Thursday, 13 October 2011

Mendoza to Los Andes,

After a week relaxing at a campsite after my little mountain adventure I was keen to get going again. The bike shop was unable to fix my bike and I had finally met the mad Spaniard I had kept hearing about. The campsite was huge and he pitched his tent next to mine and then refused to speak to me!?! On the way back from the shower I narrowed my eyes at him and scowled he quickly turned away, not quick enough I caught the smile on his face.

I set off with a heavy heart Argentina had been good fun and it would be a while till I would be back. I spent the last of my money in a small shop on some biscuits and set off with a few pence (I would draw money out in Chile; I had plenty of food and water on the bike). I soon noticed the amount of traffic; this was the main pass between Argentina and Chile. A small valley meant that only a narrow road could be built. I was constantly having to pull over because of the lorries it was sure there where more than normal but I put it down to the road being narrow. The worst bit was the small tunnels I would peddle as fast as I could to try and get out before I got squashed. Soon I was riding through snow and where the valley opened out a bit there where ski slopes, people would stop and look at me. It became clear as well that I wasn't going to be able to find anywhere to camp, I didn't have anything to clear the snow away and I didn't know where the river was (last thing I wanted to do was step in it by accident). I came across a ski lodge and I went and asked for a room, luckily they had one but I had to pay full ski season rate for it. I was chatting to the guy and said a lot of lorries on the road, he told me as it’s the main pass 4000 a day come through. It was strange to see people walking around dressed for skiing, it hadn't really sunk in that I had cycled so far.

The next morning I had a headwind and I was climbing again soon I was really feeling the altitude. I had to start pushing as there was snow on the road, all the cars had snow chains on. My tyres were just slipping all over the place. A couple of people stopped and offered me a lift but I declined there was no way after all I had been through I was going to accept a lift now. When I got to the highest point it’s a tunnel, it’s a few kilometres long and has a toll booth and police. They told me cycling was strictly forbidden as it was too dangerous with it being so narrow and the lorries. I had to put my bike on the shuttle van and be driven through. I was sad I had lost my tyre track but I there wasn't anything I could do. The van driver was a Chilean who drove about a foot away from the car in front half way through the tunnel you enter Chile the van driver pointed it out and flashed his lights and started beeping his horn to make the point. The driver in front must have panicked and braked just cause us to very nearly tail end him.

The other side of the tunnel was the customs point, this was a combined Argentina and Chile, normally I go through one and then the other. I went in got the argentine desk and got given a form I filled it out and then went to the Chilean desk asked if it was ok and the just went si and stamped me into Chile and took my Argentina visa. Unfortunately I had missed a stage I was stamped into Chile but technically I was still in Argentina, I explained to the guy from Argentina what had happened I had to go into an office were the manager gave me a temporary visa to exit Chile, the guy from Argentina stamped my passport and then I gave the visa back, it was totally ridiculous.
After I had had my bike searched for fruit I was back on the road in Chile, it was all downhill. The road was hairpin bend after hairpin bend the edge of the road had no barrier and was just shear drop for thousands of feet. In some places the road was even crumbling at the edge, with the snow and all the lorries it was terrifying. Soon the snow gave way to green and before long I was starting to feel warm. Soon I was riding past lemon trees, I could see olive groves. The change was incredibly quick. The next day I was in shorts and tee shirt, I was flying along, I thought to myself an early start tomorrow and I could possibly do a 100 mile day. That's something I had not thought for a very long time.

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