Andes Trail Stage 54-57, Oct 12-15, 2019

Stages 54-57 of 109, days 75-78 of 142

Photos and routes on Strava

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America5,30977858,035
Andes Trail5,02776954,425X

Missed distance 282km, 3.5 stages (19/20 and 31/32)

Our last full day in Bolivia was a rest day in Tupiza. I didn’t feel like doing any touristic things so just did some shopping, bike cleaning and adjusting (tightened headset), and relaxing. In the evening 8 of us went out to a fun restaurant right near the hotel – a very simple and nice rest day.

In the morning, we had to walk over to the other hotel to fetch our bikes, then left at 8:30. We rode fast in a group down the canyon, with nice views of the sometimes vertical walls.

After 30km, Andrew and I let Wytze and Jens drift ahead and continued up the hill to lunch at our own pace. Our awesome lunch truck driver, Wijnand, had found a killer spot, with shade under the trees, next to a stream. We had climbed 600m to over 3400m but it was pretty warm. After lunch we had 45km of mostly flat cranking.

Jens had a couple of flats then suddenly we were in the border town of Villazón. We found some money changing places right by the border and converted all our bolivianos into pesos for Argentina. Exiting Bolivia was weird: just pass on through – they didn’t even look at our passports. On the Argentine side, there were a few windows with a few people waiting. It took maybe 10 minutes, visa no longer required for US citizens.

From the border we had 1km to our hotel in the border town of La Quiaca. The hotel seemed pretty nice although the wifi overloaded and died as we all arrived and connected. I shared a “suite” (a normal hotel room) with Michael and it had nice shower. Dinner in Argentina doesn’t start until 8pm, so I went out and checked out the town – most everything closed and dark. But the supermarket was open so I bought food and beer for a snack.

A little after 7, we went out to look for a restaurant and found one nearby that looked great. Somehow someone let us in and things were looking up: they had eight artisanal beer taps!

The kitchen didn’t open until 8 but we had a great time drinking IPA and eating snacks we brought until then. Dinner was great too although it’s hard when you get up early, ride hard and then don’t finish dinner until 9:30. We had lost an hour as Argentina is 4 hours off California time so it wasn’t so bad.

Our first full riding day in Argentina started out with a normal breakfast, maybe a little better than in Bolivia. We left the hotel at 9:15 and rode out of town on a straight, flat road.

I forged ahead at first, then was caught by a big, fast pack. We cruised on and on, trading the lead, then lunch came early at about 55km. It was great though, as Wijnand had found a great covered area for shade.

Then we had another 65km to go to camp. We had the most disciplined pace line ever: 6 riders each taking 2km pulls. That lasted until about 90km when the hill started and simultaneously the headwinds hit. Wow was it suddenly hard! It was sometime side wind which is sort of worse in a pace line. We applied rule 5 until we got to the top around 100km, then had 20km more of pedaling downhill into the wind. Camp was along the road, with plenty of flat space. Here we were still over 3500m and it was quite windy while setting up and eating dinner. We had the usual Llama ceremony and Jan gave a nice speech then presented me with the Llama.

I now get to carry her for some days until the next ceremony, then I get to present her to someone – for doing something amazing or stupid or painful or whatever I like. We had a campfire after dinner too.

It rained a couple of times in the night so I left my tent up for the sun to dry during breakfast. We left after 9, with 150km to go and the headwind already blowing up the valley. The headwind continued the whole day but our saving grace was that we had over 2000m of descent and only one small climb. We dropped from over 3500m to under 1500m. I rode in a group as it was crazy to tackle this on your own.

Lunch was nice around 75km, then back at it. Somewhere around 90km all the traffic was backed up – in both directions. We rode down the middle, on the dirt on the right and left – there was no good solution. It got crazier as we passed cars and buses and trucks by the hundreds. I have never seen such a mess.

It went on for several km, then we got to the cause of the problem: a section that was super muddy. It was like there was a 10-20cm thick layer of liquid mud flowing across the highway. We had to ride the middle here, threading very unsafely between giant buses and trucks and cars. The mud was spraying everywhere. I looked down after we got though to see my shoes were completely covered in red mud.

But we were free and riding along. At about 125km, we had our hill for the day, pretty small, but it started raining on top. The next 20km to camp was pretty crazy too: coasting about 45 kph in rain, barely able to see, on a major highway with drivers pissed off from the multi-hour delay due to the mudslide. Somehow we made it down the 600m descent and turned into the campground, still in rain. Soup was ready but I was frozen and had to have a shower first. The facilities were basic but the water was hot. Then food, then I found some of the smartest (and fastest) people had upgraded to cabins. Only about four were available. Michael and Jens were looking for a roommate who doesn’t snore so I volunteered. For about 2000 pesos total ($33) we had a nice two room suite with a good bathroom. Jens took the money I gave him and bought a dozen beers for 540 pesos – that’s $9 for about 6L of cold beer. We sat on the veranda sipping, reliving the day. Dinner was great fun, indoors, with the rest of our beers and the Bike Dreams red wine. We stayed up afterwards since it was somewhat warm.

I slept really well and didn’t wake up until 7:15. Just had time to pack before 7:30 breakfast, then we took off just before 9. It was cloudy and cool but luckily no longer raining. We continued down the highway, going fast with Rob and Wytze setting the pace. The road got more and more freeway-like, then we passed a no bikes sign. We took the next exit then the fun began. Rob had a back way into Salta that was excellent! First uphill a bit, into the fog. Actually it was a lot of fog and we hadn’t really ridden like that before. It was super thick but luckily there was very little traffic in either direction. It collected in my beard and eye lashes. Eventually we started a long descent, and at the bottom, around 45km, the fog lifted. The next road was a toy road – so narrow it was comical. A sign said it was 4m wide! It looked so crazy with a center line painted and signs just like a real road, but 2m per lane! It curved around, up and down, through a gorgeous forest.

Somehow Wijnand had taken the truck on this road (and had a stern talking-to from the local police) so when we got to about 60km, there was lunch, all set up. It was a special day since from now to Ushuaia, he will be driving the other truck and our new driver will be doing lunch. So he served us some special cookies and cakes along with the normal awesome food and great music. The new guy has some mighty big shoes to fill!

It was still cool and damp when we got back on and then cranked to Salta. It was 60km, and Wytze declared that it was “Jens Day” so we would go at whatever speed Jens wanted.

It was a fantastic ride, one of the nicest yet, curving along, little traffic, always pretty, never boring. After 100km I found myself wishing it would last longer. But soon we entered Salta and cruised a bit off route to stay on the autopiste (freeway) as it was faster. Downtown, we decided there was no reason to get to camp early since we would just have to help with the party preparations. So we found a great coffee shop and stayed an hour and a half, amazed at the choices on the menu – like more than 10 types of hot chocolate. And churros! It really felt European, I guess like Spain since everyone spoke Spanish. But it could’ve been Italy or wherever. Just so nice!

We cruised the last 4km to the campsite and set up tents. At 6pm, the grocery store opened so we bought several liters of beer with snacks, pre-party provisions. At some point we walked over to the party and Rob was cooking up a storm. They had so many kinds of salads and meats and even fish on the barbecue. Along with beer and wine, it was really a celebration. We are losing 10 people here in Salta, including two staff, Lucho the mechanic and Henk the non-lunch truck driver. We gain about 7 although only a few were already present at the party. Rob and Anneke gave little llamas to each departing rider and introduced Marc from Belgium and our new Dutch mechanic, Ype. It was very unseasonably cold unfortunately. Just a couple of days ago it was 37C. But at the party I was wearing both jackets and people we huddled around the barbecue pits for warmth. Marc told me the same party in 2016 was very very different – he rode from Quito to Salta then, and is completing the ride to Ushuaia this year. Dessert was had, much talk, but I was really tired and only lasted until 11:30. It was loud and there was lots of light shining on my tent but that didn’t stop me from instantly falling asleep. We have a couple of rest days in Salta now, then we continue south.

One thought on “Andes Trail Stage 54-57, Oct 12-15, 2019

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