Well, it has been a curious time on the long road for this hardcore adventurer. After yet another dramatic conquering of the Andes and the many perils that this entails, your correspondent cut the ride short in central Argentina in order to get to Buenos Aires and also avoid the drudgery of a boring road with no shoulder. (note to write a sternly worded letter to the Argentinian road engineers). The road being flat, straight and boring and the trucks and buses a tad annoying, Buff3y soft-cored onto a bus for the last few hundred kilometres of the road. I figure that after riding the continents (and North America twice), in their entirety, that I can go a bit soft in the core on occasion.
The photo above was from further back up the road on the Bolivia Argentina border but I forgot to include in the previous post. Ushuaia is the bicycle touring pot of gold at the end of the trans-continental cycling journey to the south of South America. 5,121km from the top of Argentina to the bottom (Tierra del Fuego).
The buildings in Buenos Aires are quite beautiful with magnificent colonnades, turrets and decorative facades on all manner of apartments and hotel buildings particularly around the centre of town.
It is a one and a half hour ferry ride from Buenos Aires across the Rio de la Plata to the UNESCO protected town of Colonia de Sacramento on the Uruguayan coast.
This is a lovely sunset over Colonia de Sacramento in Uruguay. This town is worth a bit of a wonder around for a day to check out the cobbled streets and over-priced pizza and parrilla (BBQ steak and bits), then cycle on down the coast towards Montevideo.
The Uruguayans don’t mind a vintage car and elect to place them out in the oddest locations.
So campers, what have we learned from this little trip?
Bolivia is a truly amazing country and an equally amazing ride. The salt plains are just a breathtaking truly unique experience and well worth the second visit. Any decision to go and ride over the Andes is invariably a good decision. My love affair with this part of the world deepens with every visit and this ride will not be the last to take Buff3y into the Andes.
Strategically it was probably not the smartest decision to plan a route that started with a huge rise up onto the Altiplano (note to self). The attempt to make that ride up on a remote by-way that didn’t have enough guaranteed water supply was also an interesting one. A tad more preparation might be in order if you are not so interested in pushing a touring bike up Andean climbs.
The ride through far northern Chile was a beautiful experience . An untroubled one as this part of the world has not really been discovered yet, as most just head straight for San Pedro de Atacama for their Chilean desert hit. The Northern road along the boarder with Bolivia is a special place with magnificent volcanoes puffing away.
Buff3y is now off to Colombia for some well-earned R&R before returning to the relative drudgery of life in Australia. Will mow the lawn, watch Netflix for a few thousand hours and plan the next exciting bicycle ride into the great beyond.
Oh the ignominy! 30km into a long 40km rise between Atocha and Tupiza and my left pedal just seized. It’s buggered. 10km from the top and the bike is stuck. Decided to roll back to Atocha and put the bike on a van and fix the pedal on the other side in Tupiza. Heartbreaking to see the bike on the mini-bus. Soft.
Out of Tupiza after bike maintenance it is a little rise and rumbling across to Villazon and the Argentina border. Getting across the border is a two hour wait for Bolivia stamp and a two hour wait for the Argentina stamp. Just silly and a living hell of a morning which shoots the whole day down.
Your humble correspondent plunges across the southern most part of the Altiplano to the tourist trap town of Humahuaca then down through the Quebrada de Humahuaca a magnificently coloured valley that takes Route9 down toward the Argentinian pampas. Left and right there are statuesque cactuses lining up the foothills and tortured layers of rock thrusting up in bold colours.
The municipal sculpture series continues. Not since the memorable day on the north Rockies trip when we had the great fortune to come across the giant beaver in ‘Beaverville’ in Canada have we have the great fortune to see such fine examples of kitsch. Or perhaps the turds in Washington State, In (I can’t remember. perhaps the place was called ‘Llamaville’), I came across this marvelous example of misguided council spending. However, the head is a tad small I fear.
The contest to serve the smallest possible thimble with a straight face continues throughout Argentina. See photo of the latest entrant served up in Tilcara.
The Argentinian propensity to hide their businesses away for fear that someone might actually utilise a paid service continues to intrigue. Hostels that refuse point blank to let people know where they are by perhaps placing a sign outside the establishment with a name on it are of particular interest. Your humble correspondent spent a pointless hour looking for the ‘Tierra Andena Hostel’ that cleverly hides its facilities behind the teasingly nonspecific sign ‘hostel’, in a town with 300 of the things. It seems that I have the place to myself, the other prospective guests most likely still engaged in what will most likely turn out to be a fruitless search for the place.
Tupiza is 100km from Atocha and a really pretty little town nestled tightly in a valley. Tuk-Tuks buzz around the streets and the Macro hotel is a really welcome (read two star) change from the jail cells and camping.
Around the corner Tonchi’s bike shop is an amazing fillip. Tonchi is really nice guy and fixes bicycles too. Juan, a Colombian cyclist I met in Salar de Coipasa is there getting his wheel repaired. So Tonchi, Juan’s girlfriend Valentina and I have a day celebrating bicycle maintenance, lovely thin crust pizza and coffee from a shop across the road run by his friend.
Tilcara (170km north of Salta) is a trendy little tourist town neatly nestled in the long valley and a good place to loosen off some money paying for overpriced coffees and outrageously tasty bits of llama and cow. More hotels per square mile than any other town I’ve seen in south America to date. But the vibe is relaxed and everyone settles into the tourist fleecing activities with a practiced determination on the part of the fleecers and a grim resignation on the part of the fleec-ees as we all engage in this age-old little dance. Our hardcore adventure cycling type is happy to engage as opposed to other travellers, we just don’t see so many of the lattes and pizzas rather spending days or weeks in the land in-between, passing through the towns with one chicken and chip shop. Therefore, I too am happy to join the fleecees and tuck into what ever Tilcara can offer. $30 steaks? Sure, seems excessive in a country with an average wage of $600 per month, but bring it on.
Fascinating also are the explanations for the 5% or 10% percentage need to be added to your bill. There are few options for getting cash (upon which this country runs) so desperate for cash one must front an ATM and basically get shafted right there in the street. The screen message reads, “Are you happy for our bank to kindly bend you over and take whatever liberties we might think appropriate with the lower sections of your digestive tract”, then, “Most grateful if we can we take 1,900 pesos (A$15) flat fee of the tiny limit (A$100) that we allow you to withdraw. Click ‘Yes’ to continue. Have a nice day!” Since I was in Argentina last at least the 21% hotel tax has been excluded from charges for international tourists (in theory), but this can be countered with any number of town, bank, hotel or you-name-it charges establishments like to impose.
That is not to distract with the charm of Tilcara. Yes, the central square is stacked with the usual llama wool things and tetra-cotta donkeys that seem to be identical in all ‘artisan’ shops in this part of the country. But the mountains loom over the town and I’m not eating instant noodles and instant coffee, so I’m rolling with it. Riding past yet more chicken and chip shops, speculation turns to where all this chicken comes from? There must be massive warehouses churning out the chook meat somewhere in Brazil. On googling, Brazil actually contributes a ‘paltry’ 15 million metric tonnes of chook carcass per annum to South America. Chook carcasses must be flying off the conveyor belt day and night to feed the seemingly insatiable hunger for chicken and chips up here.
Argentina is great! Some bastard is trying to learn trombone in the building behind my guest house, and they are really really bad at it. But they are giving it some. The trombone player’s friends have just arrived. They can’t play either and they brought drums, and everyone only appears to know one song. This song goes something like Bang Bang, Fart, Blurt, blurt, Bang! Bang! Blurt! Bang! Bang!, Fart!…Bang Bang. Oh dear. Am going to eat more then roll on down to Jujuy and then up and over a one-day rise to Salta. Will pit stop there.
National Route 9 between Jujuy and Salta proves to be one of the more beautiful roads. It is a gentle climb through the morning on a very lightly trafficked road winding up through sublime quiet sub-tropical forest. Each turn leads to a slight incline and then relaxes for a little while before repeating. It then gives up about 65km in swooping down into Salta, where there is a dilapidated guest house oozing old world charm for a tired touring cyclist.
These may well be the best empanadas in the world (Salta, Argentina)..
The Posada Casa de Borgona hostel has paint chipping off it and a few ill-fitting doors, but it is three blocks from the central square (Julio 9th) and has lovely tile floors and high ceilings.
Lovely dinosaur steaks (950grams each!) at the El Charrua Parrilla. Great cycling fuel!
Buff3y, Juan, Claire and Valentina are very nice cyclists all. Buff3y is heading south east towards Buenos Aires while the others are heading south.
The trail takes me over some remnant foothills of the Andes tomorrow and then it is onto the Pampas low grasslands across the continent to wards Buenos Aires.
Pisiga town is a hectic land crossing between Chile and Bolivia and has that border town feel that everyone wants to be somewhere else. And rightly so. Trucks, more trucks and squalid little hotel rooms and to put not too fine a point on it, it just pongs a bit. Bolivia has taken to insisting on all manner of document for entry (in theory at least), for accommodation, insurance, COVID inoculation etc. In reality while the immigration building is only slightly organised chaos, the officials are only interested in ticking a minimum number of boxes and a few documents and a grin appears to do the trick. Once through the queues, stamped and out on the Bolivian side of the building currency exchange booths and fried chicken stands line the street and one can exchange the tens of thousands of Chilean pesos for a much more manageable currency of Bolivianos. Life is suddenly cheaper and more easily calculable. Best to regroup after the bureaucratic trial of the morning, stock up on sugar-wafer things and get ready for the salt plain crossing. The jail cell (below) was my accommodation for the night.
A vast expanses of flat salt is a wonderful sight. These plains are just as compelling as they were the first time I rode them in 2012. Salar de Coipasa sits to the north, near where I cross the border from Chile is huge. Its larger sister to the south is the largest salt plain on earth. In the middle of the Coipasa salt lies a ‘land-island’ and the village of Coipasa and there I meet the lady who hosted my stay ten years ago, Mrs Pronto Castro (pictured below). Such a lovely lady, she and her husband have some small rooms in a courtyard that many bike riders seem to find. A$5 and a comfortable bed for the night. Then it is off to the salt for the time-honoured tradition of nude-bike-riding on salt plains
Between the salars my gambling to find a track through a barrier of foothills that never existed turns out to just waste a morning of riding and I somehow eventually find the main route again and head towards the small town of Salinas which leads to a rather large volcano Tunupa which dominates the landscape for some miles. At the edge of the salar I find a ‘salt hotel room hidden away for some reason that robustly defies explanation.
A lovely little tailwind and some friendly 4WD tracks makes the ride across Salar de Ayuni from Coquesa to the western edge near Uyuni a lot easier than it could have been. So there are a few days of pizza, coffee and beer in the tourist and railway town of Uyuni.
WARNING: The video this time has a health warning: Not to be shown to the faint of heart nor any who get excited too easily! It may be too attractive for some viewers. Is it art? Is it pornography? You be the judge!
Oh the humanity! Sensing an opportunity for immortality, Buff3y unpacks the bike and sets off up the A-135 desert road near the Peruvian border up towards the village of Putre (a 3,700 metre climb). Two days of climbing up this ugly little road and he is down to the last four litres of water and only 1,800 metres of climb with little or no prospect of getting any more water until over 3,000 metres (perhaps) and 50km more climbing. Discretion being the better part of valor, he turns back and resorts to the main highway, the truck heavy 110km route up to the village of Putre. Not a terribly auspicious start to the trip. Climbing is torture on trip-start legs and lungs gasping for air so I stay in Putre for a few days to recover my wits and try to acclimate.
The ‘Ruta Andina‘ starts in far northern Chile at the Peruvian border. It heads southwards skirting along the Chilean side of the border with Bolivia, at the elevation of the aliplano (3,500 metres) towards the Atacama desert. Along the way it takes a keen young adventure cyclist through some magnificent scenery dotted with lines of volcanoes, geysers, hot springs and dirt, lots of dirt.
Buff3y the Hardcore adventure cyclist joins the Ruta Andina at the Lago Chungara and heads south off onto the dirt track writing yet another exciting chapter in the epic that is Buff3y’s cycling adventures.
Churning over the washboards and sinking into the sand that passes for road in these parts of South America, for the first time in a long time. Testing the camping set up in a long abandoned stone mill house replete with the grinding stones, which sits not far off the smoldering volcano Guallatiri. This camp site is just across from a free flowing river so is the perfect camping spot.
The Salar de Surire is nothing in scale compared to its more famous salt plain cousins just over the Bolivia border but it is a pretty place none-the-less. Having the required number of flamingos and alpacas the track takes a wide curve around the salar mostly to avoid the salt extraction works on the western side. A pleasant feature of the area is a wonderful hot spring with rich fragrant sulfuric fumes fresh from the bowels of the earth. This is a national park and at the police check point I’m told that camping is not allowed, yet on arrival at the hot spring (Termas de Polloquere) there are some Dutch motorbike travelers camping so what the hell. Soaking in the piping hot water is just heavenly on tired legs.
Some lovely camping spots along the way and a few huts to set camp near to shelter from the afternoon wind blasts. Similarly Buff3y blasts his way towards the end of this section of the route and a decision as to whether to continue down the Andina on the Chile side towards Atacama and San Pedro de Atacama, or head across into Bolivia and ride the big salt plains (a nostalgic return after ten years). Nostalgia wins the day and it is off to the border to see if I can negotiate the intricacies of Bolivian border control requirements.
The border town of Colchane has the compulsory kilometre long line of trucks waiting to get across and on to La Paz in Bolivia. Buff3y wrestles through the immigration and emerges a couple of hours later stamped and officially in Bolivia once more.
There have been some requests for some Colombian backing music to the video productions to remind us all of the joys of bicycling in the Americas. Enjoy.
No time for fancy writing now! Today Buff3y ,the Hardcore Adventure Cyclist is off down the Ruta Andina from Lake Changara in far northern Chile. This route runs along the Chile Bolivia border along the Altiplano to Colchane. I will be back on line with fascinating pictures of the bike and me and food etc shortly.
While the team here reacquaint themselves with the manipulation of the various imaging software that has enabled us to provide readers of this blog with such a premium visual and interactive experience over the years, we will just have to make do with the amateur efforts below. Suffice that the map shows the planned route for this trip through far northern Chile and into the Atacama Desert then across The Andes pass into northern Argentina, then Paraguay and Uruguay. Things could change, they have a habit of doing so, but this is at least a starting point.
The first road is the A-135 heading inland from Arica towards Bolivia (avoiding the main Route 11 trucking road) then cutting south on the smaller A-23 road up beyond 4,000 metres skirting around the huge TaapacaVolcano and on to the village of Putre, (from where there should be opportunity to update the blog). The line then hugs the Chile – Bolivia border through some high volcano and salt plains drifting country then down towards the Atacama Desert oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama, a significant pit-stop for leg recovery, proper coffee and pizza consumption (and upload of pictures of Buff3y with his bicycle). From there it is up and over The Andes through the flamingo country, then down to the next major destination, the city of Salta in northern Argentina.
The plan is to head off on Wednesday (28th December). People sometimes say ‘the last mile is the hardest mile’, but the first mile presents its own particular challenges. Just getting onto the start of the long road with the bike sorted is a thing in itself. Yet soon I will lean on the crank, the rig will roll forward and what comes will come.
After to disappointment felt by so many on the cancellation of the New Zealand ride due to COVID restrictions two years ago, Buff3y The Hardcore Adventure Cyclist now rides again! Yes, he is off to South America to get some serious high country bike touring done. The bicycle touring world is in a veritable tizz about this new development and the internet abuzz with wild speculation as to where Buff3y will go next. What equipment will he use? What awful slop will he eat whilst camping. All of these questions and more are careening around the planet at a much faster rate than Buff3y can muster on his touring bike. So now the team at buff3ysbicyclingblog can fill in some gaps and prepare all for the unbounded joy that is the unique experience of checking in with Buff3y as he travels on a bicycle.
Christmas day sees Buff3y happily ensconced in the departure lounge of Sydney airport soon to be boarding a Qantas flight bound for Santiago de Chile and a connecting domestic flight to the seaside town of Arica on the northern coast of Chile near the Peruvian border. From there he will unpack the bike; the Hilite titanium 18-speed Pinion geared bike from Switzerland – most recently used on the Rockies trip a couple of years ago; a magnificent touring machine – and head out onto the long road..
Buff3y will be heading directly inland, steadily climbing onto the ‘Altiplano‘ (high plain) of northern Chile around 4,000 – 4,500 metres. This country is part of the the most extensive high plateau outside Tibet stretching southwards from southern Peru, through Bolivia and to the Atacama Desert in Chile. It is the land of salt plains, geysers and volcanoes, remote dirt roads, flamingo-filled multi-colour lakes and a sparse beauty unavailable elsewhere on the planet. Climbing and climbing from day one of a trip could be – well – quite distressing – and quite painful – but too late to change plans now.
Once up in the high country, the road will turn southwards following the Bolivia-Chile border leading down into the ‘Atacama Desert ‘and the oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama (last visited by Buff3y ten years ago on his pan-America trip), a serious pizza, beer and latte town. If the passes are open eastwards across the Andes, Buff3y will then head up into the Los Flamencos National Park and onto northern Argentina and Salta, for lashings of Malbec, offal and chips. The land then flattens out across Paraguay and turns south east to Uruguay finishing up in Montevideo. Across South America in approx nine-ten weeks. Let’s See. Stay tuned for exciting updates from the track plus pictures of Buff3y and his bicycle.
We have just received confirmation from the World Solo Bicycle Touring Confederation spokesperson that Buff3y The Hard-Core Solo Adventure Cyclist will be heading off to Cape Reinga, the northern-most point of New Zealand in September and cycling south to Bluff at the base of the Southern Island (*Aust/NZ Covid travel bubble allowing). So ‘Buff to The Bluff‘ is born. O.K. so the haters out there are going to say that a 3,000km ride is not so long when set against Buff3y’s 27,000km solo domination of the Americas in 2011-12 or even his 8,000km heroics through the length of the north American Rockies in 2019, but screw them. They are always trying to bring Buff3y and Taylor down as we are in the public eye, but we will shake it off.
Further news is on the way regarding camp cooking recipes and equipment details.
The world of international bicycle touring has been flung into a state of cheek blister bursting hysteria tonight on circulation of a rumour that Buff3y The Hardcore Solo Adventure Cyclist may be heading out on the long road later in 2021. This outlet is not able to confirm the news at this time, but there are significant vibrations out there in the bicycle touring universe that Buff3y may be gracing some remote road out in some far-flung part of the planet and posting pictures of himself with his bike in the not too distant future. If true, this will be a major event in the emergence of bicycle touring in the post-COVID era, the ramifications of which could be earth shattering. A spokesperson for Buff3y has been quoted as saying, “Don’t know, but he seems to be eschewing the use of any vowels other than the indiscriminate”. Please standby for further breaking news in coming weeks.
Well there it is ladies and gentlemen. The ride is finished. Another conquering of a continent and another major mountain range bicycled into submission. The red line extends from the Arctic coast down along the spine of the Rockies, crossing the Great Divide X number of times before basting out onto the high plains of Kansas and then on into the swamp of Louisiana. It-is-finished! From Arctic Coast to Silverthorne was 6,086km and then from Silverthorne to New Orleans was another 2,383km so 8,479km total from top to bottom. Not bad.
In New Orleans I take full toll of the oyster bars for a week before packing up the bike for the flight back to Sydney on New Years Day. Loads of great food. Lashings of Gumbo etc. (although the Jambalaya is a tad disappointing I must say).
At LAX as we are herded around in endless lines in a manner learned, no doubt, from cattle ranchers. Am struck by the sheer number of gormless clots off to do whatever. They haven’t just conquered the North American continent on a bicycle. What right they to claim this space with me? To get checked in before me? Pfft. Little do they know.
Await the next exciting episode of Buff3y’s bicycling adventures.
All the way from the frozen north of Canada in May.
Survived the mushy stuff they call food in Texas.
Til I found a pretty good steak here on The Texas Louisiana border.
Then a scoot along Highway 61 for a little bit, before hitting New Orleans.
Tombstone Mountain Campsite
Moose Creek Lodge (D96.7m)
Pelly Crossing (D155.6m)
Tatchun Lake camping [km8.5] [WL362.2]
Frenchman Lake Campground [WL341.3]
Drury Creek Campground [WL290.9]
Camping east of Faro
Camping on lovely verge
Camping at lake side mosquito coast 250
Frances Lake Campground [WL106.5] 170
Simpson Lake Campground [WL50.5] 82
Watson Lake DC612
Liard River Hot Springs
Northern Rockies Lodge
Tetsa River Campground.
Camping (Bougi River beyond Prophet River)
Sikanni Chief – Cabin
Inga Lake Camping
Fort St. John
Kakwa River – Camping
Next ‘Ice-fields’ Camping
Mosquito Camping (Hut)
Banff: [Meeting with Howard Jang]
Rooseville – Eureka, HA Brewery, Grave Creek Camping