Leaving our unexpected and comfortable accommodation at the border, Stephano, Tracey and I set off towards the next town (some 68 kms away). We were promised that the Police there would be expecting our arrival and would be happy for us to camp behind the police station.
The corrugated concrete road surface, together with sand, made riding a slow business. It was even slower for me than for Stephano and Tracey on their mountain bikes with minimal luggage (well that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it). The ride was tough, and got tougher as the day went on and the sand in the road became deeper. But it was still nothing short of spectacular, and it was incredible to be riding through this crazy landscape without cars or lorries (maybe 5 cars passed all day).
As I rolled into town, I met Stephano and Tracey again in Ollacapato. True to their word, the Police were expecting us and were happy for us not only to camp, but also to use the toilets at the Police Station (leaving the back door open for us at night). Whilst it might not have been the prettiest campsite in the world, the shelter and facilities were much appreciated.
Ollacapato exists, I suspect, only because of mining. It was clearly a tough town – constant beating sun, heavy winds, and really not a lot to do.
Leaving town the next morning, I was on the road that links the mines there with other parts of Argentina. Whilst the traffic was still infrequent, it did mean the occasional lorry.
Unfortunately, given the dry and sandy conditions, this was what then followed, so I made sure to get to the side of the road well in time, just in case another vehicle was following and unable to see me.
The landscapes remained amazing however and the road took me to my highest altitude of the trip so far (and I suspect of the entire trip), Alto Chorrillo at 4560 metres above sea level. Probably because of the gentle increase in altitude (as opposed to flying or driving to altitude) I suffered none of the effects of altitude that I’d previously experienced in Nepal. No headaches, no sleeplessness, and not even oxygen problems as I climbed hills. The body is a remarkable thing.
From this point, a few days of fun started as it was pretty much all downhill to Salta at 1150 metres, but still over 200 kilometres away. The scenery was spectacular, and the downhills were awesome (despite brutal headwinds at times).
Notwithstanding the incredible scenery, the towns in this part of Argentina weren’t much to shout about. I hate to think what would have happened had I gone into the video shop or the (probably somewhat optimistic) tourist information.
In another one-horse town I met with Dante, an Argentinian who was cycle-touring with the added complication of being deaf and without speech. We had great conversations using a combination of lip-reading (which must have been difficult for him, given my beginner’s Spanish combined with accent) and writing messages on phones. We rode together for a couple of days and also camped together at one of the prettiest campsites so far.
There’s no way that my pictures can do justice to the incredible countryside. It was a fantastic welcome to Argentina. And as altitude dropped a little, the countryside was suddenly littered with Cacti, some of which were enormous.
I was a little bit worried by this sign, warning of a control of weight and dimensions. Luckily, the police officers on duty just waved us on, but of course not until they’d asked whether we had enough water with us.
I was also pleased that (once we were out of the super remote areas at altitude) the people were hugely warm and welcoming. The second picture is of a little train that’s used to transport workers from one of the mines. The waves given as I took the photo were typical of the welcome from those I passed on the bike. Super friendly people with a great sense of fun. Argentina had started really well and I was looking forward to seeing more.
My blog is, in fact, a bit behind. I’m actually back in Chile now (I’ll be criss-crossing between Chile and Argentina from now on). Over Christmas I’m going to be with John and Gertje, good friends from my time living in Pakistan. They’re now in Santiago, and kindly offered to host me over the festive period. I’ve also agreed to house- and cat-sit here over New Year, so it’s another good break before I set off South again.
Hoping everyone has an enjoyable and peaceful time over the Christmas period,