I have stayed one week in La Serena. Desperatly needed rest after kilometres and kilometres of desert. In my mind I was already flirting with vacations at the end of March thou it was not even the end of Januray. But it was not only the two months that were separating me from the vacation, there was another little detail. I was on the wrong side of the Andes. When I will return to these parts of the World, automn will be already saying its’ goodbye. And this means that crossing a 4.000 and more metres high mountain passes will not be sometthing that is recomended on a bicycle without chains for the tires.
So I have headed east from La Serena towards 250 km distant mountain pass of Agua Negra. With its’ 4.780 metres above sea level it is the highest mountain pass between Chile and Argentina, just so that my job would not be too simple. And to make it a bit less easy, 120 kilometres of the road crossing it is gravel.
But the motivation was there as well as the desire to get it over with the task that separates me from my vacations.
Three days of pedalling through a narrower and narrower valley pass the Chilean border post, all the way to the beginning of the gravel. Menacing clouds and a few rain drops force me to seek shelter under the roof of a solitary shelter the original function of which is still unknown to me. My first night on a, one could say, no mans’ land. I’m on Chilean side of the pass, but officially I have left Chile about 20km ago when the border police stamped my passport.
The next day I’m dealing with a loose gravel road, the result of road works being done by the Chileans. The progress is difficult. Lou sinks into the loose gravel on more than one occasion and leaves me no choice but to push it along.
The countryside is stunning. Mountains changing colours, the intense blue of the sky, a tranquil lake, first snow-capped peaks beyond which lies Argentina start to appear.
Around 16h heavy storm clouds start to appear again. Today I’m not as lucky with the shelter, some grains of hail and a bit of rain catch me. However I do get lucky meeting an Argentinian family traveling with a van. They stop by my side and give me water. This way I do not have to fill it up and filter it from the nearby turbid stream.
The third day in the mountains I pedal until just after noon when I come to a point where the road continues in a zig-zag up the slope. This means that some flat areas to pitch my tent are probably non-existent all the way to the summit. And I need more than just half a day to the top. So I decide to stop and pitch my tent for one more night on this side of the pass.
I spent the afternoon in a shade of a rock. Observing the landscape and searching for molecules of oxygen in my inhales. I’m at 4.100 metres. A condor comes to say hello (flies over me at a safe distance).
Waking up into a fresh new morning. The day is going to be long and difficult, that much I can tell. The higher I am, the more times I need to get of Lou and push it. Every a bit more steep inclination stops me. At one point I have to push Lou in a zig-zag as doing it in a straight line is just impossible.
Gravel road, the wind and the altitude take their price. I’m moving at about 3 km/h, little break frequent, summit still far. I catch a glimpse of it turn one corner. Still missing about 7 km. But this is a distance that I can do and I can do it before the afternoon clouds roll in with a good chance of precipitation that follows. Slowly but surely I make my way towards the top. The last 2km I walk, the wind coming across the pass forces me into it. Just one curve and I’ll be at the top. Gathering my strengths I mount on Lou and the last 200 metres I cycle. I pass under a sign “Paso de Agua Negra – Limite Internacional”, I stop and I cry. Joy, relief, end of exertion, a flood of emotions.
After a short break I descend on the other side. The battle with the gravel road and the wind is still not over. After two hours of going downhill I’m rattled to the bone, hands are numb. I make camp among the ruins of an unfinished house. At least I have some shelter from the wind.
The next day another 15 km of gravel road before I hit brand new asphalt. Descend towards the gendarmes and then to the border post. New stamp, I’m officially in Argentina.
2km down the road is a small town, Las Flores. In the park in front of a gas station a young family on their way back from vacations in Chile is waiting for me. A while ago they passed me by and invited me to join them in Las Flores. Cold water and a meat sandwich (well lots of meat covered by a bit of bread) – Welcome to Argentina!
After about an hour we say goodbye to each other. They go on on their way home, me … Actually I don’t know, I feel lost, without a goal. The task that I had to do before my vacation, that is to cross the Andes, is done. It was tough, probably the toughest mountain pass that I have ever cycled, but now that is all behind me. So what do I do now?
I wander for a while through the small town. Just enough that the feeling of being lost fades away and a more rational thinking can prevail.
The date on my plane ticket is fix and it will not happen sooner nor later regardless of what I do. Besides there is one more little, pleasant task to do. I have promised Andres I will visit him at his home in Santa Rosa, La Pampa. Still missing about 1.200 kilometres. Since I cannot teleport myself over there I climb on Lou and together we hit the Road.
With a Smile on my face, until next time!