the top of Argentina

..diary entries for the last couple of days…

27/03: Above the cactus line… Humahuaca to Abra Pampa..
I knew today would be the hard day on my way up to Bolivia… It was. It was 51km of steep at times climbing to the high point of the day at 3850m (about 13,000 ft), the worst of it was there was also some descending before climbing again so total elevation gain would have been around 1200m for the day, not much really at lower altitudes but up here I found it hard going as I’m still not acclimitised to the altitude… however the scenery was fab so that more than compensated for the effort.
the road north... an amazing surface and very quiet :-)
cactus by the defunct railway.. I left the cacti behind at about 3300m altitude
roadside cemetery about 30km north of Humahuaca
I did have one ‘incident’ while stopped & messing about with my camera… I parked my bike against a rock only for a gust of wind 5 minutes later to blow it over so I could watch it, fully loaded, tumble down a 15ft embankment in slow motion… testament to the strength of the thing that the only damage was a broken front brake ‘noodle’ and a brake lever knocked out of alignment. My front brake still works fine, the cable routing/attachment is just a bit agricultural now. ho hum :-)
at about 3600m here, fabulous colours in the rocks
spot the old railway bridge
I had in mind a plan that said I had to get at least to Tres Cruces at 3700m and camp there if too knackered to continue… but despite lots of faffing about with photo and food stops, and a freshening wind (not from behind…) I was there by 2pm, albeit feeling pretty well exhausted. I bought a litre and half of coke and sat on the pavement admiring the desolation.
Tres Cruces serves as little more than a customs stop for vehicles coming from Bolivia
Tres Cruces
The road sign at Tres Cruces said Abra Pampa was only another 28km away, so with plenty of caffeine and sugar flowing through my veins I figured I may as well carry on… especially as Abra Pampa is about 200m lower than Tres Cruces :-) It was a nice road, gently downhill and then flat… but heading directly towards an enormous thunderstorm towering over the puna…
a very Andean roadsign..
and sure enough 10 minutes later..
The last 10km into Abra Pampa were a  race against the rainsqualls and lightning bolts heading in from the northwest… which was stupid really, I have good raingear… it was very dramatic with a dark curtain of rain throwing up clouds of dust along it’s line of advance with it’s force and thunder cracking across the mountains. The road was straight and I could see the town from 10km out… I had the wind in my face but thanks to the altitude the best I could manage was an anaerobic 23km/hr… I arrived utterly exhausted in the desolate streets of the town just as the wind arrived ahead of the rain… clouds of dust and grit blowing violently through streets deserted apart from the occasional hardy soul hiding in a thick coat.
3.30pm in the afternoon as day turned to night
I only rode 91km for the day, which took 5hrs… with the storm really kicking in and on my last legs I found a room in town for about £11.. the only room in town I think (a block north of the plaza on Sarmiento if you need to know) and only spotted thanks to a scruffy little handwritten sign tacked to the crumbling wall next to a telephone office.
Abra Pampa
Was so shattered I had to go straight to bed with a bag of food and a couple of ibuprofen, every muscle in my body hurting. I only ventured out later with the storm still going on to visit the shop across the road and reconfirm my first impression of the place as ‘desolate and windswept’. Felt better after steak, chips and salad for dinner :-)

28/03: The end of Argentina – Abra Pampa to La Quiaca…
It was a cloudy, cold and windy morning when I rolled out of Abra Pampa.. I was feeling pretty weak and tired still but had no desire to stick aroundso settled down for a weary 71km into a fresh wind to La Quiaca… just 5km out of town I bumped into James, a cyclist from Vancouver I’d met briefly in Humahuaca.. which was great, good company, good conversation and an opportunity to share the work into the wind.
altiplano near La Quiaca
meet James.
Not much to write about the journey – high up, windy and gently undulating… but it felt hard with the altitude and the wind, the sun did come out however which improved things massively.
yours truly..... can't see the bags under my eyes here :-)
We stopped at the remote outpost of Puma Huasi to eat a sort of lunch (crackers, avocado and cookies). Nothing much here but the now defunct railway line, some crumbling adobe buildings and a statue of a llama.. makes a change from the usual revolutionary hero… perhaps this llama belonged to Che’s cook or something..
Puma Huasi
Puma Huasi
It sounds an awful place but it was beautiful with the only sign of life being music booming from a doorway across the railtracks that I assume was the local drinking hole..
to everyone who thinks I'm a bit mad... a bicycle is far the best way to travel here...
La Quiaca itself is something of a bleak and windswept .. (damn, must find some other words)… place but friendly based on an encounter with a nice old gent on a beautiful chinese built bike that looked like something from the early 20th century with it’s polished rod brakes and cottered cranks.
the end of the road... and the end of the asphalt, from here on I think 1000km of Bolivian ripio...
Tonight then I feel like a total fraud.. we decided for our last night in Argentina to take a room at the best gaff in town.. big fluffy towels, a hot shower powerful enough to take your skin off, wifi, breakfast and a swimming pool :-) Heck there’s a lot of camping and difficult riding coming up and it’s only £10/night each anyway… and another good night sleep needed :-)
la Quiaca

Postscript… having had a wander around La Quiaca and met a few folk I’ve decided it is a good place. It is not pretty, far from it.. (the church is beautiful however) but the people are nice and it’s got everything you need… we also met a pair of hilarious guys from Brazil in a bar here this evening … visiting family they live in Florianopolis.. a world away from here with sun, sea, beaches, warm nights and beautiful girls.. they were being complete dudes and were unashamedly direct in calling us crazy for coming here… and when we mentioned we’d come up here on bicycles too their expressions were priceless, a very fun encounter.
La Quiaca.. mostly bicycle friendly :-)

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