Thursday, January 5, 2012

Segment 49: Calama, Chile to Salta, Argentina (December 7- 20, 2011)

Calama was something of a disaster for us.  First, we spent $100 each in three days, just on food and lodging.  Chile can be prohibitively expensive, especially in the north, which is a wasteland of mining operations of all sorts.  Calama owes its existence to this.  Unfortunately, we arrived sick and exhausted, and needed to hole up for a few days.  Flat, ugly, poorly-planned, overrun with crackheads and alcoholics, there is not much to recommend it.  However, we did find some amazing lunch offers here:  

sopa marinera (seafood stew) in Calama.  Loaded with clams, mussels, calamares, etc.. Hands down, best soup we have encountered in the whole voyage.  One of the best parts of Chile is its seafood cuisine; the country is so narrow you are never far from the sea.  

...desert and uniquely-eroded rock formations entering San Pedro de Atacama...

leaving San Pedro de Atacama, the perfect volcanic cone of Licancabur (5900m) to the left at dusk

30km beyond San Pedro, we camped in what was something of a forest, with full moon rising

skirting the enormous Salar de Atacama, truly desolate

climbing now, the salar in the background

roadside colors


more yes!!

our camp amidst some windbreaks

... San Pedro, Chile to Salta, Argentina via Paso Sico: 600km of primarily dirt roads, and one of the best routes of the whole trip (little-to-no traffic, extraordinary landscapes, fun and challenging riding)...

feeling like we are getting closer to Argentina now, for real

that's Tom crawled up in the culvert, only shade we found all day long

... scenes like this are why this route is so worth it... warning: no supplies available along the majority of this route, which we would pay for dearly, as we nearly ran out of food while still on the Chilean side...

late afternoon at Laguna Tuyaito

we couldn't tell if we were hallucinating or not, but these thin clouds were the first we had seen in weeks and weeks

our fantastic camp situated just above Laguna Tuyaito


enjoying every moment of this

the mining post of El Laco, 28km from the border.  We were mostly out of food at this point, and when the custodian offered us white bread, Wonder-style, which of course isn't food at all, we ate the whole loaf in one sitting.  Strong evidence of what disasters can ensue if you start running out of food at 4000m far from anything.

passing the Salar El Laco

simply mindblowing riding here

... the surreal landscapes just before the border of Paso Sico...

nearing the border, these are our immediate destinations in Argentina

... a classic moment: while attempting a timed photo at the border (this was take two), Jeff slipped while running (cycling clips on gravel!) and went face first into the ground, while Tom died laughing and a huge gust of wind blew the camera off its perch, all at the same time.

take three was the charm.  We are more than elated to cross the border... Argentina has loomed as our destiny for so long its hardly believable at this point.  The million-and-one times we've been asked "Para donde van?" (Where are you going?) and have answered "Argentina", and now we are finally here.

the first cumulus clouds we have seen in AGES

we were fortunate to witness one of the best sunsets of the whole trip our first evening in Argentina:

as we weren't gonna reach Catua (the first town on the Argentina side) before night, we found this abandoned cabin in the middle of nowhere amidst high winds.  The winds shifted completely three times, so that we ended up camping on three distinct sides of the cabin throughout the night.
at dawn

... here in Catua, a mining village approx. 25km from the border, we encountered a municipal party to celebrate the elections of new local officials.  They invited us to lunch with them... where we found ourselves seated with the border police who had stamped our arrival the previous day, and all the important people in Catua... unfortunately, we had no money (and therefore couldn't buy any food and continue!), and the only person who could change money for us in Catua just happened to be the most important guy in town, who was tied up with MC duties all day at the party.  We were delayed 5 hours in Catua just to change money!

this lunch featured a wheat-based soup, and a heaping portion of beef, chicken, sausage and potato.  Very Argentinian.

...the colorful folks of Catua...

...llamas are found in Argentina (in the north), but these are the last we would see...
after several months in llama-land, its clear that llamas are mystified and made curious by the bicycles.  They almost always stop what they are doing and stare at us with soft eyes, as if wanting to ask about our trip. 

after an exhausting climb out of Catua

this was a wild descent: fast, steep, gravelly and long, with sudden sandy patches thrown in there just for kicks and to test our reflexes

approaching the Salar de Caucharí with incredible late-afternoon light

entering the salar

dusk colors over the salar

unforgettable sunset beyond the Salar de Caucharí

in the last moments of twilight, we were saved in the nick of time when this abandoned house presented itself in Caucharí.

this newspaper feature was glued to the wall of the room... it is from 1945! and is about Argentinian football champions from the 1930's

the abandoned house

near Olacapato, fresh snow in the cordillera

the mining town of Olacapato, flat and sprawling and somewhat destitute as all these mining towns seem to be

we found this guy hanging out in Olacapato

this mule didn't fare so well

some Andean geese, they let us get pretty close

climbing again

near the end of this climb, can't complain about the setting

this is the highest we will be the rest of the trip.  4560m, or over 14,500ft.  we have to admit, we are ready to come down after so much continuous time above 3000 meters (pretty much since Cusco, 6 weeks previous)

...super-fun dirt descent here through great landscapes...

arrived in San Antonio de Los Cobres, first real town since San Pedro de Atacama

we had a great welcome at the municipal building in San Antonio... they offered us a place to stay in the newly-built artesanal market, and invited us for tea and coffee a couple times

Bolivian influence reaching into Argentina

this is no more and no less than an alfajor, which is an Argentine specialty (even though we first encountered them in Bolivia).  A biscuit-sized layered cake with alternating layers of cookie/cake and caramel, often chocolate-flavored or chocolate-dipped.  In just a short time in Argentina we are already alfajor connoisseurs and absolute addicts.

looks splendid, but we had really stiff headwinds on this climb

our last pass on this rugged crossing of the cordillera

...descending from the pass with great scenery...

...dry canyons with cactus everywhere...

interesting badlands on the descent

we knew we were out of the desert finally when we saw leaf cutter ants about

things started getting greener on the lower part of the descent towards Salta, which in all was 128km long, part paved, part dirt, and a net drop of 3400m (11000 feet).

in Salta this couple (José and Maria Santijan) approached us while we were busking and offered us an apartment in their house.  Also seen here are their three charismatic dogs.

... views of Salta from the gondola... 
we had a free entrance since José is the lead technician there

 an added benefit to busking: girls coming to pose for photos with us.  Is that Tom or Gunnar Nelson?


harley parts said...

Really good pictures. It is really interesting to rumor with our great bicycle. Once i have also planning to rumor half of my town and collect some heritage/shocked information.

Magie said...

Great pics, guys. You will have some wonderful memories. Looking forward to followwing the next stretch of the adventure.