Saturday, December 13, 2008

Farewell Chile and Argentina, Hello Bolivia

So its true then. Firemen the world over, be they volunteers or professional, exist within a brotherhood of support for their colleagues. The boys at Copiapó certainly did their bit to keep us alive, and it was a little sad to have to say goodbye to them, but say goodbye we did, and off up the coast we went.
The first day was an easy one due to recent ailments - only as far as Chañaral, a small grotty town with a great fish restaurant, owned by this old wrinkly fella who stopped us on the street and chatted away in English to us, which he'd learnt 40 years ago as a merchant seaman travelling the world. He also spoke Norwegian, but only really practiced the English with friends in town. Turnd out he was 70 years old, on his second wife, had 6 kids and about 15 grand kids and 3 great grand kids. One of his grand-daughters was older than his youngest daughter, and he was proud to tell us he was still all man, about 5 times a week! He was a real character and despite having no teeth, spoke far clearer Spanish than most people we meet!
From Chañaral we split up, Rich taking a sandy goat track (he was assured it was a firm road in good condition) and me going the main road to Antofogasta. Rich's other mission was to check out a windsurfing spot (only good if you have your own gear apparently), and I went to see 007 at the movies.
We re-convened at San Pedro de Atacama, where we stayed for a couple of nights, it being the Chileño salt flats and impressive Valley of the Moon (all the countries seem to have one of them it seems), before bidding farewell to Chile as we headed over the Paso de Jama (a mere 4200m this one) and on to Salta.
This should have been a straightforward day, all be it with some gravel, but the 500km took 12 hours, as we ended up firstly taking the wrong Ruta 70 (only one road marked on the map, but we went down 70a that wasn't marked on the map at all) which was extremely corrugated, and very sandy, although not deep sand, fortunately. I hated every minute of it, although by the end of the day I had to grudgingly acknowledge that I had got better at riding on the surface. Good practice for Bolivia, I guess. On the up side, we got a stretch of 80km or so of fantastic, smooth, well cambered, curving blacktop to let rip on, and Rich really got to work on his chicken scratches. Unfortunately, they saw fit to take away our reward and stick us back on a very dusty stretch of gravel, just as Rich's bike decided to have a funny turn and cut out every 10km or so. He finally worked out that it only did it on the down hills, and that far from being a mechanical problem, it was user error, and he had run out of fuel. Ha ha. Ha.
A couple of rest days in Salta saw us girding our loins for the final push to Bolivia, and on to the unknown. After arriving in Salta through cactus strewn desert and dry sandy valleys of incredible formations and colours, we drove through town and left on a road that went through grassy farmland and up through dense rainforest on another great, winding, single lane road. Shortly afterwards, it returned to desert, and with rain clouds threatening, we made it to La Quiaca, the last town right on the Argy-Bolivian border, famous for...nothing really, other than being the last town on the Argy-Bolivian. We toasted Argentina, bid her a fond farewell, and prepared for what we both hoped would not be a very rainy rainy season, and roads that, though un-tarmac-ed,would not be mud, or sand, or nasty in any other ways.
And that,dear Reader, is where I shall leave this entry, to be continued afresh with tales of adventure and derring do in the great unknown of Bolivia next time. We are on the trail of Butch and Sundance, so wish us luck. Stay tuned for some final thoughts and observations of the first 21000km of our trip. Soupy twist.

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