Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Off The Beaten Pass to Ruta 40

When the cloud of dust clears, I see Azure on the ground against her bike. Her foot hurts but she seems ok. David puts a smile back on her face by showing her the distance to pavement with his thumb and index finger. I look at the bull dust hole that took her out and wonder how it is possible that this happens now after all this dirt in the past couple of days. I lock the Gobi case that came off during her pirouette in the sand, back where it belongs and fix her mirror. Azure gets back in the saddle and, in a lot of pain, makes it to the perfect tar that is waiting for her on top of the hill. We are all enjoying the smooth black material under our tires and rapidly roll down the mountain with the volcanoes in our mirrors getting smaller and the temperature getting higher every second.  San Pedro de Atacama is like an oven but we are glad to be back in civilization and in a country where they are happy to sell us clean, good gasoline! 
After 4 days of dust this was pure joy!
After taking care of customs upon arrival in town, David and I hunt for a place to stay while Azure stays with the bikes. Every place is shocking expensive ($40USD+), but the decision is made easy when one of the hostel owners, upon hearing that Azure has hurt her foot, comes running with a bag of ice. It is nice to talk to people again and we get lots of questions about the journey and the bikes. A good night's sleep later, we are already missing the silence and solitude of the Lagunas. 
Ice Ice Baby! ...and still smiling!

See that little sparkle in his eyes? He's sure to be in the next generation of adventure riders!
We stock up on water and food and ride to the Valley of the Moon. A hefty admission fee and loads of backpackers on bicycles make us turn around and set out for the Sico Pass to Argentina. We have mixed feelings about “missing out” on this touristy highlight, but Azure's foot still isn't in good enough shape to go walking and none of our budgets welcome high price-tags. When the sun sets, we see a red, rocky outcrop in a furthermore empty desert and we know we made the right decision. Aside from some furry creatures we have our very own valley of the moon. After a simple noodle meal our smiles get even wider while we sit back in our comfy chairs and enjoy a full moon rise over us.
The good thing about the heat is that you have to stop for a sip of water now and then and you get to appreciate your bike and the surroundings from a different perspective.
The paved riding was short lived, but we're loving the dirt on Sico Pass.

That looks like an awesome place to hide from the wind. The gravel track leading up there was a bit deeper and more loose than anticipated...
David claimed his spot on top of a rock.
Sunsets are overrated!

Oatmeal for breakfast on this chilly morning.
 The landscape does not disappoint but the corrugations are getting old fast. After a nice stop at the most efficient border crossing in South America and another one at a checkpoint where Azure almost steals the guards dog, we're in Argentina! Annnnnd it is back to corrugation. Azure, still in pain and lacking patience for the concentration today's ride requires, slams on the brakes and takes a siesta on her bike while David and I have lunch in the sand.
All the work that goes into...
...Taking this shot. Welcome to Argentina!
Best Border crossing ever, complete with soccer table! First window; check out of Chile. Second window; check in to Argentina. Why is there no waiting line when you want one!
This smelly dog ran along Azure's bike for about a mile before giving up and returning home with a disappointed look on his face.
Even though I've lost count of how many times I've done this, I am still excited to cross this little line now and then. ;)
The "I am done with corrugations" pose...
Finally we make it to a small town, San Antonio De Los Cobres. There are no ATMs and the gas station doesn't accept cards. We're directed to change money at a hotel nearby. The rate is not great, but it means we can fill up our tanks, get some food and get on our way. A sign directs us to the beginning of Ruta 40, a famous road that runs along the Andes and stretches for over 3000 Miles. They are planning to pave most of it but for now it is back to eating dust. Soon we are facing a 16.404 Ft pass and we have a bit of an argument about what we should do. Clouds are coming in on the horizon and I want to make it over the pass before the weather comes in. Azure and David have had enough and want to call it quits as we ride past an idyllic campsite. I push for riding the pass before setting up camp and reluctantly, they give in. 
Not quite from kilometer "0" but this where the fun starts! Ruta 40. In some sections they have a sign with the remaining distance every kilometer. Quite a tease if you have a couple of thousand k's to go to Ushuaia.

The road is back to back hairpins all the way up and the views are spectacular. The clouds look threatening though and we can’t wait to be going down again. The other side of “Abra del Acay”, the highest pass on Ruta 40 is different. The road up was good and wide enough for a truck. The road down is washed out, more like a track, with steep drop offs and to top it all off, strong gusts of wind. Azure is in heaven! (not) and I opt to turn down my headset as she expresses her frustration at me for pushing us over this pass. The going is slow and the steep drop offs are quite frightening. In some places the cliff next to the road has collapsed onto the road and we have a hard time getting by. Many stream crossings later we arrive at the ruins of some buildings. Just when we're about to set up camp a 4x4 stops and warns us to get out of there. “The rains that fall here will wash everything out” the driver says. Tired and exhausted and with the protection of the ruins, which, it seems, have stood their ground for many years, we decide to take our chances and we pitch our tents. Not long after the heavens open up.
Drying our gear after a night of heavy rains. It was nice to sleep in a house for a change ;)
We are thrilled to see blue skies in the morning and after drying our tents, we continue rolling down the pass. We come across some Frenchies that are going in the opposite direction on their bicycles. Respect! It is a beautiful day and the landscape is getting more colorful as we ride into a valley. Massive cacti are everywhere and the road conditions have improved dramatically. When a sign welcomes us to a wine region Azure is the happiest person on the planet.
The side of the road had collapsed in many places making it an "interesting" ride down.

Respect for the Frenchies!
Our kind of road...
Complete with colorful graveyards in the middle of nowhere.

We rode up and down this section 2 or 3 times... just because we could!
As close to heaven as Azure can get on Earth.
While David is digesting his first Argentinian "Asado", Azure answers questions about our journey.
She is less happy when we end up at a fast flowing river. We look at each other and conclude that this must be why the group of guys 5 kilometers back were shouting at us. Ok they had some beers in their hands but they obviously meant well. :) David heroically attempts to cross the first small obstacle. He makes it through but his bike almost completely disappears in the rushing water. “No way” I hear Azure say. David, upon returning from checking out the big crossing, has come to the same conclusion. We have lunch on the side of the road and back track to a bridge over the river. Just for the record, there were no signs. We fill up gas on the other side of the bridge and talk to big group of dirt bike riders that give us advice on how to continue. A car stops and a man comes walking towards us. “Is this yours?”, he asks, showing me my bush craft knife. What?!? No way. How did I loose that? Hold on… How did you find me?!? He says he found it on the road. I must have left it on my side case after lunch. But that was 10 miles ago! How did you know it was mine?!? Thankful, I accept my knife and put it back in its sheath...
Can we try them all!?!
We stop at a small, Belgium style, brewery in San Carlos before heading into Cafayate. The “Hecho mi Burro” beer is fabulous and the setting just perfect. After stocking up on a variety of "Burros" we ride into Cafayate to find a place to stay. We work on the bikes, taste some wines and have delicious empanadas. Friends of ours had recommended we ride a road leading Northeast out of town. With a few hours of daylight left, we marvel at some of the most spectacular landscapes we've ever seen. Deep purple and dark red rocks form the horizon and we just don’t know what to do with ourselves. Then David disappears in some sand dunes and we follow only to find the biggest smile on the face of one of our best friends. Happiness. Only a bike ride away!
Someone is excited about his first wine tasting tour ;)
So are we! Especially Azure as I am her DD :/
No better way to end the day than a sunset ride.
Argentina is surpassing expectations so far.
Looking for David ;)

Take that smile off your face!



  1. I am still researching my route for my trip in 2018 but was expecting to go all the way down the Chile side but this post is making me reconsider. You say there's an admission fee to the Valley of the Moon? I thought it was just a road that went through, why is there a fee?

    1. It's a national park, as is the Valley of Death on the North side of the paved road West of San Pedro. The fee is $3,000 Chilean pesos (about $5 per person). You'll get a map with viewpoints and hikes pointed out. NO walking or riding off the road or few trails.

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