In San Antonio de los Cobres things began to break. I snapped another spoke – this time on the other side of the hub. To replace it I would have to take the break disc off – the only problem being, I don’t have the right type of a tool for the job and, so far , it has proven impossible to get it in the towns I went through. I temporarily fixed the wheel by putting the spoke other way round. It leans on the spoke next to it and it’s slightly bent but at least it keeps the tension. Nevertheless, I need to get the tool and be able to take the disc off when I need to. I am hoping to get one in Villazon, Bolivia. It looks like a bigger town from the ones I have recently went through. On top of that, the lower zipper in the main opening of my tent doesn’t close anymore. I tried to move it and it left a massive hole at the bottom which I had to sew with the portable sewing kit I once bought in Poundland. I spent my rest day on fixing the issues and eating and organising photos in my camera. I could have stayed longer but camping on the main square was not very comfortable and besides, San Antonio de los Cobres, was very cold. It seems that I skipped seasons while crossing Abra del Acay. I went from cold summer to autumn in a matter of hours.
I was not sure what route to take that would get me to Abra Pampa. There seemed to be a bit of confusion where Ruta Cuarenta (Route 40) goes. My map was showing the route 40 going straight up from San Antonio, Google Maps showed it going north about 60 kms to the east while the one I was meaning to take was marked as 1V40. Later I realised that this was ‘an old 40′. I guess 1V40 stands for ‘una vieja cuarenta’ – the old forty. I enquired about places to take water and food along the way but the person in the tourist information was not very helpful. I therefore decided to take enough to get me full over 230 kms split into two days of travelling. Two days I thought…. The beginning of the road was good, just a normal gravel road. However, 15 kms down the line, another break happened. This time my rack fell off and the whole thing tipped backwards. On top of that, the broken and already fixed pole of my tent that is normally strapped to the rack and sticking out a little bit got bent in the process.
That wasn’t good news…. neither the rack or the pole, but especially the rack. How do I fix it so it lasts around 200 kms of off-roading? I took out the cord I took from Cochamo and which I use to strap everything onto my bike with. I wrapped it around the rack and the seat pole, then tightened it up as hard as I could. To my surprise, it held and was quite rigid. ‘It might work’, I thought. I got on the bike and kept riding. The road conditions deteriorated quite rapidly – big washboard sometimes across an entire width of the road. There was nowhere to escape and if there was the sides were sandy and additionally at a gradient, making your tyres slip into the end of the road and into more sand or gravel. Then the wind picked up and it stayed with me for the next 3 days.
The winds here are now southerly. I think that the mechanism is similar to a monsoon in India. The hot air over the warm, sunny lower parts of Argentina move up via convection, leaving areas of low pressure that are filled in by cold denser air coming down from altiplana (the north). Having said this, it’s one thing to know the physics, and the other to be in harmony with it. Why isn’t the wind blowing the other way round making my life easier? Now I have to tackle not only this poor old route 40 but also the winds too? I only covered 60 kms on that day and called it an early evening around 5 pm. There was no point of cycling while the wind was so strong and the road so poor. I decided to wake up early in the morning and cycle when the wind is weak. I made a camp in the desert and began cooking. I opened the panniers and, to my dismay, found no bread. I forgot to take it from the shop. What am I going to eat on the next day then?
There was Plan B. I could turn right half way up and make a round trip on a more popular paved road 9. As I got to the crossroads I saw a man waiting next to his pick up truck, most likely waiting for the passengers dropped off by the bus going from San Antonio. I asked him if there was any food available along the way. He confirmed there was 15 kms north. I’m saved, I thought.
The wind persisted but the road on the other side was perfect. At points I could ride almost as fast as I would have on tarmac. I covered next 15 kilometres in a jiffy and went into the village that had food. Everything was closed, only dogs running around. The usual ‘siesta’ time. I only met three people waiting in shade in front of the church. They looked like tourists themselves or two tourists with a guide. I asked them where I could buy food and they pointed me into two unmarked doors – one blue, one red. ‘Just knock at the doors’ they said. My knocking did not do any good. Noone was opening. I started roaming around the village trying to find a local. I needed this food badly in order to be able to cycle further. One of the houses had its doors open. It was a guest house. A guesthouse in a village like this? How unlikely. I asked the owners if they served food. They said they didn’t but the lady went with me and knocked on the same door as me before, but additionally saying something in Spanish while doing it. The doors opened and an older lady appeared in the frame. I’m closed, she said. Luckily, the gueshouse lady convinced her to sell me her items. I bought bread, pate, soda, eggs – the usual things and one of the few things you could buy in there. I set off in good pace. I’m going to be well now. No need to take a detour, I thought. At 6pm the wind picked up again and I made a second camp in the desert. Only 70 kms to go on the next day and I would be in Abra Pampa. If I woke up early I’d get there around 4pm. The day was nice and not that difficult at all. The road was a little bit monotonous, straight and going through the same steppe landscapes for miles. I saw some lamas though, even two pretty ones with ribbons on their ears. They were the most timid though and they didn’t want to be photographed.
I got to Abra Pampa as planned, a little bit hungry, a little bit thirsty and definitely tired from all those days of cycling. As I entered the city I couldn’t stop thinking that I’m making a gradual transition into Bolivia. These cities, nor people look Argentinian any more. They remind me of the pictures I saw from Bolivia. The ocarina music is being played in the houses, people wear hats and indigineous clothes. I’m getting close to Bolivia and I can sense the difference already. Unfortunately, the changes are not only visual but social and economic. I cannot find municipal campsites anymore, public internet doesn’t work, there are no sockets on the main square. Abra Pampa is the capital of a region and it doesn’t even have a proper petrol station, such as the ones I had been using for browsing the web and charging my laptop earlier on. I camped in the outskirts of town but I wouldn’t consider it a nice spot. It was time to go again, this time to the border town of La Quiaca. My GPS was showing a YPF petrol station in there. Perhaps I could relax there in an airconditioned environment and browse the internet?
In the meantime, I got my first food poisoning. I started eating street food. Or could that be tap water? I looked myself in the mirror while taking a shower. I have considerably lost weight in the upper body parts. I hope I get back all my muscles when I get back to climbing and that I don’t lose more before I get back.