Argentina – Bolivia via the Atacama desert

Dear blog readers, much has happened since the last update – as it always does on this trip. Our first stop after we escaped the civilisation of Cordoba and the meat feasts was the ruines of the Quilmes Indians (yes the most famous Argentinian beer is called Quilmes as well). The Quilmes were a fierce native tribe that defeted the Inka invasions for centuries. When the Spanish conquistadores arrived they managed to fight them off for 130 years but were defeated in the end. Rumour has it that they rather faced extinction than living under Spanish rules. The Quilmes killed all of their own women and children and the few remaining Quilmes were deported to an island close to Buenos Aires where they lived the rest of their days without producing any more offspring. That Island is called Quilmes today and the brewery is located on that island. If the beer is named after the fierce native tribe or after the island remains an unanswered question.

We camped at the bottom of the ruins in the middle of a cactus field and we got attacked by their thorns which ended with 2 totally punctured Therm-a-rest sleeping mats and a rather uncomfortable night on hard ground. We got rewarded though with a visit of 2 llamas in the morning (non spitting ones).

The road ahead took us through winding turns further north and into more and more interesting and ever changing landscapes. One minute we were riding through dry desert climate and before we knew it we got into a lush rain forrest that could have easily been the set for Avatar by James Cameron. Our inital plan was to ride straight up to Bolivia but we decided to make a small detour through Chile and the Atacama desert. First of all we had to visit the colourful mountains of Humahuaca though. The road started as a fairly leveled gravel road but soon winded itself up through countless serpentines. At some stage I thought we must have taken the wrong turn but - no the road took us up to a literally breathtaking 4,350m altitude viewpoint. Nature had one of its creative moments when it formed those mountains – the area is called the mountain of the 7 colours and that is not taking in consideration all the different shades of those 7 colours. Breathtaking in more than one way.

Now I thought 4,350m was high but the day after we had to cross the border into Chile and that was when it got really high – 4,800 meters! The Penguin (our trusted Yamaha motorbike) seemed to have no problem with the altitude but for us every stop took a lot of our strength. We arrived in San Pedro de Atacama and again the climate changed radically. Just 3 days earlier we drove through a rain forrest and now we were in the driest desert on the planet. The nights are freezing but the days had pleasant temperatures of around 25 degree. Unfortunetley Gaby’s Fox (her BMW GS650) played up. She found a lot of engine oil beneath the airfilter which would explain why the Fox struggled over the pass. All the info we got of the all knowing internet what could be wrong was not looking good. At least it was enough to worry that Gaby decided to get to the next BMW dealer to check what is wrong with the Fox. Now the next BMW dealer is either 1,500 km. south in Santiago or 1,500 km. north in Lima. Nothing anywhere in Bolivia and so we had to say once again good bye to Gaby and the Fox. We surely meet them again.

The next day we set off to the Bolivian border. Through small salt flats and active volcanoes we reached the (almost) ghost town of Ollague. Most of the houses are abondoned and the entire town is dominated by the big freight trains. The town feels like the scene of a western movie and one kind of expect Clint Eastwood walking around the corner with his poncho hanging of his shoulders and his guns still smoking anytime. Instead of Clint Eastwood we met 4 Irish bikers though and decided to take the ride into Bolivia together. But that is material for the next blog update – so stay tuned.