Sunday 2nd February 2014
Had a reasonably interesting night last night … just when I thought I was going to be the only person in Hotel Susques, a 4×4 pulls up with two drenched Scots and two drenched Brits in it. Turns out they were mountaineers and had been in the mountains for 4 days trying to crack one particular mountain that has yet to be climbed. These are not your ordinary ‘run of the mill’ hillwalkers …. These guys were up to their armpits in snow at 18,000 feet when they decided the summit was too dangerous in these conditions. Funnily enough, it didn’t seem to bother them, nor did the obvious hardship they had endured … that’s just their thing! Anyway we had dinner together and they went back to Britain this morning.
For my part, I headed out with the relatively modest (I thought) plan of San Pedro De Atacama, via Paso De Jama. The petrol guy in Susques assured me petrol was available at Paso De Jame and therefore I didn’t have to carry extra in plastic. Relief! Off I went and I must tell you now, it was the best motorcycling day of my life.
The first 130 odd Kms to the Paso were on perfect roads, with unbelievable views of the Andes, which were all around me I only made an average speed of about 80Kph because I was stopped looking at the vista so often.
I have lots of video! Things took a slight turn for the worse when I got to Paso De Jama …. It was very high and when I went into the building to go through the border crossing torture, there was a bus load of people in the queue. It took me over two hours standing in line for Exit Argentina, Entry Chile, Chilean police and finally Chilean customs, who came out with me to inspect the bike. When there were no witnesses he offered me Chilean currency for Dollars – for which I was grateful and a deal was done. The two hours was not the problem though, I had built that into my plan …. The problem was after about an hour of queuing, I started to feel dizzy … and even considered feinting for a while! I knew what this was …. Altitude sickness doesn’t hit you immediately, it takes about 24 hours to kick in. I recognized the symptoms though and knew coffee etc was not what was required. What I need was food and water …. Except I had now cleared immigration, customs, police – a 2 hour process, and the only shop for the next 160 Kms was in San Pedro De Atacama, but I could smell the food from the Service station 200 meters away – in Argentina! Needs must, and I told my Chilean customs agent cum foreigh exchange dealer that I was either going to feint or go back to the Argentinian shop …. He would just have to decide in my absence if that represented a threat to Chilean National Security. It worked out well for me because he didn’t want me talking to his colleagues having just sold me currency, so I got a friendly wave when I returned – rode 250 meters into Chile and sat down to comsume my food.
It was funny, because I couldn’t concentrate on the simplest things …. It was difficult to get my jacket off ! I made a video of what was going on, and when I tried to talk to the camera, I forgot simple things like what altitude I was at …. Looking forward to seeing that video! Anyway, within about 30 minutes the food and water worked and I was right as rain.
I left Paso De Jama for San Pedro … and to describe the scenery as simply stunning would be an understatement …. I hope my videos give an idea of it. Not long after I left, I got to the top of the altiplano, about 4,800 Meters …. With the Pampa De Guayques to my north side, and again I hope some of my pictures give an impression of how unique and impressive it is.
Even though I was already at 4,800 meters, a short distance to my north, west and south, I was overlooked by massive snow capped mountains surrounded vast inhospitable plains, inhabited only by Llama.
About 80 Kms into Chile I came across a right turn, a dirt road which read, “limite Bolivia 5Kms”… I was almost tempted, except that I had climbed very high now and like yesterday, discovered that there is a part of me that is not comfortable above 5,000 meters … and when I looked to the north, high as I was, I could only see the dirt track disappearing towards a simply enormous snow capped mountain …. I was glad of my decision to leave Bolivia for another day …. Despite the voice in the back of my head saying “go on … it’s only 5Km …
Shortly afterwards there was another sign …. Chile ahead, Argentina behind …. I went on. The road was even more spectacular than the roads I have already described …. It took me about 3 hours to reach San Pedro De Atacama because I was on and off the bike so much with the cameras. There was a deep blue sky and a searing sun, but it was very cold, even thought the Ducati said it was 9 degrees. About 70 Kms I came over a crest and in front of me was what looked like all of Chile …. Thousands of meters below me. There was a 40 Km long, straight descent to San Pedro, with incredible vistas of Salar de Atacama. Again, I took a lot of video footage.
When I got to San Pedro – I was surprised, I was expecting something of a metropolis and it looked like something out of a cowboy movie set at the turn of the 20th century … There was a fiesta in town so lots of people about, and I looked for a hotel, but hotels were very difficult to regognise, because they all look like mud huts. Anyway after one unsatisfactory exchange with “Juan Gonzales” who took one look at me and gave me a Chilean price equivalent to $150 for one night in a hovel with no bathroom, I found a better option and made no bones about telling Señor Juan what I thought of his pricing policies. I know – I shouldn’t … but it made me feel good. (“Señor, puede ser que soy un gringo, pero no soy un idota!).
Now I’m in a very cosy … (1 star?) hotel, with good internet, so I’m catching up on my blog …. After that, I will figure out how to get back to Argentina and eventually Paraguay. The same route I came is not out of the question because I could really enjoy the biking – I already have the photos and videos. Whats more, I know the fueling requirements … so it would be a very nice “concentration-free” spin. I’ll have to look at all options first.