Days 554 - 561: Extreme Oxygen

First lunch in Argentina, stll on the altiplano

Villazon, Bolivia to Salta, Argentina 395 km

October 30 - November 5, 2013

To be in Argentina is something we have been dreaming about and imagining for months.... But actually being here seems to have stirred up a whole cocktail of feelings.  For much of Peru and Bolivia I just couldn't wait to get to the potable water, clean washrooms and generally cleaner environment.... But I have to say, now that we are here I realize that all these luxuries come with certain drawbacks.  Things are a little pricier and we feel A LOT grungier!  There have only been a few times on this trip when we have experienced changes when crossing into a new part of the world... We experienced a shock of consumer activity when entering southern British Colombia, the culture and general economy changed drastically at the USA- Mexico border, and when we crossed from Nicaragua to Costa Rica we found a much more westernized world.  Crossing from Bolivia to Argentina has probably been near the top of the list in terms of cultural changes.... Aside from generally more hygienic conditions (have I mentioned this before....), the culture seems to have a strong European influence, the consumer world seems to be largely 'American-style', and the road system seems to be very well maintained and well marked.... I could go on...  But, mostly we are excited to be here, and to continue this incredible adventure in this beautiful country.  A particularly nice part of being in Argentina thus far is riding at relatively low altitudes, and feeling a bit like machines after all of our high altitude training!

Northern Argentina: Part One

Villazon - Puesto del Marques

Our departure from Bolivia was a little delayed, although we should have expected this.  We knew that there may be fee for us to enter the country, but we were hoping that it wasn't yet implemented.  Turns out it was, it is called the 'reciprocity fee', and essentially came into being because Canada charges Argentinians to enter Canada.  There was not a line up at the border and we were quickly stamped out of Bolivia, but then the Argentinian officer asked for our reciprocity fee receipt...which we did not have.  It turned out that you can not actually pay the fee at the border and that you can only pay it online.  So Glenn waited with the bikes and I went back into the town to find an Internet cafe.  After a bit of hassle I got the fee paid, brought our receipts back to the border, and around noon we were on our way.  The ride was fairly flat and featureless .... We would still be on the altiplano for a couple days.  When we reached the small village of Puesto del Marques, we asked about camping in the one of any authority seemed to be around, but the guy waiting for a bus said he thought it would be fine, so we set up camp.  It was a quiet night, with some entertainment in the form of a teenage school group on a trip who were waiting for a lift.   

Puesto del Marques - Riverside camp

We woke up to some tunes on the radio... When I emerged from the tent I saw a lone radio sitting in the middle of the plaza.   We went about our normal morning routine, and a little later along came the plaza gardener and proprietor of the radio.  We excused ourselves for camping without proper permission, but explained we could not find anyone....he clearly was not concerned and just asked if we had slept well.  We carried on down the quiet road and towards the canyon de Humahuaca.  We were cruising along around 3400 m, and I knew that we had a bit of a pass (up to 3750 m), but I had mistakenly thought it was 10 km after the town of Abra Pampa...turns out it is about 30 km after this town.  Assumptions like this are not good for the cyclist 's brain!   To make matters worse, my front wheel was making an unfortunate noise.  It was the one that had the new hub on it from Tupiza, Bolivia...and the noise seemed to be worsening.  We thought it might be the spokes, but all our attempts at adjusting did not do we just carried on.   We ended up finding a lovely place to camp right by the river.... The river was very low, and the water was a little murky, but otherwise it was idyllic!

Into Argentina!

Riverside camp - Tilcara 

We had a lovely fast day, losing about 700 metres in altitude, with a bit of tailwind to boot.  We made good time and arrived in the town of Tilcara mid afternoon, we decided to find place to camp with a had been more than a few days since our last ones.  We ended up camping at a Hostal, which was a little pricey, but we were able to do laundry and of course shower!  We also discovered that wine is seriously cheap in this country, like $1.25 for a litre cheap! Of course you can spend quite a bit more, but even $3.00 will get you a tasty bottle. Yum.  Otherwise the price of food seems to be reasonable, and even on par with Bolivia - it is just restaurants and hotels that have become out of our price range...We enjoyed a quiet night with a bit of a light show from lightning in the distance...

Tilcara - Yala

What a day.... We lost over 1000 , but had a strong strong headwind all day long...making progress slow! We pushed on into the wind and into what appeared to be a storm approaching.   When we reached the small town of Yala, just about 15 km from the bigger city of Jujuy the storm seemed to be right above us.   We checked out a campground, but we couldn't bring ourselves to pay to camp a second night in a we decided to bike down a side road and look for a camping spot.  Unfortunately we were nearly out of food, and in Argentina nearly all the stores seem to close between 1:00pm and 6:00pm....being 4:00 pm we could not find anything to buy.  As we were biking around it finally started pouring, huge, giant drops! We were soaked, but luckily it was not very cold.  Finally I found a few squash and some we headed down the side road.   The rain was heavy and as we made our way it was joined by hail! We stopped under a tree for a little relief and looked back to see a young woman waving at us to come into her house.  We quickly pedalled to her place and she welcomed us in.  Her name was Belen, and she and her friend had recently moved to this little house and spend their days making crafts which they sell at artists markets.  They shared some food and Yerba Mate, and offered to let us camp in the yard.    When the rain let up a bit we set up camp, and made some dinner...during which the rain set in again.   The rain would continue steadily for almost 24 hours....and thanks to the the rain we discovered that our tarp is no longer water proof (although slightly better than sitting in the rain), our tent has some leaks, my odometer reached its ninth life, and my ukulele warps when wet!  .....good things to know.  

Tilcara - El Carmen

It was still pouring rain when we woke up, but we got up and packed anyways....always a special joy in the wetness.  We had a wet ride into the city of Jujuy and found a cafe with wifi, where we made a bigger mess taking off our rain gear than the workers probably would have liked....but they were nice about it! We wanted to get in touch with a warmshowers host, who we wrongly thought was near Jujuy, and we also needed to find a bike shop as my wheel was still clunking.  We did not have any luck getting in touch with the host...but we did find a nice bike mechanic, called Thomasito.  He and his worker fixed up my wheel, it turned out that it was in a slight oval shape.  They were so so nice, and would not even let us pay for the work !  We then spent a good long time in the central plaza, drying some stuff out and trying to decide if we should stay in town or carry on a little ways.  We were having a terrible time deciding, and were both generally tired and grumpy...sure signs that a day off was needed.  We checked out one grungy looking hotel, but at $22 a night we could not do we pedalled off in the direction of Salta.  Luckily after a couple of hours we came to a beautiful municipal campground.  The place was nearly abandoned and they let us camp under the picnic shelter in case of more rain.  It was a fairly peaceful night, which surprised us because it was saturday night....

In the morning we decided to take the day off at the campground....the worker asked us to move over to the camping area across the field, which was no problem as it was a beautiful sunny day.  I  pedalled a few km back to town to get some more supplies and we started to do some washing.  Then people started arriving, more and more and more people.  Until almost every picnic table was full and every BBQ was filled with big piles of smoking meat.   We had a friendly family right beside us, so we were trying to make the most of the situation...but then a couple of cars pulled up, opened their hatch-backs and started blaring music from their built-in giant boomboxes....our Canadian sensibilities were thoroughly shocked by this behaviour! Finally I asked them to turn it down, and they did for a bit...but then it was up again.  Luckily people drifted out in the evening and the night was quiet.  And, if nothing else, we now know to avoid campgrounds on the weekends!

The campground scene...

El Carmen - Salta

Today was the day we thought of the title Extreme Oxygen....not only were we riding between 1,100 and 1,500 m.... It was extremely lush and beautiful....the result - we felt as if we had been injected with steroids as we climbed up the hills.  I don't think we were out of breath all day! The ride was absolutely gorgeous...weaving its way around dykes and lakes and along lush cliff sides.  The road had tiny lanes, and was only 4 m wide edge to edge! But it was closed to buses and trucks, so we just had a little bit of traffic to share it with.  We arrived in Salta around 4 pm, and headed for the main plaza.  We have been tailing the 'Genners' an English family that we first met in Panama, since Potosi, Bolivia.  We knew they were still in Salta, so we took a chance and emailed them to see where they were staying.  We were a little worried that we would not be able to find anywhere cheap in Salta, so we were relieved when they emailed back right away with the info....

So now we are relaxing for a day or two at a hostel full of cyclists.... In a city with all of the western weirdness one could hope for...