Argentina: San Antonio de los Cobres to Belén – isolation in uncertainty
Getting back on ‘track’ involves a bus trip with our bikes as far back up into the mountains as possible – a perfect lift-hitch not being arrangeable. As we buy our tickets – intentional and organised vehicular transport seems very strange – we’re told to deconstruct the bikes and box them. This is almost too much to confront and a task too big. We begin to contemplate a change in plan, but persevere, visit the bike shop again and strap the unloaded boxes onto the Big Dummy (yay!). It promptly deluges in semi-tropical style as we race to the bus station. Then after a boxing botch-job – the bus arrives. There is absolutely not going to be enough space to fit the bikes in the limited hold. Instead of dismissal and a forced revisitation of our diverted route, the driver ponders and directs us to strap our bikes upright inside the bus. All is good and we are very, very thankful!
The next morning in San Antonio de los Cobres is bright and glorious. Riding, rather than unnecessarily hitching back to the departure from the line is a satifying return. The actual intersection is a cluster of abandoned adobe buildings and a dry, sheltered campsite inside one. Cauchari – now just a name for a junction, rather than homes and lives as in the past.
Our regained route south is, to us, the obvious line. Staying high and wild just on the Argentinian side of the Andes. Our self-proclaimed Puna-geeks (Neil anyway) provide stunningly detailed directions to this, as they have to other obviousnesses (to like minds, at least). Arriving at the police-control point at the north end of the somewhat poetically named (we hope) Salar del Hombre Muerto (Dead Man’s Salar), we are advised to avoid the roads directly across it after the occupant points to a worryingly claggy bit of ground in front saying “como eso…”. Thus begins a day or so of fantastically uninhabited, deserted dirt road riding. It would all be fantastic if we knew that we were where we thought we were…