The alternative route to Chile was over Paso Jama. The border control boss showed us the shortcut to this paved route which would open before Paso Sico as it was a major border crossing. He assured us the 50km shortcut was undulating, and then it was a futher 50km of paved road to the border town of Pueblo Jama. We quickly got over the disapointment of changing routes and were excited about some tarseal roads.
In our usual style we left Catua early (cold but worth it to beat the wind) and started our undulating (not) climb to 4500m and what we called Paso No Name. It was a nice ride and we were lucky to have wind to our backs which makes a huge difference esp at altitude and going uphill. For the first time we could enjoy the pass and have a cuppa and lunch. By the time we had descended the other side to the jucnction with the main road we were looking for water and somewhere to camp as the wind had picked up. We were able to get water from a well at an adobe house at the junction and we camped in a derelict casa just back up the road. Our tent just fitted inside and later we were joined by 2 brazillian cyclists who camped in the other ‘room’.
We looked forward to the 50km to Pueblo Jama – cut it out in 3 hrs with an early start – yeah right – maybe 3km of light head winds before 47km of soul destroying very strong cross/almost head wind turned out to be the reality. 5 hours of grinding along the road – no where to shelter and not enough traffic going our way to hitch. The Brazillians managed a ride in an empty car transporter. Another trashing for Jo and Alan.
We found a small hostel, with good food, and again depleted Argentina’s electricity supply by cranking the heater to recover. The pass had been closed for 5 days and they thought another 2 days more as there was chance of some more snow. There were hundreds of trucks lined up waiting to go west. Must be quite a bit of snow up there somewhere – not obvious from this side.
We were saved 2 more cold days at 4000m when the pass opened the next morning. It was pack up, sign out of Argentina and then try and find a ride over to San Pedro de Atacama. We were not willing to ride the 160km. It would be at least 2 days depending on winds and nothing but high ground between the 2 towns, lots of snow and three 4800m high points to cross. Alan was also under the weather with a head cold.
Jose and his empty Kenworth rig were our salvation. At near 11am the starting flag was dropped and all the trucks were allowed to go, followed by buses, cars & motorbikes. It was a convoy heading up to the high snowy plateaus, ringed by volcanoes. It was an amazing ride. Jose was a good driver, dealing with altitude by stuffing coca leaves into his mouth periodically and seemed to enjoy our company. We passed one car transporter that had slid off the road.
We had been hoping to access Bolivia off this road but the turnoff to the Bolivian border was still under snow and skis would be the mode of transport at the moment. So again we had to accept we would have to take a lesser (lower) route into Bolivia from the west. It was an easy decision as it was not possible to take the high ground. The final 45km of the drive drops 2000m to San Pedro, suddenly we are out of the snow and once dropped off we were stripping off as it was so warm down at 2500m.
We have needed 2 days R&R down here. We have done our first major clothes wash (watching the Chile customs poking their noses into our smelly paniers is always fun) and are staying at a lovely hostel with an amazing bakery around the corner. The restaurants serve meals that even I can’t finish!
Tomorrow we start our journey to Bolivia…