The hostel owner at San Antonio (de los slow internet – note have uploaded rest of photos to last post now) mentioned a polar blast but we listened more to his prediction that the weather was improving the next day. Lost in translation was the fact that 3 cold fronts had joined force and were about to hit. Maybe a good thing we didn’t fully understand as we may have not left the hostel.
Instead we headed off early wondering if the grey skies meant a little rain later on. The wind got stronger as we got higher and by the time we got to the 4560m pass it was snowing and blowing. We got to find out if we had enough gear to bike in polar blasts at altitude. We did though we found out that our flash warm gloves did not work well on our twist shifter gears so we had to improvise. Cool (or rather warm) to find warm thermal water running alongside the road at one stage – pity it wasn’t body size or we may have stripped off. We were pretty thrashed and cold by the time we made it to the desolate mining town of Olacapato but our enquiries at the policia helped us find a hostal. The thought of putting the tent up on the wet snowy, muddy ground was not what we needed. A couple of hours later the world was a better place – the estufa (heater) was pumping and we were warm and dry again and looking forward to chicken and chips cooked up at the hostel.
The weather was fine the next day so we carried on to Catua – no wind for the first hour was blissful and the new snow on the sorrounding hills lovely. Biking across the salt flats, the wind picked up in our faces and then we hit the thick mud which clogged our bikes and pushing was even marginal as there was no grip on our shoes and our bikes didn’t want to roll – we keep thinking we have seen the worst and something else is thrown at us.
Luckily it wasn’t a long stretch and after de mudding our bikes we were able to progress forward again. The climb to the 4330m pass was again tough because of a head wind and the temptation to camp strong but it was worth pushing on to the next town as we had little extra water for a night out. Another tough day but we made it to Catua and our salubrious accommodation inside the mud floor town hall better than camped out in the wind. We met 4 other cyclists who had been a couple of days ahead but stopped by the weather. Apparently our pass, Paso Sico, into Chile was closed but we were optimistic we would get through – surely there wasn’t that much snow .
The next day was beautiful and we figured we would have a short day to the Argentine Immigration before carrying on. We had a great morning ride to the Aduanas with amazing scenery, a good road and no wind but arrived to find out that there was no way we were able to keep riding west on this route – apparently metres of snow on the Chilean side and no-one was allowed through. The road is not a major one so no snow clearing is done – mega bummer as we were really looking forward to this section.
On the positive side we got to watch the Sunday soccer match between the Catua locals and the border staff and we got a lift back to Catua – sweet.