Crossing Andes via Paso de Jama (4750m?)

Dear blog followers. This post is not easy to write, because for the first time during 9,5 months I failed to do something.

Failing is maybe too harsh word to describe what happened. However,  if you had seen me (or heard me)  swearing in the air that last day, shouting nasty words because I felt so weak and abandoned, you would’ve said that something went wrong with my planning. Here is another day by day summary about crossing Andes from San Salvador de Jujuy (Arg.) to San Pedro de Atacama(Chile).

update (11.11.2013): The site www.bikemap.net  has a detailed geographical data of the route Jujuy- San Pedro de Atacama. According to this site the highest peak was around 4825m

1st DAY 67,21km (Jujuy 1200m – Purmamarca 2200m):

I leave Jujuy at 10a.m, as I know that my destination is only 70km away. I buy  for this demanding Andes stretch a new sleeping pad, sweater, woollen socks, thicker sports socks plus dish washing rubber gloves against the wind (thank you Kevin fro the tip!). I also fill three water bottles, so I carry 5,5 litres of water all together. This amount should last for two days.

10km after Jujuy I bump into two American cyclist doing only few hundred kilometres with light bikes. They go much faster, but as they stop for a lunch break I pass them seeing them for the last time. There is a 15km uphill, which I manage without problems. The wind is also in my back so I reach very touristy Purmamarca at 3p.m. I find a camping place, fix my puncture which I get while cycling around this small village, eat a pizza and get some rest before next days climb to 4000m.

2nd DAY 89,28km (Purmamarca 2200m –  Salinas Grandes (3500m)

Ok. The road from Purmamarca goes 35km uphill, reaching 4170m at the best. Sounds hard, but it takes only five hours of cycling to reach the top. And as I climb with a smiling face, the mist turns into a clear skies and the views are just outstanding. I also meet three Brazilian motorbikers who stop just to say “hi” to me. Apparently one of the bikers  is going to study to Finland in Autumn, so we exchange emails.

The weather is perfect, bike shorts and a long sleeve shirt is enough to keep me warm. After the pass the road goes down to the Great Salinas, which looks like a frozen lake. I take some cliche pics on the salt and continue onwards wiht a strong tailwind. The next town is called Susque,  situated 130km from Purmamarca. At one point I’m hopeful to reach it the same day, but faith comes in between.

My speed is around 30km/h when I see a house (this is very deserted area) on my left. Just to make sure that my water supply lasts, I stop to ask for some water. I walk my bike up to a man sitting near a well, washing clothes. “What do you want” he asks me in Spanish. “Just water” I say showing to the well. Old man is grumpy but turns out to be helpful and gets some water to me. It’s not drinkable but for washing myself or cooking it’s good. I thank the man, and as I’m about to leave the man shouts “Pare”! I stop, the man walks to my bike, points at my tyres and says: “Pinchas”. And indeed,  the route I took to walk to this man was full of small spikes from some sort of a plant. I had at least fourty spikes pointing on my tyres, which were still looking full. I start to take the spikes out, and my front tyre with Scwalbe Marathons keeps it’s innertube unharmed. Then I take the first spike out of the rear Continental tyre, and it is the immidiately  “ppsssshhhhhh” what I hear.

So, it is an operation for exchanging innertube, tyre back to Schwalbe and taking out all of the spikes sticking in the other tyre. It takes maybe 45min before I can continue, so I know I won’t reach Susque that day. Which turns out to be good thing, because I find empty brick building idyllic for camping just 10km after this incident. Sunset is beautiful, spaghetti I cook delicous and Lama heard next to my tent completes the perfect evening.

3rd DAY 80,07km (Salinas Grandes 3500m- Salar  3900m)

I sleep well. There is no traffic during the night, and I’m not  cold at all. I pack my gear and hit the road at 8:07. The views are not that super special, something like Iran or Tibet. Dry mountains as far as you can see.

The wind is ok, so I arrive to Susque at 11.30a.m. I tank my water bottles, buy some sack  soups, liver pates and bread. I also need to stop at a gas station to full my MSR gas bottle. At the gas station is also a restautant, so I take a local soup and charge my phone. The owner of the restaurant speaks English and he gives me some advices.

1) after 40km there is a house on your right side. It’s the only settlement before the border, so I should camp there.

2) at the border there is some shops and a gas station

3) from the border crossing it’s 40km to the Chilean immigration office. Otherwise there is NOTHING on the way. But the road after the Paso de Jama is  downhill. Reachable in one day.

I thank the man, and continue to this settlement good for camping. But the moment I start cycling from the gas station the wind turns into a very heavy head wind. My average speed is probably around 9km/h, so it takes lots of energy and 3,5hours before I see some houses on my right. My spedometer shows 33km, bu I can see 30km ahead, and there are no houses in the horizont. So, I turn right on a dirt road for these houses. Two cars come from the settlement towards me, and in the second car seems to be the manager of the Litium mine the place is supposed to be. He says, that he comes back in one hour (he speaks some English!), but I should just say that he allowed me to camp near the houses.

The house looks to be very close, but in the end it is around 5km from the main road. Wind gets very heavy, so I have to walk my bike in the end. I’m invited into the house, and as I explain that I need some good place for camping, one of the workers shows me an empty room and says I can sleep there. WoW! In the end I get a room, hot shower and a Pizza supper with dubbed Los Simpsons and Futurama. There are five workers sleeping at the station, but everyone has his own room. I feel like in a James Bond movie… middle of nowhere wiht some miners.

The innertube I changed yesterday goes straight to waste. It has at least ten punctures.

4th DAY 79,46km (Salinas3900m-Jama 3900m)

I’m glad I didn’t camp that night. The wind was reaching 63km/h, and the manager says that during winter time the wind can be even 100km/h. Though I shouldn’t worry. It’s windy only here, and before 3p.m I should be ok.

So I leave at 8:11 a.m with smile on my face again. The wind is calm, scenery nice, and I got free breakfast at the station.

Unfortunately the mine man was wrong. The wind is not only at that area and it’s not ok before 3p.m. At noon the wind blows even harder than the last day. I cycle approx. 8km/h the last three hours, but reach the border (Jama) without any bigger problems. Before the sunset I spend rest of my pesos into water,cookies and chips. I also ask the officers at the border if the frontier is open at 7a.m. next morning. “Of course”- the officer replies.

I find again an empty brick building perfect for stayin a night. I make some soup, set up my tent and go to see Real Madrid- Barcelona match at the gas station. “No big deal, these Andes”- I think.

5th DAY 109,16km (Jama 3900m-Pedro de Atacama 2400m)

What if ? That is the question I ask myself right now. What if I was told the truth. What if  I had a map of Chile. What if I wasn’t so unlucky this day. This day many things went wrong, and I guess my “Safely Around the World” turned into “Safelessly around the World”.

First of all, the border  was closed at 7a.m. I wake up before six to pack my stuff with the help of my head torch just to witness dead empty frontier. I shout all around, but invain. I know I need the early start because it’s 160km to San Pedro, and eventhough downhill, 160km is a long way.

At 7.30a.m the first officer shows up telling me that the border opens at 8a.m. It doesnt help to convincing him differently, so I have to wait until eight o’clock. It’s finally at 8.12 a.m when I get my exit stamp and rush for Paso de Jama (4250m), after which it is supposingly downhill to San Pedro.

It isn’t. After Paso de Jama the Chile sign welcomes me to a new country, but the uphill continues. It is very cold up here, I hardly feel my left feet toes. By the ten o’clock the sun warms me up, but still no sign of a downhill. However I keep up my speed, the wind is not heavy  yet and I think that in the worst case I can stay at the Chilean frontier 40km after the border. I pass 40km, but no sign of any immigration offices. the wind gets stronger as it did last days, so my speed slows down radically.

Uphill continues and continues. I devided my energy to the beginning, so I start to get tired to pedal. When the uphill continues for 20 kilometres and steeps up, I have to push my bicycle onwards. There are some cars passing by, one even stops to aks if I need something. I just vawe at the car to keep going.

I’m not sure which altitude I reach, but in the traffic sign on the top is carved with numbers 4750m. Maybe another cyclist’s work. I lost lots of time pushing my bike, but if it’s now downhill, I will make it-  I think. It is downhill for 5km, after which it’s another salt flat with very hard head wind. After the long straight road, I get another uphill which I have to push. There is no sign of any frontier.

When I get up on the hill I see at least 15km further, and it seems that there is a house at the very end of the horizont. The road is mostly uphill again, but at this point I’m glad to camp just at the immigration office. Wind is hard and it gets cold too. I have to put all my clothes on even at the uphill parts. I get closer and closer to the building in the horizion. When I get 500m from the biulding, it turns out to be just a tv-antenna with a electricity room or so. No frontier.

It’s half past six, the sun is slowly setting and  the temperature gets quite low. I’m still pushing my bike uphill, start to think of having no other options than ride in the dark to San Pedro. It has to be downhill very soon…  I have no energy left, but I know that the downhill part will be fast and easy. But as I get mentally ready for riding in the dark I notice that my rear wheel has a puncture.

It is too cold and windy to take off my gloves, not mentinoning fixing the puncture. There hasn’t been cars passing by for half an hour, so I could ask if there is any houses nearby. Sun has almost set when I really start shouting words which are not appropriate for WordPress. I can’t believe that the downhill has been mostly uphill, the immigration office never came and that I got a puncture in the worst possible timing.

I see a car. I don’t hesistate but stop it with waving. With my poor Spanish I ask about any houses, but the passangers say there are none. The next place is San Pedro 50km furhter. But they say they saw a police patrol 5km further. I thank them and start walking towards the patrol. Luckily these guys were not lying, and a police pick up turns up very soon with two policemen. I must look very desperate, explaining about punctures, cold wind and asking if it’s possible to go with them to San Pedro. They say OK, but that they are not returning  before 11p.m. I don’t care what time they are getting back, I just throw my stuff in the pick up and sit in the back seat.

The next four hours are straight from a strange David Lynch Movie. The car drives up to a hill on non existent road. I don’t see the faces of the policemen, but they have machine guns at the back seat just next to me. The other policeman asks for my passport which I give to him. Everybody is quiet for the next fifteen minutes as some writing happens on the front seat. Meanwhile my body temperature rises, and I start to shiver so badly that I have to put my sleeping bag on.

After half an hour the same policeman takes out a laptop and they start to watch some Jerry Bruckheimer movie I’m too weak to concentrate on. Time passes, and after three hours the movie time is over and we start driving towards San Pedro. It is only downhill from this point on, and very steep one too. The  lines just swishes in my eyes, red security road reflectors too. You can also see the lights from the town 45km away we are driving to.

As we drive downhill, my body temperature amazingly stabilizes and I start to feel ok. By the time we reach the frontier (which is at San Pedro de Atacama) I feel already normal, and can proceed all the border procedures without a problem. At midnight I find a camping place, eat a late supper and fall asleep.

Next morning I realize two things. I have lost my sweater and my rear rim got a small crack.

to be continued…..

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13 Comments

  1. Posted April 24, 2011 at 8:46 am | Permalink | Reply

    hi lukas,
    i admire your stamina! although i believe (and know from own experience) there’s no way out – but still: amazing! the 1.000 km i just accomplished to ostrava look just ridiculous compared to your physical and mental achievements. with your determination and survival

  2. Posted April 24, 2011 at 8:50 am | Permalink | Reply

    …talent you will manage any odds, for sure!
    good luck and safe cycling!
    cheers
    herbert

    • Posted April 24, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Herbert, as you see I didn’t blog much in Europe or even some parts of Asia, because it wasn’t so special for us Europeans. The moment you reach f.e Ukraine, things will get much more exotic. Enjoy Czech Rep.!

  3. Marju
    Posted April 24, 2011 at 10:56 am | Permalink | Reply

    Tsemppiä Lukas!!

  4. Posted April 25, 2011 at 4:44 am | Permalink | Reply

    Hang in there. You can only really appreciate the good if there is some bad. Hope you get everything sorted.
    Good luck!

  5. Kevin
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 9:25 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Sorry you had a bad time, but that was a great read! Looking forwardto the next installment, onnea, Kevin.

  6. Posted May 26, 2011 at 10:13 am | Permalink | Reply

    my partner and I did this route last year by bicycle. It IS tough and we also had difficulty getting information on the route, but we managed to make it to San Pedro De Atacama after dark (the winds were too strong for us to pitch our tent, so we pushed on through those strong winds).
    Our adventure is at http://tworedbikes.blogspot.com/2010/03/were-spending-two-days-in-san-pedro-de.html

    and http://tworedbikes.blogspot.com/2010/03/we-slept-in-bit-and-set-off-quite-late.html

    My altimeter said we were at 4876m at the first high point and just below that altitude at the second one (nearer to the observatory).

    If it’s any consolation, you managed the hard bit (the high points on little oxygen) so don’t worry about getting a ride to San Pedro.

    • Posted May 28, 2011 at 12:49 am | Permalink | Reply

      Thanks for your comment. 4876meters! Wow. Yeah, I was a bit dissapointed, but I believe that without that puncture I would’ve made it. The problem was, that I wasn’ t prepared foodwise for this long day. When I got that puncture, I had burned all my energy, and needed at least three snickers bars to continue struggling.

  7. Arturo
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I was going to do it on a motorcycle but after reading this I’d rather take a plane!!!!

    • Posted July 22, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink | Reply

      No reason for taking a plane. Motorbiking over Paso de Jama is not a big deal. You should make San Jujuy – San Pedro in 6-7 hours.

  8. Posted January 23, 2013 at 10:16 am | Permalink | Reply

    Hmm is anyone else experiencing problems with the pictures on this blog loading?
    I’m trying to find out if its a problem on my end or if it’s
    the blog. Any responses would be greatly appreciated.

  9. Posted May 18, 2013 at 6:41 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I’m starting a new internet blog directory and was wondering if I can submit your website? I’m trying to increase my directory little by
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