South America
February 15th 2006
Published: February 15th 2006
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San Pedro de Atacama
Susques is about 3,200 metres above sea level and I was waking in the night and having to take a few deep breaths to stay alive….but in the morning we were going even higher….this pass is about 4,300 or so…pretty thin air up there…and they say there’s some snow about as well. Hey, lets go! Another mouthful of coca, it does seem to help! And I didn’t inhale!

I stop a few times along the 130 kms to the frontera to just watch the ever closer snow capped mountains, this is very barren terrain, the odd animal, what were guanacos, then llamas are now vicunyas…and signs warn of their propensity for leaping in front of cars! We stop and take some pix of some right near the road.

This is a bit sad too, as its my last hours in Argentina after maybe 10 weeks? Crikey, the longest time in any country on this trip. But Argentina is like 4 or 5 countries, so diverse in geography, cultures everythings, but constantly and consistently, the people have been the real bonus. I was not expecting such generosity of spirit and the endless kindness and hospitality, the ever friendly approaches, the willingness to share and help has been absolutely fantastic.

Por mis amogos argentinos, gracias por todas,.me encanta argentina muchos mas que puedo hablar. Voy a regrassar una dias!! (Desculpe mi espanol)

This high plain just goes on for ever at about nearly 4,000 so its harder to breathe and getting v chilly. The clarity of the air is fantastic, the mountains, now taking on individual shapes, volcanic cones, dozens of them, and I can see the thickness of this range, this is your real Andes, not just the single pass like in the south, but a massive wall of mountains, how any early settler got here is beyond me. The conquistadors had their work cut out, why would anyone want to try and get across here!..God and Gold the driving passions?

In the distance I can see the buildings of the frontera and the road behind, snaking up into what looks like an impenetrable barrier of gigantic snowy peaks!

Jama is the Argentina frontera office and we do the right thing and get clear of them. They are a bit snaky, but maybe understandably, as they are right in the very middle of freaking nowhere. Maybe its a punishment and they are just dropped off here for a week, a month, a year?

Then its off into the real mountains, still good asphalto and sweeping curves, by now the mountains are all around us, individual patterns of snow and rock, smoke coming from one or 2, real volcano country, its getting colder, the grip heaters are on full, I’m quite comfortable, only the thumbs, as usual, feeling the icy wind. I’ve got the thermal underwear, liners, extra t-shirt and the armour, balaclava, winter gloves, snug as a bug, and Miles Davis taking me thru’.

Around another curve, just relaxing into the cruise, but hey, what’s this, actual snow right down to the road, in fact, it’s across the road, following the snaky tracks of some truck ahead I’m trying to stay on the asphalto, not much in the way of guide posts, just the trail leading off into ever higher and more obscure mountains…this is getting serious so we stop and chuck some snowballs and take some pix.

Further on it clears and the road is almost dry, thank fcuk we’re thru’ that, but then, as always, one more crest and the road disappears again, this time I can see where it should be, curling out across the really high pass, this is the 4,500 m section I’m thinking, complete white-out, the melted snow is turning to ice, below 0 with wind chill, very slippery and just the barest outline of truck tyres, slush and snow at best, ice at worst, hope nobody comes the other way as there is no way in the world I can get out of these tracks….

Finally, over a small rise and the road dips down, drying out and getting warmer. I was just starting too feel the coldth seeping thru’ the clothing, luckily the adrenalin and the coca kept me together.

The road down is practically straight. Almost no curves, and drops about 2,500 metres in 25 kms, trucks struggling up are doing about 2 kph, I’m fanging it, ever warmer, ever closer to something warm and dry to wear and warm and wet to drink. As usual, fanatically precise planning left me travelling this most inhospitable bit of terrain with absolutely nothing! Que idiota!

The border for Chile is actually in the town of San Pedro de Atacama, I had been wondering since Jama where is the Chile frontera? As usually they’re close, and I was sweating on the thought of having to go back!! Aarrgghh. Anyway, not necessary and would have been impossible as they were closing the road we had just come in on to all traffic, the weather had closed in and it was impassible!!. We had just got thru’ in time!

Man, what a trip, the last three days have been an extraordinary experience, maybe it’s the full moon, and capping it off with this alpine crossing, just impossible to describe it, and I’m sure my puny photos will not capture 10% of the grandeur, the immensity, the colour, texture, feel of this astounding scenery.

We were off to see the geezers (4am start!) but why would we go all that way to see a bunch of old guys? Hahaha but yesterday arvo the mother of all electrical storms hit town, it never rains here, they say!..yeah right, it thundered and lighteninged and pissed down, the roads turned to mud, everywhere, we holed up in the plaza in an old building with beautiful stone arches framing the lightening, horizontal, vertical, forked, sheet, a classic tropical storm, and it turned out to be a bar, so all was not lost.

This morning we went out to find the famous swimming lake but 100 metres down the turn-off we had toretreat as the mud was more than anyone could handle, instead we went ot see the old fort above the town…it’s OK they said, only one river!…yeah, but we had to cross it 5 times! skinny little bridge with rocky ramparts you wouldn’t let your worst enema cross, then 5 water crossings, the chica we’d brought along walked thru’ to check depth (and sharks) the we’d fang it, water up to my freaking knees, steam off the motor fogging the sunnies, slipping and sliding, surging thru’..fantastic stuff.
Then the long climb up to the fort and then on to the monument, then back, getting ready for the river(s) crossing when someone told us of the ‘good’ road! Ha, round the twisting tracks at the back of the farmyards and voila, the main road back to town.

So, the plan was to head up into Bolivia from here but all the roads are closed and we could see much more cloud over the mountains today so who
Fort view 1Fort view 1Fort view 1

San Pedro de Atacama
knows how long it will be? The coast is the other option but all the roads out are cut off today. Furthermore, we need gas and the only gas pump in town, at one of the hostels, is shut because the pump is broken, and, and, the mechanic comes from 300 lms away, and the road is cut!…so we could be here for a few days!

Here’s some more pix, sorry for the mix-ups in the scripts. And check out more at altho’ Raf couldn’t get his website to respond yesterday, maybe today it will be ok. I’ll let you know where to send the food parcels if it gets worse…I can hear the thunder starting again…all the locals are going berko, never been like this before! You gotta love it, last night the water went off at 8pm (but that’s always the case) and the power went out about 10pm, this little town, maybe a grid of 6 streets each way, dozens of tiny tourist crap shops, ‘atesanas’ stalls, cafes, bars, restaurants and fifty million tour operator places (this is the travellers mecca for the whole area) and its pitch dark, candles flickering in darkened window and
Fort view 2Fort view 2Fort view 2

San Pedro de Atacama
door ways, the streets are crowded with hippies, trekkers, sand-boarders, local touts, animals, everyone drenched, mud up to your knees!!…we found a little pizza joint and settled in, bottle of red and pasta..Ha and now the rain has started again…merde!
OK all the cafes were full so I went to a restaunt and usual here its an adobe building, as the rain increased the water starts running down the wall, into the fuse box and we lost the lights, everything continues to ´melt´in the rain, the skylights, so cool before, now leak like sieves and the floor turns to mud..........Ha...

Additional photos below
Photos: 13, Displayed: 13


Fort view 3Fort view 3
Fort view 3

San Pedro de Atacama

San Pedro de Atacama

San Pedro de Atacama
Another valleyAnother valley
Another valley

San Pedro de Atacama
Another valley viewAnother valley view
Another valley view

San Pedro de Atacama

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