Archive for February, 2009

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

CHILECITO to SALTA

Do we enter Bolivia via Chile or Argentina?  The challenge of Paseo de Jama (4,800m) and the Atacama desert is calling us.  Should we, or shouldn’t we?  Likewise, we’ve heard the horror stories of the roads in Southern Bolivia.  Crossing the Salar de Uyuni though would be an experience of a lifetime.  There are other transport options, but should we ride and maintain the continuity of our trip…

Luckily the ride from Chilecito gave us lots of opportunity to think.  Conditions were hot and the roads long and straight.  The next cold softdrink kept us pedaling.  It was dreamlike, with dead cows on the roadside the only thing snapping us back into reality…

Against this backdrop, my turning 33 almost seemed exciting!  First, Jess spoilt me rotten with cake and biscuits that she had managed to secretly stash in her panniers.  Then after a hard days ride, we caught up with Thomas and Celine, who prepared for us a barbeque feast, complete with beer, wine and even candles to blow out!  It was a perfect birthday.

We’d decided on a couple of days rest in Cafayete.  A great little town surrounded by vineyards and nestled below the bright red sandstone cliffs of the Quedebra de las Conchas.  The Andean Pacha Mama festival was in full swing, so we kicked back and did as the locals… had fun!

The ride to Salta through the Quedebra was amazing.  Bright colours, majestic views and lots of sandstone shapes to decipher.  The “amphitheatre” was a standout, with a local busker playing haunting tunes on his windpipe making it even more special.

So now in Salta, how have we decided to enter Bolivia?  The hard way of course!  From here we join up with Thomas and Celine to ride the infamous Paseo de Jama.  Three passes over 4,000m, complete with sub zero temperatures and headwinds.  I sure hope the flamingos in Atacama are worth it!  We then split, with Jess and I climbing again to the Bolivian border and the Altiplano.  From there we take on the sandy roads and ghost towns, and rain permitting, ride across the largest salt lake in the world!

We’re a little scared but excited – a real adventure awaits.

Thanks again for all your support.  Enjoy the pics and stay tuned to see how we go.
Jules & Jess

Long straight roads

Long straight roads

Local sheep transport

Local sheep transport

Umm this way out of town?

Umm this way out of town?

Should we be scared?

Should we be scared?

Intense concentration

Intense concentration

Happy birthday!

Happy birthday!

Kung fu panda in Cafayate

Kung fu panda in Cafayate

Quedebra de las Conchas

Quedebra de las Conchas

The Amphitheatre

The Amphitheatre

Our trusty steeds... Tez & Matilda

Our trusty steeds... Tez & Matilda

Not what we expected

SAN JUAN to CHILECITO

Ever tried to quench a thirst from a luke warm water bottle? You’d swear your drinking something else. You drink it because you have too. You gulp it down, wipe the sweat from your brow and keep on pedaling down a road that never seems to end. This is what we expected from Northern Argentina…

But it’s great when things turn out better than you expect, and this is how we would sum up our trip from San Juan to Chilecito. Let me explain;

We are cycling through a desert. It’s bloody hot, rivers run dry and everywhere you sit there is a thorn waiting for you. So imagine our delight when we saw storm clouds brewing. Rain was coming, but so was lightening. Within moments, huddled under a tarp on the side of the road, we smiled at each other in disbelief as the storm raged around us. Within an hour, the dry riverbeds had turned to rapids and the roads had become almost impassable. In a few more hours, it was like nothing had ever happened? It doesn’t rain here often, but boy when it does you sure know about it. PS: mental note – don’t camp in riverbeds.

We teamed up with our French amigos, Thomas and Celine, to tour the Unesco listed Ischigualasto and Talampaya national parks. Strange rock formations, bright red canyons and dinosaur bones – this is the real Jurassic Park! The parks were fantastic, but unfortunately you can’t cycle in them. Well that’s what we found out after being escorted back to park HQ and explaining our minor infringement to the waiting police officer. I guess they are just trying to avoid the headlines, “Four gringos, eaten by T-Rex!”.

Our lucky escape needed to be celebrated and so did Valentine’s day. What says “I love you” better than barbequed goat, a few beers and a bottle of red wine? We ate like kings, laughed till we cried and were probably the only customers in the Las Baldecitos comedor that week.

The ride into Chilecito required crossing the Cuesta de Miranda – a 2,000m pass complete with 800 turns! So clearly, we were expecting the worse. Finally, after fighting countless headwinds and being told constantly we are cycling the wrong way, those cycling from the north get a break. The pass for us was a joy, a few moments uphill, then 25km down through some of the most breathtaking scenery so far… the road twisted and turned through a bright red valley with the 6000m peak of Famatina looming over us….. This is great cycling and we will remember this day forever!

I guess this goes to show you just can’t plan even a few days ahead. But that’s what makes this adventure so exciting – you just never know what you’re going to get! From here we head to Belen, then Cafayete … its more desert, so we expect hot and boring. What do you think?

Thanks again for all the posts and emails. They are great motivators, keep them coming! PS we are up to 5,000Kms now!!

Jules & Jess

What we had expected

What we had expected

Fixing thorn punctures

Fixing thorn punctures

What a storm brewing, out here?

What a storm brewing, out here?

"Ischi" with amigos Thomas & Celine

Ischi NP with amigos Thomas & Celine

Having fun

Having fun

Clowning about

Clowning about

But we shouldnt be here - esorted out

But we shouldnt be here - esorted out

Valle de la Luna (aka Loon!)

Valle de la Luna (aka Loon!)

Spot the aussie tourist

Spot the aussie tourist

Shapes in the desert

Shapes in the desert

Cactus man!

Cactus man!

Talampaya canyon... fantastic

Talampaya canyon... fantastic

Jess ... fantastic too

Jess ... fantastic too

Cuesta de Miranda... breathtaking iews

Cuesta de Miranda... breathtaking views

Who cares about planning anyway...

Who cares about planning anyway...

Halfway to Peru !

ALGARROBO to SAN JUAN

What a great beach break.  Three days in Algarrobo really revived, and reminded us just how much we miss things like pillows and couches! We then spent a couple of days in Valparaiso, wandering the steep streets, riding the escalators and generally soaking up the colourful atmosphere of this famous port city. Lastly, a brief stop in Vina del Mar showed us how the other half enjoy their holidays… it was time to get back on the bikes!
With fresh legs we left the Chilean coast and headed once again for Argentina via the famous Mendoza pass. With the Andes gradually getting bigger in front of us, all we could think about as we rode was the climb to come. Would we make it? What about altitude sickness? Was the guy, energetically pointing and laughing at us from a passing bus, trying to tell us something?? We camped right beside the sign warning of 55km’s of uphill ahead. Tomorrow we would find out…
The Mendoza climb really involved two parts – a gradual 40km climb, followed by the more famous 15kms of switchbacks to the top and the tunnel to Argentina.  As expected, the first section was long but we managed it ok. With aching legs we then looked up in disbelief at the snaking road ahead. “Look how slow those trucks are going!”, “Look how steep that bit is!” … but then looking down from each rest stop and the shrinking world below us, it became clear that we were doing it and doing it well.  Passing trucks tooted and waved encouragement as we climbed higher and higher.  The relief at reaching the top and 3,185m above sea level is hard to explain.  We had in a single day crossed one of the world’s great mountain ranges by bike.  Enough said.

There is one good thing about riding uphill – going down – and the 85km through the Mendoza valley was no exception.  It was breathtakingly beautiful.  A perfectly blue sky, mountains of every colour, and the famous Mt Aconcagua and Puenta del Inca whizzed by us on the way.  What a reward.  I even managed a new top speed – 77.6km/hr!  Our amazing day was topped off by bumping into fellow cyclists Thomas and Celine.  We had camped with them on our first night outside Ushuaia all those Kms back! What a small world hey?
Leaving the crowds behind, we once again cycled down a dusty road, this time on a scenic loop to San Juan via the oasis towns of Barreal and Calingasta.  As expected, the Northern Andean desert was hot and dry, but what wasn’t expected, was the “Patagonian” like headwinds, and the harsh lesson, that there are many more “uphills” in the Andes than just the famous ones!  With hard riding and nowhere to get water, we gratefully had to take a few extra litres from a roadside shrine.  The water was much needed, just not so sure about the beer and cigarettes??
With a day now to regroup in San Juan, we continue our ride north to Salta, with the Valle de la Luna our next major highlight. It’s a famous geological site with some pretty unique rock formations, a submarine, worm and mushroom for example… more in our next update.

Till then, we have one last thing to share… we’re now halfway to Peru!  Not bad going for a couple of aussie expats that were carrying a few extra kilos from their time in London!!  Here, here.
Thanks again for all the support and we hope you enjoy our pics below.

Jules & Jess

A "Valpo" ascensor

Valpo and its escalator thingys

Colourful streets

Colourful streets ...

... Stacked one on the other

... Stacked one on the other

Vina and the other half

Vina and the other half

Now thats a long uphill

Now thats a long uphill

First section - ok

First section was ok

Then the famous switchbacks

Then the famous switchbacks

Oh what a feeling!

Oh what a feeling!

Breathtaking downhill

Breathtaking downhill

Aconcagua, 7000m top of the Andes

Aconcagua, 7000m top of the Andes

Puenta del Inca

Puenta del Inca

A great days ride

A great days ride

Fancy seeing you here

Fancy seeing you here

Down another dusty road

Down another dusty road

Hot in the nth argentine desert

Hot under the argentine sun

Are we there yet?

Just cruising!

Roadside shrines

Roadside shrines

Another home for the night

Another home for the night