Thursday, December 4, 2008

Rather a lot of Up, and Even More Down

And I'm talking quite literally here, in the gains and losses of altitude kind of way, not in any new age, bunny-hugging emotional way. We're tougher than that out here!
So we left Mendoza with a lot of new ideas, courtesy of Cecilia, a moto-adventurer of pretty much the whole world on a 20 year old BMW something or other, which will disgust all the real bikers out there who won't understnad why I have no idea what kind of bike it was. A pre-cursor of the GS I believe, but maybe only a 1000cc, I'm not sure. Ask Rich if you really care. (Sorry Cecilia, no offence meant, I just struggle to keep that kind of tekkie stuff in my head. Too busy trying not to fall off, I expect!).
Anyhow, she suggested a pass into Chile further north than we'd planned, which meant ditching our return to Valpo, which was a pity, but these things happen. So north we went, blasting up the main roads to save some time, but nonetheless going over some more stunning gravel on the way. We got a night at a thermal spring near a small town called Fiambalá, and as well as a very therapeutic hot soak, we both managed to pick up some kind of lergy, but whether from the tap water or the spa water we'll never know. It hit us in different ways, getting Rich in the belly and appetite, and me a fraction lower down, but at least I could keep my energy levels up with the tasty dry bread and shrivelled fruit we were able to seek out in the town.

So, a little later than planned and with frequent bathroom breaks, we set off over the Paso San Francisco to Chile, certainly our highest road to date, climbing to a, quite literally, breath-taking 4700m. Once again I was slow off the mark with the video camera and missed a chance to film the first valley we went through, so will have to re-live that one with photos, but I pulled myself together enough to get the camera in place and film some of the rest of the ascent and descent, so hopefully that will come out OK.

The poor bikes suffered almost as much as for lack of air at that height, and from about 3000m up we were struggling to get over 60km/h and having to drop gear(s) like a desperate junkie (does that simile work? It'll do). The Argy customs were typically swift and efficient, but for some reason insisted in checking my boxes to see what I might have been taking out of the country, a frustratingly long process now that I have to tie the boxes on with 3m straps. They then told us it didn't matter anyway as it was going out, not in, so I huffed and puffed them back on to the bike. Rich, meanwhile had a 100m chase of his laminated registration document as the wind whisked it away. He gave up the chase, and one of his lungs, at the 100m point, and resorted to the copy rather than high altitude coronary. Wise move.

Eighty kilometres along and 1km vertically down later, at about 5pm, we got to the Chileño customs, and once again, after an incredibly slow processing of the bikes, I had to remove and open my boxes, which were duly barely glanced at, and restowed them, with even more huffing and puffing than before, and set off for more down. It was about 7.30pm by now, and the sun was in our eyes, energy levels were low due to lack of appetites and strenuous packing of bikes with no air, and we still had 176km of gravel to get us to town. Thats about 3 hours on normal gravel, so the prospect of a high altitude camp out was on the cards for sure.

By 8pm with 120km or so still to go, and feeling decidedly cold, achey and sick,we decided to stop at the conveniently placed gold mine. Not a tiny, rustic, western-movies style shaft propped up with wobbly beams type of mine, but a full scal, hard core, modern processing plant with security guards and everything. They wouldn't let us into the compound, but did let us camp outside, gave us food and, most importantly from my point of view, let us use the bathroom facilities. All this at an unknown altitude, but still high enough to make rapid movement put us out of breath.

In the morning, we packed up slowly, still feeling a little ropey from the dodgy water (Rich felt pretty bad, I just still needed the loo too much), and set off down a remarkably smooth un-paved road to Copiapó. This time I remembered the camera early and hopefully got some good footage of parts of the remaining descent. In Copiapó, we struggled to find a hostel as everything was booked up (summer season, of course, hadn't registered with us, and all the previously empty hostels were now full everywhere we went), and while I pestered the tourist info lady to call round for us, Rich got chatted up by a local fireman, who called his captain and they invited us to stay at the station, which we did. Many repeated converstations later and Rich passed out upstairs, and slept for a solid 18 hours. I kept the social end up with tales of daring do, amazingly accurate biro maps of NZ, its fire districts, economic infrastructure and cartoons of whales and shellfish and sailing boats, and was finally persuaded to go for a beer or two at midnight. Four hours and another decidedly dodgy "Ladies only Firestation" later (OK, it was a pole dancing club, but they certainly slid down their poles just like a fireman would) I stumbled into bed and passed out myself.
It is now the next day, I am about to cook lunch for the boys as a thank you (at 3pm), and both Rich and I are feeling a bit better, thank you for asking (although Rich is still off food a bit). We'll have one more night here, and maybe two if he is still not right, and then head north some more, but until then, I'd better get my pinny on and cook up a storm. Good old sausage, eggs, chips and salad, à la the NZFS all round. Now go and brush your teeth and get ready for bed, its far to late to be playing on your computer! See you next time, if you can bare it (or should that be bear it, I never know with that one).


ed said...

Hope you recover from too many rapid movements without losing too much weight. Better stock up on beer and chips in case... there may not be an outlet of the Fireman Mafia brotherhood for a few miles.

Great read as always Bro. Take care.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff Steve. We are in Amsterdam and the mighty Remco has all his maps and books to follow in your tyre tracks!
Stay safe.
Matt (forgot the passwords etc)