February 4 to February 7, 2012
The journey to get to San Pedro de Atacama was one of the most amazing and difficult rides we’ve had on this trip.
We left Salta early and headed towards the border with Chile. The road takes us into the Andes and we begin to climb and climb and climb. We pass by verdant green pastures as we climb higher and higher. The switchback road is in good condition as we make our way up in to the Andes.
The air is thin and we are both feeling the effectives of the altitude. You can’t get your breath and even the shortest walk is debilitating.
The border is at Pass de Jama – 4,660 metres. Just before we get there we stop for something to eat and meet an Argentinian couple. They have coca leaves, the local cure for all ills – they help a little, alleviating the effects of the altitude.
Leaving Argentina behind us we have a 170 kilometre ride to the Chile border, on the outskirts of San Pedro de Atacama – a high altitude desert town.
There is snow on the roadside, it’s bitterly cold, down to about 5 degrees. The bike doesn’t like the altitude and we don’t like it either. Headaches, breathlessness are all part of it.
As quickly as it hits us it passes. Once we begin to drop down in altitude the bike resumes normal operations, we feel a damn sight better and the temperature comes back to 30 degrees!
The flamingos are a major draw card for us. They live on the Salar de Atacama not far from the town. The road out there is perfect, even the hard packed salt. The flamingos are just perfect. It is calming to sit and watch them going about their business oblivious to our presence.
San Pedro de Atacama is perched on the edge of the Atacama Desert, famous for the Dakar. It’s also famous for the geysers. We leave town around 4.00 am to get the best view of the geysers at dawn. We are over 4,000 metres again and we are feeling it. The shortest of walks is really had to take.
High up here we meet the Vicuna that lives above 3,000 metres. This cute creature is a relative of the llama. It was nearly hunted out of existence because of its fine wool. It’s now protected and just as well.
This desert town is a tourist mecca and we enjoy our time here but Texas calls and we must move on.
Riding out of town we ride through some amazing landscapes heading for the coast. We took a day to get to Iquique and then another to Arica before heading back up into the Andes for Putre where we spent a couple of days trying to acclimatise to the altitude.
Riding in to Putre we rode through the clouds moving at about 20 kph. There really isn’t much in Putre. People visit for the national park nearby or to get used to the altitude. It’s about 3500 metres and walking around town is difficult. Soon we’ll ride over the Andes again, back up to over 4000 metres.