Thursday, 4 January 2007

Purmamarca, Jan 4th 2007

Well I´ve arrived! And after two whole days in the saddle, I suppose I can say that I´m now a touring cyclist. Although the pain I´m feeling in various bits of my body says otherwise!

Where to start? The journey I´ve already tried to forget - 35 hours from home to the aiport at Salta in Northern Argentina where my trip started. I was just a little vacant (more than usual) and shell-shocked when Lisa and Tom met me from my flight and we reassembled my bike, put on the panniers and cycled into town. An experience in itself, it reminded me of the time I "learnt" to ride a moped in Santiago de Cuba. Foolish, crazy but great fun and somehow survived without incident... I´m not sure if it was the lack of sleep from the journey, the fact it was dark and we had no lights, the crazy drivers, one-way streets, or the fact that this was my first ride ever with fully loaded panniers... hmm.

The next couple of days we spent in Salta and passed in a blur - we rode into the countryside and down a disused railway in amazing scenery, I saw my first Gauchos riding their horses, ate steak and sampled the local vino. Oh and celebrated New Year. Maybe that explains the blurred memories... Lots of meat, red wine, the dodgiest fireworks I´ve ever seen (always best let off whilst very drunk, I´m sure we are all pyromaniacs at heart!), local Champagne and then a huge street party and a club where I´m sure they must have played Gasolina numerous times... Salta reminds me of a cross between Spain and Cuba, and is very typically Spanish.

After a day of literally nothing to recover from the celebrations, we started our journey - first North and then West. Our first stage takes us to San Pedro de Atacama in Northern Chile. I had notions of a couple of days easy cycling, with the vague understanding that the Andes might impinge in some way and require us to climb a bit... ha ha. This "easy" introduction to touring will take us 7 days (probably), involves a salt plain, high desert with nowhere to get water, and, er, two passes over 4,000 metres. Maybe I really should have done some training for this trip!!

I think its going to take me a while to adjust to cycling with huge panniers. I still see a light racing bike and suffer a fit of envy... but I´m getting there. My super-comfy saddle has never been so hard in the wrong places, and I seem to have cut off circulation to the little fingers on both hands, but I haven´t fallen off yet... there is always a plus side!

The first day the countryside resembled Wales far too much for my liking with rolling green hills and fields, especially when it started pouring with rain and we got soaked and my poor bike got covered in mud... Until of course you factored in the rather aggressive snake in the middle of the road, the fields of tobacco plants and the myriad birds with their amazing calls...

And where we are now is a far cry from almost any scenery I think I´ve ever seen. Yesterday we climbed up to Purmamarca, further north, the trees changed to scrub, then cacti, the sun beat down on us and all the buildings are made of adobe. Its beautiful in a very arid way - amazing rock formations, in a variety of colours from red to green, huge cacti, and of course the mountains all around us. Tomorrow we head up to the salt plain - a mere 2,000 metre climb to 4,100 metres... The only certainty is that it´s going to hurt!!

If I can work out how to do it, I´ll now endeavour to attach some photos... and probably lose everything I´ve written in the process! Fingers crossed.

Happy New Year to you all,

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