WEEK #88 HOW ARE WE DOING? High altitudes, Argentina & Carnaval

Feels like butterflies in your stomach when you’re in love. Sometimes I get that nervous feeling. What’s going to happen? Can I make it? How long will it take?

IMG_5875The road was paved, that was good news. The road was steep and long, that was the news I had to actually deal with. Within 45km I would climb up to 4900 meters in elevation, an incredible height I had never before reached…
After a good night sleep I decided to make the climb in two days, this due to the dangers of altitude sickness, something you shouldn’t underestimate. It doesn’t matter how fit or not-fit you are, it can hit you at any time. OK, it does get to you sooner when doing (heavy) physical activity. Hence the two days.

It was hard, cold, steep, hot and sunny. But I made it in the time I wanted to. Now I was on my way to Argentina. Alone again. Guest riders Lex & Elleke had gone and were on their way home. It felt strange to be camping by myself again, this time with absolutely nobody around me, not even on the road. It had been silent for a few days now, only a handful of trucks passed, that was it.

Border trouble. This time it was hilarious. After having waited in line for about half an hour for my “exit-stamp” from Chile, the border patrol officer stamped my passport with an “entrada” (enter) instead of “salida” (exit). He looked at me, apologised and made a simple correction. Or so it seemed…
Arriving in the next line for the Argentinian “entrada stamp” I waited even longer, it was quite busy at this desolate border, por que? Once it was my turn things got more fun. The officer asked me where I had been and for how long. I told him I couldn’t remember all the dates and countries by heart, but the stamps were all in my passport to prove it. Then he asked me to follow him. Uh-oh…

“How long were you in Chile, sir?”
“Just 7 days” I replied.
“Your passport says otherwise, you entered today and you left again. Now you wish to enter Argentina. What’s going on?”
“The officer on the Chilean side made a mistake and stamped it twice; entrada y salida, enter & exit”
“That’s not possible. You say you are travelling by bicycle? Where is your bicycle registration?”
“My bicycle registration?” I looked at him and almost burst into laughter, looking through the window I looked at my bike, trying to hide the tears of laughter… Registration? Right, whatever…
“Sir, you have stamps in your passport that are suspicious, we need to know what’s going on”
“Please, sir” I replied, “The officer on the Chilean side made a mistake and a correction, go and ask him!”

Almost three hours I was at the border. Acknowledging the fault took a while. Waiting, explaining and now laughing. Argentina is more developed than other countries I had visited, yet this was still a border in the middle of nowhere. Literally, any direction you would go it was at least 200km before any sign of civilisation. That, and borders are always funny. The seriousness, the “stress” some people experience and the differences in duration are hilarious.
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So, on my way again, on my “unregistered bicycle”, towards civilisation. The small town of Susques was waiting for me, and hopefully a shower, too. Just 3 km before the town I got pulled off the road by the highway patrol. Apparently there was bad weather and high risk of lightning ahead of me. I looked at the sky and thought they were crazy.
Sitting next to the officials I looked at the thunder left and right. Ahum… They knew what they were talking about, I was the amateur here.
The officer set me off the pick-up truck with a smile on my face. I looked at him with questionable eyes. He pointed towards the street ahead of us. What I saw? Hundreds of people, singing, dancing, drunk and laughing. It was carnaval in Northern Argentina, and I hit the mothership (well, things got worse/better in the next town, keep reading…)
After being handed beer, sprayed with foam, chalk powder and more I made my way, slightly buzzed, to a cheap hostel. A nice cold shower washed away the three day of sweat, salt and the recently applied carnaval make-up. Once my head hit the pillow I passed out, I had some heavy days and my body was screaming for rest.
Not enough though. Around 02:00 a.m. I woke up from the distant music, after that it was hard to fall back asleep. a long day was ahead of me, I wanted to reach the town called Purmamarca, about 150km down the road.

After a restless night I woke and quickly shoved down my breakfast; dry bread, peanut butter and water. Don’t forget the magnesium tablets against cramp in the legs. The first kilometers were heavy, canyons and steep short climbs. OK if you’re on a race bike, different when your bike weighs in at 65kg and the altitude is still 4000+meters… Nobody said it was easy (or fun).

IMG_6009Then the scenery drastically changed. A Salt Flat, and a damn good one, too! Unfortunately I had lost my phone charger a day before reaching the border and wasn’t able to take many good pictures, the GoPro had to do.
A short and incredible, unreal experience later I was on my way again. The last real climb before descending down back to normal oxygen levels (=2200meters) was in  front of me. Breathing was, again, difficult, and it took longer than usual to reach the top. The reward, however, was a good one.

30km of downhill. Pure fun. The mountains, coloured in 7 different colours, were the stunning scenery while gaining more and more speed, turning sharp hairpin corners and enjoying the sweet oxygen filling my lungs and legs. Yes, it does really change between 4500 and 2200 meters, and yes, you can really notice the difference!

Entering the town of Purmamarca I entered a walhalla of carnaval. Cars, people, tents, hostels, hotels and filled streets with people partying. It was hard to find a spot for my tent, but eventually I was able to put my tent on a nearby parking lot, with 24 hour surveillance (under the influence of alcohol..?). The first thing I did was look for a new charger for my phone, I wanted to use the camera and let my family know where I was (and safe).

Walking around town I was again offered numerous alcoholic beverages, sprayed on with foam and (almost) slapped with red paint in my face. Getting hungry I went into a restaurant that seemed OK, a man playing guitar on a stage in the corner, people eating and a cheap menu was the tipping point.
Eating my first “Argentinian steak” I wanted to enjoy a glass of wine, ordered one but received a whole bottle instead. The rumours are true, a bottle will set you back even less than a glass back home in Amsterdam… Ouch, that was promising to be rough for the next day.
Sitting alone at a table, the waiter asked if it was OK to have other people join my table, as the restaurant was filling quick with Argentinian tourists and they needed to make extra money during carnaval. No problem, extra company is always good, also for practicing my Spanish, which is quite difficult when on a bicycle everyday.
The couple who joined me were soon enough eating, drinking and pouring in more and more wine and beer. Young and from Córdoba, Argentina, they were enjoying carnaval to the fullest and insisted I was part of it. Explaining to them that I had a long distance on the bicycle the next day (180km) didn’t change their minds.
“Dirk! Es CARNAVAL!!!” They shouted in unison.

What to say, what to do? A motto of a good friend of mine: “If you can’t beat them, join them!” The next day was promising to be rough…
Locals drink Fernet Branca, a herbal liquor, with Cola, and it is tough stuff. I woke around 08:00 a.m. in the morning, luckily feeling fairly good, yet slightly dehydrated. I broke down the tent, packed up, loaded up and made my way to the breakfast rendezvous I had made with my new Argentinian carnaval friends; Estefánia y Matthias. they bought me a breakfast fit for cyclists and soon enough we said our goodbyes. Guys, i hope to see you again, thanks again for everything!

IMG_6048Now I am in Salta, the last official day of Carnaval, yet here it is quiet, the real carnaval is in the Northern towns. A good day of rest, eating and the laptop open I am filling my energy levels again for the next few days. Before I head south I need some more spare parts, a change of tires, chain and oil and my bicycle is as good as new. Bolivia had taken its toll with unpaved roads, salt and mud. And the next project 99%RIDE will visit and support is waiting.

Santiago, Chile here I come!!!

From Salta, Argentina,

Dirk Spits

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6 Thoughts on “WEEK #88 HOW ARE WE DOING? High altitudes, Argentina & Carnaval

  1. Great to read about your fantastic progress! Sounds like you’re getting closer to Ushuaia!
    Bon voyage!!

  2. Wat een sterk verhaal, prachtig gast. Onwijs dope! X

  3. Fred de sauvage on March 16, 2015 at 6:36 AM said:

    Fantastic views! Wonderful following your progress.

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