Day 7 (Friday February 3, 2012) Today we finally rode on route 40. It rained all night long but we woke up to a sunny day in Susques. We had decided not to have breakfast at the hotel but to stop on the road, make coffee, and have some tortitas de grassa (salty biscuits). Adrián suspected that his bike’s rear tire was flat again so as soon as we woke up he went to check the tire pressure as I was sitting in bed writing the blog. He came back a few minutes later with the news that his rear tire—the one that ate the bolt in Santiago del Estero—was indeed flat. After riding in town for a while we finally found a tire repair shop, “Gomeria El Milagro” (The Miracle). It took approximately one hour for the gomero (tire repair specialist), Walter Quispe, to finish the job. It was actually a miracle that the tire got fixed at all (long story). Helping Walter at the shop was his cute son Nelson.
Back at the hotel we met Eduardo Prieto, who a few years ago rode with a friend from Ushuaia to Western Canada in an attempt to reach Alaska. Eduardo’s friend was hit by a car somewhere in Canada so their trip was cut short.
I have mentioned several times that it has been raining very hard in the last few days so mountain roads have been damaged. But even keeping that in mind, to call the section of road we rode today a national route is almost comical. There are parts of the road that are fine but the last section between Volcán Tuzgle (5,486 m) and La Polvorilla can be better described as a trail. Right before Polvorilla the road follows the riverbed that I assume is dry most of the year but not during the rainy season.
The ride was tricky. There were sections with mud, others with sand, and many damaged sections with huge rocks. The road climbs up to 4,448 meters above sea level—our new record—near Volcán Tuzgle, a volcano that attracts rock climbers and trekkers. Route 40 goes through the three small villages of Huancar, Pastos Chicos and Puesto Sey. There are also numerous houses dispersed on the countryside. We were glad to see that many of them have solar power panels. We encountered several herds of llamas and goats. We enjoyed the ride but we were delighted to see at the distance the viaduct of La Polvorilla—the impressive bridge used by the famous Tren de la Nubes (train to the clouds). We arrived at San Antonio de Los Cobres in the late afternoon. It took us more than six hours to cover 130 kilometers!
For dinner, llama with quinoa and malbec—you can’t get much more Altiplano than that!