We were pretty pleased with ourselves to make it over the Abra el Acay with no problems and although tough we had no symptoms of altitude sickness. The pass is the highest road pass in the Americas (tho we hear rumors of possibly a competitor in Peru)
From Cachi we had the most amazing ride up the valley to La Poma at 3000m. The river scenery and red adobe houses/farmlets were sublime and more spectacular than we expected. We even had a tail wind for the last stretch into the small pueblo of La Poma where we rested a day – yes lightweight I hear you saying – but I am sure it paid off on the pass day.
We left La Poma into a stiff head wind and started the steady climb to our camp at 4000m where the road leaves the river. Again superb scenery, a bit more puffing but we enjoyed the day. The numbers of houses diminished, goat and llama farming is the go up here and at the second to last casa the grandma, mum and son watched us toil our way past. There were 5 river crossings – all of which required shoes off so a good wee enforced rest each time. Not far past the last house in the high valley we found our campsite for the night. We had a strong down valley wind rattling our tent all night but we both slept well and more importantly woke feeling good.
Another head wind day which made the 900m climb to the pass harder work. At the first switchback we rode thru a herd of llamas. The road was mostly at a pretty good gradient and pushing was only required on rough switchback corners or when the corrugations were bad. There were a couple of sections of sheet ice which had us slithering around trying to get our bikes and ourselves up.
Finally we were on our last couple of long zig zags and then on the windy summit. I had my first fall off my bike – combination of the excitement of getting to the pass, the very strong side wind and some loose gravel. I lay there for a while enjoying the view of the sky! Just as we reached the pass a vehicle coming the other way stopped so we were able to get a photo together before we raced off down the other side trying to get out of the cold wind.
We descended for an hour and decided the next town (26km away) could wait and we had enuf food to stretch for a night – we were pretty tired and the camping options looked inviting – firm tundra as a change from dust and a babbling brook. We had a comfy night (again at 4100m) and the 2hrs the next day into San Antonio were more enjoyable, us being fresh and no wind.
We treated ourselves to a nice hotel for the night and that led to getting a lift with a couple to the famous train viaduct (about 50m high) that was put in to access copper mines and now is a tourist ride from Salta. We weren´t going to bike 36km on our rest day to see it so were excited to still get the opportunity in the luxury of motorised transport (our first since our hitch on day 3!)
Now we are gearing up for a tough 6 days to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, over 4 high passes, 2 possible villages and heavier loads with water carrying to cover one and a half days of no water. The winds are strong from the west each day, esp. in the afternoons, so early starts and pushing into the wind. Oh yes and did I mention the sections of corrugated sand. But it is meant to be spectacular. Will let you know.
Unfortunately this internet connection is VERY SLOW and struggling to upload photos so will update this post in a weeks time when we get back to internet land.