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!
Sometime during the trip, my nickname and I mysteriously parted company, ‘Captain Slow’ merely evaporated like a ghost out of my being. I hoped to high heaven that was indicative that Pearl and I had begun to finally get a ‘wriggle on’ as and when required. It wasn’t rocket science picking my preferred of the remaining ones, courtesy of Jason: ‘Snot dispenser’ – doesn’t everyone have a runny hooter in cold weather? ‘Afternoon shadow’ from all the dirt and dust clinging to my face after a day in the saddle like iron filings on a magnet. ‘Princess’ when I’m being told to “Suck it up” on the sand or ‘Mozza’, an adaptation of my surname Morris. I might have some choice alternatives for my ‘marvellous other’ too.
Departing San Pedro de Atacama for the fourth time funnily enough felt like the final time. We waved a fond farewell to a woolly band of domestic llamas, sauntering over the tarmac and grazing atop the hillocks against an arresting backdrop of Lickancabur volcano. It was Siberia, the wind was screaming at the top of her lungs and the air hitting us at punishing temperatures. Whether Mother Nature was ticked off at something, I couldn’t quite tell but she was determined to ‘get my knee down’ on the straight as an arrow desert ruta 27. I wondered if she was playing with me because the more I leaned into her, the more she pushed back. My grunts made those of Venus Williams during her US Open tennis tournaments sound like soft newborn whimpers.
The beauty of having your own wheels means we executed our own sorties each day while using San Pedro de Atacama as a base. Our first self-facilitated foray into the desert took us to Valle de la Luna, Chile’s equivalent of Valley of the moon. I’d clocked the coaches carting around the day-trippers but thankfully the park was big enough to disperse everyone adequately enough. Its resemblance to the surface of the moon was remarkable, owing to its different stratifications and salt formations. We took ourselves on a cruisy circuit stopping when the urge took us; sauntered over the odd sand dune, bobbled over the bumpiest salt-stiffened road to date, siesta’ed in the sun post lunch and indulged in a light read. It was biking bliss. I overheard one young woman who, after completing a guided walk faced her tour guide and exclaimed, “Well that was absolutely not boring!”