Arriving in the desert town of San Pedro de Atacama I felt like Jasper from The Simpsons emerging from the Kwik-E-Mart freezer. “Moon Valley? What a time to be alive.” Everything was so clean and functional. The toilets had toilet seats and people in shops actually initiated conversation. However, being a tourist town it was also bloody expensive. We went to a coffee shop and the price our “large” coffees and croissants cost the same as 3 nights of accommodation in Bolivia.
After a night in a campsite we met up with Philipp’s friend, Muriel, who let us camp in front of her little hippy hollow on the edge of town. Muriel, being half Italian, half German and growing up in France, speaks about 6 languages and works as a tour guide, giving tourists the lowdown on the innumerable natural wonders that surround San Pedro. Me and Philipp spent a week with her and her horde of dogs (and cat) relaxing in the relative warmth, eating delicious home cooked food and doing a whole lot of nothing.
Paso Sico, the unpaved and supposedly more scenic road to the Argentinian border, was closed so the only available route east was Paso Jama. Reaching the pass entailed a brutal 2000m climb in the space of 30km followed by a stretch of very high altitude cycling through icy peaks and salars. Like a dirty little cheater I wanted to hitchhike through this part. I’d had a taste of camping at -10 degrees in Bolivia and wasn’t keen on repeating it. However, after a few hours our thumb waving had received little but stony glares from the passing truck drivers and we accepted our fate. We were going to cycle this monster or get very cold trying.
On the descent down to Purmamarca I was reborn. No more donning every piece of clothing I own to bed and wearing thermal underwear like a second skin. No more wrapping my legs in an emergency blanket like some tin foil Tutankhamun. No more shivering in my tent, begging the sun to creep over the horizon and give me the courage to pry myself from my sleeping bag and into morning’s icy maw.
Winter had come and gone and we’d survived. We’d conquered The Wall, tickled a few White Walkers and lived to tell the tale. Soon my coarse woolen gloves would be nothing but a quaint reminder of our chilly former lives. We were in fucking Argentina: land of milk, honey and mate and we’d eat steaks the size of Caribbean islands, drink the finest $2 box wines available to humanity and, by God, we’d sleep in… moderate temperatures.
Tunes: The Very Best of The Cars, Joyce Manor – Cody, Manchester Orchestra – A Black Mile To The Surface, The Weakerthans – Left and Leaving, The Beatles – Let It Be
Reads: Son of Hamas – Mosab Hassan Yousef, The Prince – Machiavelli, The Great War of Civilisation – Robert Fisk, 11/22/63 – Stephen King