Advent adventures (Belén to Mendoza via Paso San Fancisco)

The other day someone asked us about our timeframe. I think at the beginning of our trip we had some kind of plan, but we realized soon that nothing can be foreseen on a trip as long as this one. It’s been a year on the road (excluding our break to escape rainy season) and things have slowed down a bunch compared to our earlier days through Central America. We do on average 5-day sections that drain us of all our energy, and consequently need to rest up, restock and plan for the next ride.
Since Bolivia we had been on rough dirt roads 90% of the time. Dan’s bum seemed to have suffered considerably. Constant rough roads and a worn out set of shorts caused a large saddle sore to form. We tried to wait up a few days for it to settle, but upon resuming the ride it came back as quickly as it had left. When we got to Antofagasta de la Sierra we decided it was best to get a ride to Belén, a city where doctors and medicine were both readily available. We were upset we couldn’t do the direct dirt track from Antofagasta to Paso San Francisco. Pikes on Bikes had done it and it seemed like the kind of route perfect for our set-ups. I guess it just wasnt our time, but sometimes we have to make a few sacrifices in order to keep our bodies from falling apart.

After taking antibiotics the saddle sore finally disappeared, and new cycle pants/and a stint on smooth asphalt definitely helped it heal.
From Fiambala we finally started our ascent to Paso San Francisco. The climb was very gradual and the first day was relatively calm. The following days the wind picked up to a howling contraforce, for which the Puna is renowned. We enjoyed staying in huts (“refugios”) en route that allowed us to find shelter and avoid sleeping in a flappy tent. After three days we made it to the Argentinian border control.

The next morning we attempted riding up to the pass, but the head wind was so strong we could hardly breath or move. Not to mention, all the way down to Copiapo we would’ve had head wind, too. We decided I would try get a lift to Copiapo, as the only reason we were going there was to pick up some parcels. Chile is rather narrow, therefore only a few busy roads go south which many cyclists seem to avoid. We therefore convinced ourselves to stay in Argentina and ride the route 40 down to Mendoza.

Once I’d returned from Copiapo, we sped back down to Fiambala wind at our backs, a satisfying day ride. Spending two days on the route 40 we racked up well over 40 punctures. Not a route for fat tires. Inevitably we decided to take a bus from Chilecito to Mendoza, simply due to our lack of access to spare tubes and tires. It’s no suprise that so many off-road riders decide to skip this region by bus!

Route information
Antofagasta de la Sierra – Belén – Fiambala – Paso San Francisco – Fiambala – Tinogasta – from El Salado short cut on dirt road- Chilecito bus to Mendoza
We had a very pleasant stay in the hostel San Pedro in Fiambala. The girls working there were so sweet, even gifted us with a wooden bowl and mate cup for our anniversary. A lovely hostel to stay in, clean, friendly, and a kitchen that even has a microwave!

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Nice spot to sleep!

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Rosa saw us taking a break in Salado and came over to give us some cake for Christmas! (It’s Christmas soon?!)

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Interesting looking mushroom, first day after leaving Fiambala.

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As we go up, the hills become more colourful.

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Looks so peaceful, now imagine wind screaming into your ears.
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Dan did a day trip up to the pass whilst I hitched to Copiapo.

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Harsh winds, strong enough to strip paint.

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The winds in the Puna region create these beautiful pinnacles.

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Laguna Verde, yet another stunner.

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Flamingos occupy the scattered lakes.

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The refugios, a safe refuge from the hounding winds…

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…although sleeping under the stars wouldn’t be too bad either.

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Cruising back downhill to Fiambala.

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The hostile arid environment, home to many tire torturing species
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Who says you have to rough it when you camp?
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The beautiful views on the Route 40 keep cyclists coming back for more…………………

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2 thoughts on “Advent adventures (Belén to Mendoza via Paso San Fancisco)

  1. Sucks you also had to bail on the direct Paso San Fran route. I was looking forward to seeing your take on that. The future is long though… the Puna has a way of drawing you back. You’ve got some great options ahead of you in 2016 so have fun!

    • Thanks Nathan, it is a shame but so goes life. I can definitely see myself coming back to the Puna, there is so much to see. We’re about to hike our bikes over paso piuqenes like Paul and Sam. Looking forward to the challenge.

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