|Ride time (hours)
|Ride time (hours)
Sunday, January 20th, 2013
I didn't sleep much. Periodically a cold blast of wind would come through the tunnel and wake me up. I finally gave up trying to sleep and rolled out of the sleeping bag at 7am. At least it was easy to pack up without having to break down the tent. I ate a quick breakfast and started the climb towards the tunnel.
I couldn't take the bike through the tunnel so I headed up the old pass, on ripio, that goes up and over into Argentina. This road was an endless series of switchbacks with a pretty bad surface. I really struggled, this is the highest altitude I've ever reached on the bicycle and I was really feeling the effects. The pass starts at 3,100 meters and ends at 3,780. Near the end I had to take a break every other switchback to rest and catch my breath. I could tell it was the altitude by the way I was drinking water, at a furious pace but I could only take one gulp at a time otherwise I would lose my breath. That had never happened to me before.
At the top is the Cristo Redentor statue... I didn't see a soul on the way up but the top was full of tourists who had come from Argentina, a few by bicycle, some hiking, and a whole bunch by bus. I bought a hot chocolate and an alfajor then I collaped in front of the view for a while. The view down into Argentina is fabulous. The mountains have shades of red and green rock, and high up there is snow and ice.
I made it down to the Argentine border control post at 2:30. As it turns out the border posts are keeping hours in tune with the hours that the pass is open. Thus the Argentine border post is open from 8pm to 7am, while the Chilean border post is the opposite. Shit. That meant more waiting. When I first got there I met a pair of Canadians who were trying to sort out a problem they had with a missing stamp. I translated between them, a gendarme, and an Argentine customs agent until they sorted it all out. I thought that this meant that there was hope for my situation, however all the Chilean border agents were sleeping. I needed both the Chilean exit stamp and the Argentine entry stamp so I was out of luck...
The Canadians were in a tough spot. They found out that they were missing a stamp when they hit a checkpoint 10 kms down the road. The police there made them drive back to the border post to sort it out, using up the gas they needed to get all the way to the next gas station. They figured they could make it three quarters of the way. The police at the check point had told them that the border post would sell them gas, but when I translated that to the gendarme he just snickered and shook his head.
I went down to the little pueblo nearby and had a big pizza. This pueblo was chock full of tourists, I spoke with a German family from Köln for a few minutes. While I was at the café there were a couple of young Americans boasting loudly about shooting people in Iraq. It makes me cringe when I see Americans behaving stereotypically obnoxious. I don't know if the other people there could understand what they were saying, but I was embarrassed.
Out of things to do in the town, I went back up to the border post to wait. I wrote entries for the blog and talked to some of the other people in bureaucratic limbo like myself. A family from Córdoba was stuck because they decided to turn around when they found out they would have to do the return journey from Chile at night, when they got back to the border post it was closed and they had to wait like me. Nice people, the son is studying architecture. They had lots of questions about my trip and how I managed different situations.
A couple came by later on that didn't have enough Argentine pesos to pay the toll. I gave them what they needed in exchange for Chilean pesos.
The gendarme kept saying the border agents would be there soon, first at 5pm, then at 7, then at 7:30... they eventually wandered in at 8 but didn't do anything but drink mate until 8:30. I got out of there at 8:45 which left me a half hour of daylight. It was raining by the way... I rode about 5 kms down the valley, saw a possible spot next to the river, and decided to camp right there. I made a huge and healthy dinner to make up for the dodgy eating of the last few days. I am completely knackered, hoping for a good night's sleep....