Sunday, 8 July 2012

Made it, done it, did it, The Andes on a motorbike

After an age of preparation last night and running just short of a million things through my mind I managed a grand sum of 2hrs sleep.  I’d packed most things the night before but still had loads of clothes left in a pile.  But seeing as I was expecting it to be cold I decided to wear as much as I could.  I wore no fewer than 4 layers all over, which I didn’t know at the time, made my legs look nothing short of ridiculous.  I wore 2 pairs of thick thermals, a pair of trousers and a pair of jeans.  The trade off for keeping warm being everything was so tight I couldn’t bend my legs much and my jeans appeared sprayed on. 

All packed and ready
I finished loading up and set out just after 9am, and after a few wobbles I was pretty confident at handling the bike.  Getting out of the city was fine, and relying on the GPS I was pretty sure I could get to the right motorway that led to the mountains.  Of course too much to ask as I ended up on the wrong highway – GPS was not a star buy of mine and google maps lacks a little.  So 30km outside of the city I found a group of taxi drivers and asked where the hell I was.   By their faces they seemed fairly surprised by my request for directions, which upon seeing my photos tonight was probably more in amazement as to how it is possible for a grown man to wear such a tight pair of trousers.  I in return was equally surprised as I understood the directions they gave in Spanish.  Eventually though after a good hour after setting out I was on the right track.  

By then nothing phased me and I was really enjoying it.  The sun was out, I wasn’t cold and I stopped a few times for photos.  I was the only motorbike on the roads and getting closer and closer to the mountains the sheer size of them really started to feel like I was about to do something pretty exceptional.  It was when I got nearer to the Paso Internacional Los Libertadores that I knew all the pain of getting to this point was worth it, in fact literal pain, as it turns out the bike seat is a bit numbing after a few hours of riding.  Paso Internacional Los Libertadores is a famous section of road comprised of 29 switchbacks which snake up steeply to 3200 metres.  It also lets you get pretty close to Aconcagua (South America’s highest peak).
Paso Internacional Los Libertadores
Top of the pass, around 3200 metres. Celebratory star jumps possibly not necessary
Riding through this pass is definitely one of the world’s most amazing journeys, being so close and personal to such huge mountains straight from National Geographic is nothing short of special.  There were deep snow drifts on either side of the road, and a massive number of huge trucks who quite blatantly own the roads.  At the same time below me I could see people dotted around skiing on the slopes.  

Snow clearing Truck at the top of the pass

Some of the trucks I had to dodge all day
Reaching the border control it was not exactly clear what to do (for me that is), and when I got to the first Chiliean control point I was simply waved on past 100s of parked trucks into the tunnel that goes through the mountain.  It was when I got to the Argentine control on the other side and only had my insurance document glanced over that I got a bit more confused.  To this point no one had checked my papers or stamped my passport.  I was out of Chile and into Argentina but I didn’t know whether to celebrate or turn back and find out what the deal was?  I just kept going, which has worked out well so far in this trip and after about 15km I came to a building that coaches were turning into, which appeared to be the control for tourists.  I could have easily kept going but luckily I didn’t as it was finally the immigration building I needed.

This first border crosing before the tunnel
Riding through the tunnel
Now it was the moment of truth and after a short queue I handed over all my papers including the "Padron" application letter.  I quickly folded over the top so the heading did not give away that it was not the full document (yes I know a feeble effort), and attempted a typical Englishman abroad conversation about the weather.  While I attempted this feeble subterfuge someone called out my name and looking round I realised the girl in the car behind me was Timi, a friend of mine from Buenos Aries who I had not seen for a few months, yes yes a small world indeed.   

Bumping into Timi!
Maybe because we were holding up the queue chatting or maybe because of my cunning/ridiculous concealment of the "Padron" amongst all the docs I don’t know, but somehow it worked.  It wasn’t bad at all, and despite all the trepidation to this point I was given a 6 month export visa for the bike!  Happy days.  I'd made it into Argentina.

Final control building - the one I actually needed!
I said my goodbyes to Timi and went on.  The road from here began to drop down, there was less snow, more sun and I was really loving it.  On top of this I was actually back in Argentina which until this point had seemed unlikely to happen.

Brief stopoff at a ski resort on Argentine side to regain the feeling in the legs!
The road eventually turned into long sweeping sections though scenic valleys and canyons so wide you couldn’t see the where they ended, really surreal landscapes.  I wish I could have stopped more than I did but it was to be the worse driving section of the day.  With such open sections of road the wind was terrible to ride and I was being blown so hard across the road that I could actually feel both wheels lifting up below me.  This combined with line after line of trucks gaining downhill momentum and reaching speeds well over 100km/h, made it pretty dangerous.  To make this worse every time a truck went past me it sucked the bike in all kinds of weird directions.  I tried different tactics but in the end had to settle with slowing down whenever one passed or overtook, sometimes down to 30km/h which seriously ate into the amount of daylight I had left in the day.

In fact this took so long that I didn’t reach the nearest town called Uspallata until about 5pm and there was no way I could make it to Mendoza before it was dark, so I decided to try to find a place to stay in Uspallata itself.  This was a little tough as it turns out this weekend is a holiday weekend in Argentina for Independence day (9 de Julio).  Argentina I love you but do you really have to have a public holiday every week?  All the campsites, hostels and hotels were full and no one would let me camp anywhere.  Luckily just as I was about to find some dodgy camping plot by the river just outside of the town, someone offered me to use a spare bed in their room.  I had to pay a bit more than planned, but it doesn’t matter.  After 8hrs on the road, and witnessing one of the world’s most amazing sights, I made it over the Andes.  Weirdly too, despite riding all day I can still see the Andes from my window albeit from the other side....crazy stuff.  


No comments:

Post a Comment