For the local fauna, this valley must be a paradise.

A few flat kilometers, that the usual up and down began again. The road let up into another valley which was completly dry and - to our eys - devoid of all vegetation. Still there were vicuñas browsing for food. No idea what they found there. The road rose even higher and cold wind came up in the afternoon. This day we were twice at an altitude of over 4'800 meters. We finally reached the top of the last hill and began our descent. Fabulous, 2'000 meters downhill in 25 km were waiting for us.

After a few minutes, however, two people waved at us and we recognised Marlis and Matthias who were on their ascencion to the laguna route to Uyuni. We camped there that night and exchanged news. Next day around noon we arrived in San Pedro de Atacama, a cute but very touristy desert village. Here we rest a few days before we set out for Uyuni as well.

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