Argentina: La Quiaca to Cafayate – crossing the Puna

It took us a while to get across the border into Argentina. There were no problems, just volume of people and thoroughness of paperwork.

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Within 18 hours of crossing the border we, unexpectedly, found ourselves crossing back in to Bolivia again. With it being a Sunday, banks were closed and the only place to change money was on the Bolivian side. Luckily the crossing went smoothly and we were soon back to the campsite in La Quiaca, after 2 hours and 4 new stamps in our passports. Our first night in Argentina boded well as there was a municipal campsite and friendly Argentinians.
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A wrong turn out of La Quiaca took us onto an eastwards trending road. Our tandem friends were having a bad day of punctures and broken spokes so we continued onwards, with the promise of catching up down the road. Unfortunately, we took a little longer than our Aussie friends to realise our mistake and our paths took very different journeys for a while. Catching up down the road ended up being a lot further south than anticipated.
Our journey took us back onto the dirt roads to try to correct our mistake and get us back to the right road. However, the dirt was so good and the scenery so beautiful we decided to keep on the dirt for as long as possible. There followed 6 days of quiet unpaved roads through the Puna.
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The flora and fauna must be so tough to survive in such a harsh, dry environment.
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Every late afternoon and night the clouds would gather and give us the most spectacular electrical storms. There would be ground shaking thunder claps and strobe-like lightening strikes all around us. The winds would gust from all directions.
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However, every morning would dawn peacefully and calmly, as if nothing had occurred during the night.
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Despite the ferocious storms, the area is very dry and we had to carry plenty of water and bang on the doors of random houses to ask for more. The high altitude sun is intense and we sought shade wherever we could.
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We arrived in San Antonio de los Cobres in a very dirty, dusty and tired state. The perfect celebration of making it to civilisation was our first Argentinian meal of steak and a lovely Malbec wine. After a day resting we were ready to tackle the highest mountain pass in Argentina, Abra del Acay, and then drop down off the Puna and head towards wine country. The climb was a steady ascent up a dirt road, with a stunning camping spot on the way.
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We felt jubilant at the top, little knowing the descent to come was going to be one of the most challenging of the trip so far.
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The road is closed to traffic for the rainy season as sections of it are washed away. It is not maintained until the dry season returns. It was lovely not to have to share the road, however, the road conditions were a bit bumpy.
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This was not the challenge though. We had to cross the main valley river 5 times, each time the river was bigger and stronger.
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Having survived the mighty torrent, we found ourselves in greenery.
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Cycling in the opposite direction were a group of local cyclists heading up the pass, with a pick up truck support wagon. They were very friendly and shared their Powerade, however, it seemed wrong to take this away from a 77 year old. Respect to the group, I hope I’m tackling such challenges when I reach that age.
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Part ways down the valley we finally reached wine country and treated ourselves to a night at a vineyard. What luxury after the wilds of the Puna.
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Thereafter followed three days of tough cycling through very sandy and pebbly road conditions. At times it was like pedaling through treacle or you were worried about being spat off your bike in a very soft patch. The landscape distracted us and the thought of reaching the heady delights of Cafayate kept us going.
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We were delighted to enter Cafayate and even more excited to be reunited with our Aussie tandem buddies. Celebrations were suitably Argentinian.
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