We escape from New Year in San Pedro to get some sleep and head into the country we’ve been telling people that we’re going to all this time (will have to think of something else now…). Argentina is to be reached by heading through the Paso Sico, not the paved and truck riddled Paso Jama. Or even the Paso Huaytiquina, which as the smaller road on the map was my first thought. Given the descriptions we have of Paso Sico it sounds great and we don’t feel the need to make it any harder by going the even remoter way. Later, coming to Catúa where Sico and Huaytiquina meet, there’s a bright yellow sign saying the the latter pass is closed as it is a mined and so really wouldn’t have been a good idea!
We’re riding this route with the most detailed directions we’ve had since the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route in Canadá/USA. Thankfully they promise shelter and we count down the metres both up and on. Something to aim for keeps us going.
Not long after Catúa I spot the tracks of another cyclist criss-crossed by the Policia. He’s pushed a few sections where last night’s rain is draining in a wide muddy swathe down the road. We catch him just short of the Abra Arizado with his kit splashed over the bushes drying. Our normal excitement at meeting is quickly dampened as no connection is made. He’s interested in my bike and brakes as he’s also riding a long-bike. A Giant-based Xtracycle – same brakes. Uncertain whether language is the barrier – he’s French and speaks German to me first. It seems that his English is better than his Spanish, so I stumble on in the former. He’s remote and disinterested. When asked where he’s heading he reels off a mechanical list of place names with his gaze lifted into the distance over my shoulder. Maybe not language, but something else. His front panniers are worn-ancient and gape holes. He’s lost some things from it and I offer to speedy-stitcher repair them – again it seems too much for him. A sadness for both of us.
Our plan-line is to continue south at Cauchari, only a junction now with some semi-intact adobe houses. Salt-drenched bike-part damage forces a complicated side-trip to Salta. No compunction in engaging alternative transport methods off route we aim for Olacapato. Our other problem is self-induced. We don’t have any Argentinian currency – a laxity brought on by so many wad-touting change men at so many central and south american borders. Not this one, so we opt to consult the police (and yet again are offered so much more).