Back in Buenos Aires (BA) post a zippy 18 hour bus ride, it felt like we’d been dealt a second chance card. We had cheated ourselves on the previous breathtakingly scanty visit, eager to be at the world’s edge. Due to the onset of snow we hadn’t seen the city’s centrepiece, namely its colonial architectural elegance nor been enveloped by the ginormous jacaranda trees. November is one of the best times of year to be in the capital, not least for the splendour of the jacaranda’s blue trumpet shaped flowers, fluttering down on you like silky rain.
Before withdrawing from our haven that’s been Chacras de Coria these past halcyon weeks, Toto took us to a six day international enduro race at San Juan. Countries were represented from around the globe, flags on display from all corners of the world. A sense of excitement and racing fever gripped everyone, the place became an instant sand-churned hive of activity. The site was a furnace, the sun an executioner but that mattered little and less; we were there to witness what looked and felt synonymous to the Dakar Rally, one of the world’s most famous endurance races in South America where competitors cover around 500 miles off road per day for two weeks.
Scooping up our things, we laid out the iron planks outside our colonial style backpackers ‘La Casa Roja’ for the last time, rolled a few feet down our makeshift ramp and set off for homeward bound: ‘Hogar Dulce Hogar’ – Home Sweet Home. Our return ride from Santiago to Mendoza went practically without a hitch. Canadian Matt had successfully sold his KLR, even if he had crashed on the way over down the slippery-smooth switchbacks near Portillo and lost his temporary import paperwork. Not ideal but luckily not a deal-breaker for his bike sale.
The boys: Juan-Pi, Matt and Jason enjoyed a ‘Lads day out’ (synonymous to No ‘Captain Slows’ allowed) up in Mendoza’s finest mountains.“No problema chicos, by all means venture out; I will chat and chill the day away”, I managed between a big grin, ushering them out of the door. With the freedom granted by an off-roading prowess of similar abilities, they chose a pretty technical route through the foothills of Mendoza. They rode hard. Tackled some steep inclines, pushed the bravado-fuelled envelope and go figure, dropped their bikes more than once – fun-filled hours after which the afternoon saw them sweat-soaked, bushed and does-my-belly-think-my-throat’s-been-cut ravenous! Juan-Pi admirably stepped up and treated the trio to an impressively large beef asado, prepared on an open fire in a rural spot, al fresco style. I heard it was tantalisingly good, yet another taste bud sensation.
Once passing for human again post our sliver in Bolivia, we casually made our way out of San Pedro de Atacama. Upon leaving, the three of us bumped into some bikers from Santiago ‘two up’ on two bikes. Briefly acquainted, their proceeding word of cautionary advice was, “Be very, very careful in Argentina, it is dangerous.” Eh?! Sorry, it’s what now? Surely it had to be about thee safest country in South America – of which we’d experienced its length and breadth around a dozen times. I was fast running out of passport pages because of our unremitting infatuation with the country. I shouldn’t have but out of earshot, I chuckled to myself on and off for about half an hour afterwards. What exactly should we be so afraid of, I honestly wondered as we rode into the familiarity of Argentina. Vicious vicuna?
Plan A: To vacate Uyuni in Bolivia via 237 miles on routes 5, 701, skirting around lagunas Pasto Grande, Capina and Colorada, through the Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve of Andean Fauna, by-passing Laguna Verde to eventually cross the border into northern Chile’s San Pedro de Atacama. Why the need to re-enter Chile for the nth time? It seemed silly to venture any further north when we’d made November plans in the southern most aspect of South America again.
Appreciating that only around 10 per cent of roads are paved in Bolivia, acknowledging there is only one road rule in the country: There are no road rules as well as knowing little and less about the true road conditions, we jumped straight onto the online forums and ascertained the consensus of our desired route to be a long six-day road that was “slow-going but not technical”. I was on board with that – vamoose, lets go!
Around only ten per cent of Bolivia’s roads are paved, the rest are tracks fashioned from: varying thicknesses of sand, compacted and soft dirt, dire corrugations, rocks and largely ungraded gravel. A portion of both the tarmac and trails are occasionally: blockaded in protest by the locals and a playground to drunk and half-wit drivers thereby forcing the hard shoulder of dirt to become your favourite ‘Go to’ place when things go awry.