Amalaya Gran Corte, Camel, Cuesta de Lipán, Daniel Martinez, llama, Paso de Jama, Purmamarca (Argnetina), Reserva Natural Los Flamencos, Salinas Grandes (Argentina), Susques (Argentina), Terrazas de La Posta, Vicuña, Volcán Licancábur
Day 13 (February 20, 2014) The ride from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile to Purmamarca in Argentina was amazing. Most of the trip occurred at altitudes above 3,000 meters and at several points the road climbed above 4,500 meters. We left San Pedro in the morning after breakfast. As we were leaving the hotel on our bikes we met a Chilean rider, Andrés, on a BMW GS 800. Andrés is working in San Pedro as an adventure motorcycle instructor. We chat for a while when we met again for a second time at the gas station. Route 27 leaves San Pedro in the direction of the international crossing—Paso de Jama—and immediately begins to climb getting closer and closer to Volcán Licancábur. As we climbed the vegetation begun to change, the shrubs on the sandy soil around San Pedro gave way to grasses, which are the main food for herds of llamas. As we climbed the air got very cold so we had to stop to put on some more clothing. Route 27 goes through several high altitude passes and at one of them my GPS registered 4,900 meters (16,076 feet—taller than the highest mountain in the Alps). The air was very thin and we both had a hard time breathing. Before reaching the Argentinian border we rode through several marsh-like areas with small ponds where flamingos spent time munching presumably on small crustaceans. I looked for hydra in one of the ponds but the water was clearly too salty for hydra. A thin sheet of ice had formed on the surface of the water. These areas together with Laguna Miscanti near Socaire are part of the Reserva Natural Los Flamencos. At high altitudes the herds of llama are replaced by small groups of another camel, the elusive vicuña. Vicuñas have the finest wool of all camels and are protected in both Chile and Argentina.
He had a little scare on the Argentinian border because we were missing some documents and the customs officer did not want to let us back in the country. For a while we attempted to reason with her about the craziness of the situation—we had already left Chile but we could not enter Argentina—until she finally let us through. The road from Jama to Susques continues to offer expansive views on of the mountinas around, some with snow-covered peaks. We could tell we were back in our country when we begun to see a typical inhabitant of Argentinian roads which is almost extinct in Chile, the pothole. Potholes of all shapes and sizes are endemic to Argentinian roads. In Susques we visited Gomeria El Milagro—where two years ago the rear tire of Adrián’s BMW was miraculously fixed. We made a stop at the Salinas Grandes to enjoy the stunning reflections of mountains and clouds on the salty lake. After Salinas Grande the road climbs up again to 4,200 meters and then snakes down the endless curves of the Cuesta de Lipán. At the bottom of the Cuesta, the magnificent Quebrada de Purmamarca offers them most amazing colors of any mountains I have even seen. In the town of Purmamarca we stayed at the hotel Terrazas de La Posta. For dinner we had a lamb (cazuela de cordero and pierna de cordero) with a bottle of 2011 Amalaya Gran Corte from Cafayate.