Turned out I was just in time in San Antonio for the San Pedro holiday. It’s the protector of the fishermen, making it their big day. They haul a statue of the saint on a boat and make two laps around the harbour. I was lucky enough to be on the same boat! The other fishing boats followed us along the huge container ships for the yearly ceremony.
I stayed for two days at the ‘casa del ciclista’, a project run by a group of cyclists urging to build a bike lane in the very industrialised city. The government lets them use an abandoned house, which they tidied up so they can have their meetings there and can let cyclists stay there.
After my last day cycling the Chilean coast, I got to the big city of Vina del Mar. I stayed with Pablo, a friend of Bertille, and started heading towards the Andes mountains, aka border with Argentina.
At the foot of the mountains, I had another warmshowers host in Los Andes. Before getting there, I ended up staying with another lovely family. Ruth, the mother and head of the family, fascinated me that much with her story, her wisdom, her love for her children,… that it was almost noon when I left the next day. What a privilege to meet such wonderful people… “You are the missing piece of our chess game”, she told me. I felt very touched.
The Cristo Redentor pass being closed for a while due to heavy snowfall, had me waiting in Los Andes for a day. Then I got cracking! After all, I had to get to 3200m, quite high knowing I came from the ocean.
It being the main road between Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil, there’s no surprise that it was a busy road. I finished the day with some 30 hairpins, getting close to the pass. The guard of the army, although very surprised seeing a cyclist in winter time, couldn’t let me stay at the complex, but he got me in touch with a police officer working at the immigration post. It being -13 outside, I was quite happy that they let me sleep inside!!!
Up until my last night in Chile, I was received with hospitality.
At the top, I got escorted through the three km long tunnel, as it is too dangerous to cycle.
Then, one hell of a downhill! After dodging all the trucks on my way down to Uspallata, I got on the quiet road towards Barreal. I felt so good!!! I was really happy to be back in Argentina with its big distances and few people, its endless camping possibilities and superb views.
My enthusiasm didn’t let me get out of the saddle and I ended up riding until 1 am, clocking up 217 km, a new record of this trip. With the moon illuminating the road and mountains, and with very few traffic, it was a magical experience.
A day later, I embarked on a 85 km dirt road of which I had gotten a lot of mixed advice. I believed those who had been there most recently. Apparently it was in good condition and police had told me there were people living there, so I didn’t need to carry much water. Ha! What a joke! I find it truly amazing how people can tell you certain things which are so not true!
In other words: I was in for a surprise. First of all, after climbing out of the valley, I got to a very soft section where I was pushing more, than that I was riding. Then turned out there was absolutely nobody living here. The road being so bad, there was hardly any traffic too.
But what a beautiful setting! There was absolutely nobody around and the views were just stunning. For a moment, Argentina made me believe I was alone on this planet.
Picking a camp spot sure was very easy! Just about anywhere will do really!
Luckily two cars passed me the next day, giving me water.
Once on the tar road, I managed to get to San José de Jachal after another 8 hours in the saddle, where I had another Warmshowers host. Turned out there were other Belgians staying there too! What a coincidence. The rest day sure was nice, I had cycled a stretch in three days which I thought might take me six…
Then back on the ruta 40! This road runs from North to South Argentina, if you remember well, and it was now the third time I got on it.
The big distances over a straight road, made me want to progress fast. Although it being winter, I was still cycling in t-shirt! Nights were more chilly, some of them just below zero.
I got to Chilecito where another warmshowers address turned out to be a small camping ground with lots of cyclists! I ended up leaving with Federico, an Argentinian who started cycling from his home town along the ruta 40, Junin de los Andes, one month ago.
The road being somewhat monotone, it was very nice to share it!
And I had a good motivation to get to Salta quick! To spent my birthday! Rocio, a friend from Buenos Aires that I had met earlier on the trip, wanted to travel a bit in her holidays so took the bus up to Salta. So couldn´t be late!
There was some stunning riding to be done between Cafayate and Salta too! Very spectacular valley!
It was quite a change to get to such a big city again! I had been getting used passing from one small village to the other through dry landscapes.
After a couple of days in the city, Rocio and I took a bus up to Humahuaca, some 250km to the North, from where we were going to hitchhike back down.
What an area! First we hitched up to 4300m to see the mountain of 14 colors.
Hitchhiking was so easy! It always took less than 3 minutes to get a ride! We also met great people along the way who took us around to visit other places too. Just perfect!
Then we spent two days in Tilcara, hiking and visiting the Inca ruins.
Last stop: Purmamarca. The small village lays at the foot of another very colourful mountain which is just too pretty to describe. From there, we could also hitchhike up to 4200 m, to visit the Salinas Grandes (big salt flats). Soo much easier by car than by bike!
From there, we got the bus back to Salta, where I had left my bycicle. Rocio started her crazy 22hour bus ride and 7 hour train ride back to her home… Distances sure are big here!
I had gotten a bit sick, so spend another few days in Salta with lovely people I had met in the park while slacklining 🙂
I was now so close to Bolivia!!!