Cycling in Chile

Paso Sico

by Bicycle Junkies

“Move around, be nomadic, make each day a new horizon.” – Alexander Supertramp

“Never again, I’ll never do this again!” Those were my words after crossing Paso San Francisco last week. And yet, here we are. Cycling the Puno and crossing into Argentina over het high Andes.

For a moment we are in doubt. Should we or should we not cycle the detour to Laguna Miscanti and Miniques? We ask ourselves if we will regret it or not? So, the decision is easily made; yes we should! We leave the smooth asphalt and turn left onto the corrugated and sandy road. And it’s a climb too… from 3900 to 4250 meter, from sun towards dark clouds and snow falling from the sky. We need a couple of hours of pushing and slow cycling to cover the 6 kilometers to the entrance of the park. There’s nobody here. We quickly put on some warmer clothes and continue towards the lakes. Deep blue colored and yellow grass in front and dark clouds behind the lake. Sometimes the sun is shining on the spectacle, making it even more impressive. It’s already 5 o’clock and soon it will be freezing cold and we find a nice camp spot near Laguna Miniques…

Cycling Paso Sico

Laguna Miscanti

Just as we are about to jump inside our tent, a white pickup truck stops. The whole day not a living soul in sight and now we get company? But, it gets worse…  the woman apparently belongs to the National Park and she summons us to leave right now.

“Uhh, that’s impossible. It’s getting dark, we can’t go now, we’ll freeze to death!”
“Well, you are not allowed to camp here, too cold, if you die here, I’m responsible…”
“So, it’s ok if we freeze outside the park?”
“Now, listen to me. You can’t camp here. If I agree, tomorrow we have a 100 cyclists camping here…”
“Yeah, right..”
The conversation goes on like this for a while, but we are getting nowhere… She is unrelenting. And in the mean time it’s gotten dark and really cold. We do get a ride out of the park, but as soon as we passed the gates, she literally throws us out of the car. Leaving us in the dark en cold night… flabbergasted.. Now what? With our headlights we find a spot that looks ok, behind a few rocks. We put up the tent once again and warm ourselves with hot tea and a pasta meal.

Cycling Paso Sico

Pasta a la Gustav en Nicolas
Aspalt is history and we are now fighting the sandy road, which sucks on our bicycles. You can pedal all that you want, but speed drops dramatically. Meanwhile the icy wind is blowing at full speed as we pass yet another salt lake with a few flamingos in it. In the distance we see our next water refilling point at 4400 meter: Mina el Laco. We turn left and enter the mining area, two man walk outside to greet us. Gustav and Nicolas hurry to give us water and they invite us to come in for a hot coco and a plate of pasta with tuna! See, hospitality is back! These two friendly man take care of us! We thank them and head towards the highest pass on this Andean corridor: Abra El Laco at 4578 meter.

Cycling in Chile

Sunset in the Atacama Desert on our way to Paso Sico

Not just one, nor two.., but many high altitude passes!
In 2007 Elmar and I cycled Paso Agua Negro, with it’s 4779 meter a little one. 😉 The road to the pass is not so steep, but still, we thought we did a great job. Which we did of course! Now, looking back, Agua Negro is a piece of cake! It’s one way up and one way down, no more than that, just one pass. Paso Sico (and Paso San Francisco for that matter) are a little more complicated. After the 4578 high meter pass, a couple of other big ones followed; 4458m, 4340m, 4560m.. and then there all the little ones in between. There’s no traffic, very little human activity and you really need to keep an eye on your watersupply, because it’s difficult to fill up. Yes, now, we are really proud of ourselves. 😉

Cycling Paso Sico

Sticky mud

And the landscape, the Puno, it’s a different world. Apart from the vicunas there’s little signs of life here, the wind is freezing and mind blowing, the plains are endless, the road are in bad conditions and the nights are freezing. It’s huge and we are just two little dots in the middle of this. There is nothing, there is nobody but us and we feel great! It’s hard to explain what it feels like, especially for those who live in crowded countries such as the Netherlands. Just try to imagine riding a couple of hundred kilometers without a shop, a restaurant, a hotel, a village, people… Maybe you get an idea. But actually being here, brings shivers down my spine.

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