Status Update:

Current location: Bochum / Germany

50 countries, 1226 days, trip mileage: 124200 km

27 Jun 2010

Paso de Jama – Three times...

... Argentina -> Chile -> Argentina -> Chile. I'm soon gonna run out of blank passport pages. Here's a little episode of what was one of the worst weeks I've had in a very long time...

It all started outside of Jujuy, where I got to know Juan, a member of Jujuy's "Horizons Unlimited" motorcycle community. Horizons Unlimited is a really great community of like-minded overland travellers – and I've met some great people through that website. But in this case, I wish I had never met the guy. Don't get me wrong – he's a nice guy and we had a good roadside chat. But his recommendation for a 'nice' route from Argentina to Chile was something I wouldn't even DREAM about recommending to single motorcycle travellers. (Team of two: no problem)

My initial idea was to cross the Andes mountain range from Salta (Argentina) to San Pedro de Atacama (Chile) via the 'Paso Sico'. When I told Juan about that, he insisted I should really take the offroad tracks from Salta up towards 'Paso de Jama', where I would hit good tarmac after just 150 km, and that 'Paso de Jama' was waaayyy better than 'Paso Sico'. Those 150km of gravel, Juan said, were very easy, very compact gravel.... "no hay problema"... and that he's been on that track several times with a bigger and heavier bike than mine. So for me, it'd be even easier.

"OK", I thought, "when in Rome... do what the Romans do". So, the next morning I followed Juan's advised route. (Salta, R40, R38,...) Big mistake! The first part up to San Antonio de Cobres was straight-forward. The following Ruta 40 was OK (though needed full attention due to some hard-to-see sandy patches in-between the loose gravel and deep washboard). Then a left-turn onto Ruta 38, where corrugations got so bad that whatever speed I tried, I just couldn't "fly over" them. Then a few km of deep sand. Once I dropped the bike, I couldn't pick it up again – even after I took all the luggage off.

Ruta 38, Jujuy:Northern Argentina - On the way from Salta to Paso de Jama (Jun 21st 2010)

My heels simply dug into the sand, instead of lifting the bike. After a few attempts, I decided to wait for help. One hour later, I saw the only(!) car of the day coming my way, and together with its very helpful driver (who also got stuck in the sand) we managed to lift the bike. 200m later I was stuck in the sand again, so the car driver came back to push me out.

No centre stand needed... (Jun 21st 2010)

As soon as the road got a little better, I saw the turn-off for the shortest way that would lead me back onto tarmac. 15 km later, the 'road' was washed away by a river and the locals told me to turn around, backtrack and take the long way back to tarmac.

After a long day without food, about 30 minutes before sunset, I finally left Argentina for Chile. Some 60 km later, I finally crossed the highest point of 'Paso de Jama' (around 4800m), and in complete darkness descended the last 100 km down to San Pedro de Atacama. I was wearing EVERYTHING I had and it was so cold I couldn't feel my fingers or toes anymore.

Paso de Jama, just before sunset (Jun 21st 2010)

San Pedro de Atacama brought the next surprise: at the Chilean customs office, I realized that ALL my bike paperwork was missing! I must have forgotten it at the Bolivia/Argentina border in La Quiaca, "just" 800km away! The border crossing was somewhat confusing, with 3 different customs officers dealing with my bike paperwork). Luckily, the Chilean customs officer was kind enough to let me into his country with an electronic copy (photograph) of my paperwork, which I had saved on my laptop. After nearly 13h of travelling from Salta, I checked into a San Pedro guesthouse at 21:45. My old travel buddy Carlos & his girl-friend were already waiting for me so we could celebrate into Carlos' birthday that evening: in a nice & cozy restaurant with warm open fire place and a good botlle of red wine, I could finally relax and warm up from the cold ride.

The next day, I e-mailed my friend Gustavo in Buenos Aires, who phoned up the border in La Quiaca. Indeed: my paperwork was at the border. But they refused to send it on to th Chilean/Argentinean border. There was no two ways about it... I had to go back ALL the way to the Argentinian/Bolivian border. 1600 km in 2 days "roundtrip". (Including a 2h discussion with Argentinian customs to let me into Argentina without any bike paperwork). The good thing about it: I was finally able to see the beautiful landscape around Paso de Jama during DAYTIME for a change. And I'm possibly the only "moto gringo" who crossed Paso de Jama 3 times within a week.

Lagoon near Paso de Jama : Chile