Andean Passes - mile 17,854


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November 6th 2009
Published: January 3rd 2010
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Paso de San FranciscoPaso de San FranciscoPaso de San Francisco

a salt lake in the distance
On this trip we have passed though some fantastic scenery and you constantly think it cant get any better but Paso de San Francisco surpassed everything so far. It crosses the Andes between Chile and Argentina through desolate but beautiful altiplano on a 120 mile dirt road reaching 4726m - it was part of the Dakar Rally route in 2009 and will be again in 2010. There are some excellent sections where you can zip along the gravel at 60-70mph and some tricky bits where there is deep gravel or soft sand and progress is slow at 10mph. A few people got caught out in dramatic fashion by the changing surface but we managed to stay upright. En-route we pass salt lakes, snowy mountains, flamingos, Salto de Ojos - the highest active volcano in the world, its all incredibly beautiful. The highlight is coming round a corner to a spectacular bright blue lake dwon below us - confusingly its called Lago Verde. And we appear to have the whole road to ourselves, in the whole day we only pass a handful of other vehicles. The border itself is way up at 4726m but there is absolutely nothing up there so the
Paso de San FranciscoPaso de San FranciscoPaso de San Francisco

the Chilean border post
Chilean border post is 50 odd miles inside Chile and Argentinian one 50 odd miles inside Argentina. Even then they are pretty remote and the officials are up here for 30 days at a time, they actually seem quite pleased to see us and have some people to deal with.

Now we are in Argentina so great steaks are on offer, the only problem is they don't eat until 22:00 far too late when you've just ridden 350 miles mostly above 4000m. We're sat there in one of the only 2 restaurants, in Tinogasta at 9:00, drinking beer on an empty stomach, waiting for the chef to arrive.

We are in red territory now - a beautiful red canyon on the way down from the pass and into Tinogasta. Red soil from Tinogsata to Chilecito - at times its like being in Africa with the red soil and scrubby/thorny vegetation. And on the way to Villa Union the amazing red rocks of the Cuesta de Miranda which climbs up to 2025m with beautiful views back down to the green river valley below. All the different bushes seem to have yellow flowers which positively shimmer in the sunshine and
Paso de San FranciscoPaso de San FranciscoPaso de San Francisco

a lone guanaco
form a magnificent contrast to the bright red rocks. Here we come across a new type of road side shrine - ones with piles of water bottles next to them. At first it looks like a pile of discarded rubbish but there are several of them and the bottles have definitely been carefully placed. At the top of the pass some locals educate us - its a Difunta Correra shrine; according to popular legend, Señora Correa's husband was forcibly recruited during the Argentine civil wars. Becoming sick, he was then abandoned by the partisans. She set off with her baby to reach him but died of thirst on the way. Her body was found days later and the baby was still alive, feeding from the deceased woman's "miraculously" ever-full breast. Since then shrines have sprung up and travellers leave bottles of water in return for a safe journey. These little shrine (or sometimes quite big) will be our constant companions through the Andes and Chile and strangely they are actually quite a comforting sight when you are in the middle of no-where with no other vehicles in sight.

From Villa Union to Uspallata it should be an easy 350
Paso de San FranciscoPaso de San FranciscoPaso de San Francisco

rescuing a fellow rider frm the deep gravel
miles on tarmac but our old friend 'Desvio' raises its head again. Initially we're not worried and bump our way along the gravel track but it just keeps going on and on, and its going in the wrong direction. After 10 miles what do you do? Turn round and re-trace your steps only to find its the right road and have to come back again or have confidence that you are following the correct diversion? The map isn't a lot of help, they just plough the desvio through any bit of countryside and there aren't a lot of landmarks round here to go by. Anyway it definitely said to come down here so we keep going. At one point the back wheel catches a small mound of gravel and after a wobble we end up at an angle of about 30 degrees to the road. I have adopted the 'eject' position but suddenly we are upright again and going in a straight line. I have no idea how Edwin managed it, from that angle we should have been on the ground. Slowly but steadily the road curves back to where we want to be and eventually after 30 odd miles
Paso de San Francisco - Largo VerdePaso de San Francisco - Largo VerdePaso de San Francisco - Largo Verde

its one of the bluest lake I've ever seen so I dont know why its called Lago Verde!! That's us in the photo.
we can see the main road way off in the distance.

We are in Mendoza province now so its all change again - to green, this is wine country so there is mile after mile of vineyards. Its amazing how the scenery changes; desolate mountain passes, rocky canyons, fertile river valleys, thorny scrub-land - its just such a pleasure to ride though. Though it would be better if someone turn the heat down. Down on the plains its too hot to have the visor open its like someone is wafting a hair-dryer in your face. Of course this changes as we head back up into the Andes and the temperature drops and the layers get put back on. We are passing through the Sierra de Upsallata, Charles Darwin passed this way in 1830 and described it far better than I can - “red, purple, green and quite white sedimentary rocks, alternating with black lavas broken up and thrown into all kinds of disorder, by masses of porphyry, of every shade, from dark brown to the brightest lilac. It really resembled those pretty sections which geologists make of the inside of the earth.”

The road leads to Tunel Cristo
Paso de San FranciscoPaso de San FranciscoPaso de San Francisco

the actual border between Chile & Argentina at 4726m - we've been ridng for a couple of hours since we were stamped out of Chile.
Redentor, the main crossing back into Chile and down to Santiago so we are suddenly back in traffic again. Its up at 3209m and as we approach the clouds gather, it gets darker and windier and then starts snowing - only yesterday, down on the plains, amongst the vineyards we were too hot. We pass all the signs pointing to Aconcagua, which at 6959m is the highest peak in both the western & southern hemisphere and the highest outside the Himalayas, however, today we see nothing but clouds. The tunnel under the Andes is 3km long and half-way along there's a gaggle of lights illuminating the signs that tell you you have now passed from Argentina into Chile. The actual border post is several miles further on beyond the tunnel. The Chile-Argentine borders are far more organised than most Latin American borders and are quick and efficient - although here we did have to go round the counters in the order 1, 5, 2, 3, 4, 5. The descent back down is pretty quick and soon we are back amongst vineyards and flower filled fields removing our layers.

On the way into Santiago we are met by the local
Paso de San FranciscoPaso de San FranciscoPaso de San Francisco

there's more grass and less gravel in Argentina
motorcycle police, on their BMWs, who give us an escort whizzing us through all the red traffic lights and stopping all other traffic at junctions so we can pass unhindered - and its all filmed by the local TV channel. We have 5 nights here while the bikes get a service. To service ourselves we head off on an expedition on the tube and bus to the Concha y Toro vineyard - they are obviously used to tourists as all the locals keep pointing us in the right direction without us even having to ask. We take the upmarket tour and have a session with a sommelier afterwards tasting 4 of their wines - very educational. To finish off the education process we treat ourselves to a glass of the US$100 per bottle wine - well we have survived 17,000 miles.

We are staying in the business district so its all very smart with lots of great restaurants, very European in-fact. Downtown is scruffier but more alive with a buzz. We get educated by visiting La Chascona, Pablo Neruda's house (he won the noble prise for literature) - its well wacky with all sorts of random collections of objects
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the Argentine border post
scattered around, truly eclectic - and this is only 10% of it, the rest was destroyed when Chile was under military rule. Makes me want to head and visit his other house at Isla Negra but that's north and now we have the fully serviced bike back we need to start heading south again.


Additional photos below
Photos: 26, Displayed: 26


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Paso de San FranciscoPaso de San Francisco
Paso de San Francisco

Andean flamingos
entering the red zoneentering the red zone
entering the red zone

it started gradually with these pinky hills - a mix of the gery gravel we have travelled through and the red rocks awaiting us
Africa or Argentina?Africa or Argentina?
Africa or Argentina?

red soil & thorn trees
Ushuaia 4000km - not for usUshuaia 4000km - not for us
Ushuaia 4000km - not for us

by the time we have zig-zagged our way downn the ANdes it will be more than 6000km
Cuesta MirandaCuesta Miranda
Cuesta Miranda

where the redness reaches maximum volume
Cuesta MirandaCuesta Miranda
Cuesta Miranda

the redness is enhanced by all the different yellow flowers
Cuesta MirandaCuesta Miranda
Cuesta Miranda

Difunta Correa shrine with the carefully placed water bottles
Sierra de Upsallata - the clouds are massingSierra de Upsallata - the clouds are massing
Sierra de Upsallata - the clouds are massing

shortly after this it started snowing on us
Paso Cristo RedentorPaso Cristo Redentor
Paso Cristo Redentor

the border post
Concha  y Toro vineyardConcha  y Toro vineyard
Concha y Toro vineyard

the special cellar for the Casillero del Diablo wine
Concha  y Toro vineyardConcha  y Toro vineyard
Concha y Toro vineyard

ready for our wine tasting lesson


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