Its early morning the 9th of February 2016, together with Andreas we’re leaving Salta, after a dreadful night, with the loudest fearful, thunder storm ever, a bit like trying to sleep inside an iron smelter processing plant. We leave the trailers behind in a private house turned hostel, run by a Bolivian lady a pensioned teacher that looks trustworthy. Without the trailers the FLYERS will have 30 kg less to pull up the gravel roads to the Abra del Acay that with its 4895 meters is the highest pass in South America. After 30 KM we make a stop in Campo Quijano a town at about 1500 meters that stands at the foot of the Andean range.
After drinking a cappuccino and partly charging the one battery that we’d used to come up from Salta at a café, we leave with the sky covered by dark brainy menacing looking clouds. It must be around 12 noon. People at the café assured us that it wouldn’t rain till late afternoon. (So far in almost two month of travel it never rained when it looked like it was going to. The usual signals like the smell of rain, a covered dark sky a strong wind pushing a dark sky in our direction, some thunder in the distance the first drops, all of this failed to produce the feared downpour. The only weather pattern that has emerged is the fact that when it rained It rained in the late afternoon).
From Campo Quijano the asphalt road soon ends and changes to gravel for about 20 km. The gravel has lots of “calamina” or “serrucho” as the road ripples are called here in Argentina. They are caused by a combination of heavy trucks passing trough as well as wind and rain. With a car or a motorbike you can drive above 60 km this way you won’t feel the ripples only your suspension will. With the eBike its impossible to avoid the permanent shaking and rattling that becomes really tiring in the long run. The road winds up parallel to the railway tracks of the Tren a Las Nubes with its perilous looking bridges and viaducts. In places the faces of the mountains are so steep and high above our heads that they seem to bend inwards as if falling into the valley below. Many sections of the road are covered with sharp stones recently fallen from the cliffs above.
Giant Cardones cactuses mark the landscape, growing straight out of the naked multicoloured rock sediments, that have been eroded by wind sun and rain into the strangest shapes and forms giving the journey a psychedelic quality.
Legend has it that during the war of independence to troops loyal to General San Martin, put hats and ponchos onto hundreds of Cardones cactuses to trick the incoming Spaniards into believing that they where much more numerous. Further up at a place called Ing. Maury we pass a permanent police control. We’re asked to show our passports and entry stamps. There is much curiosity for the eBike among the policemen and women but not for us. When I asked the police woman checking my passport whether I should take of my balaclava and sun glasses to ID my face, she said that it wasn’t necessary and waved me on my way. I lost site of Andreas at some point after the police check point, when I saw him again in the town of Santa Rosa de Tastil at 3100 meters, he’s having a break in a provisions shop together with two Argentineans drinking several bottles of Salta beer and acting drunk. Its about 5PM, we decided to find a place to rest and continue the journey the next day. Estelia the owner of the provisions shop agreed to let us sleep on the floor and take our eBike into the shop, on Andreas’s promise to bring her a Swiss watch when he next passed trough this place. It might be in two or three years Andreas said but its not unlikely that he will pass again. This is the fifth time he has come to this rugged region of Argentina that he loves dearly. In the morning we wake among cold clouds, and make our way up to the Abra Blanca 4080 meters where the primordial human urge to say “I was here” makes us stop for a selfie. The pass will lead us to San Antonio de Los Cobres where we intended to acclimatise for a few days before going up the Abray del Acay. In San Antonio de Los Cobres people are still celebrating carnival and run around in impossibly colourful dresses and painted faces. On Friday the 12th of February from San Antonio de Los Cobres we can see the snow peak of the Acay the sky is blue cloudless a perfect day for the 40 km of gravel road that will bring us to the highest pass in south America 4895 meters above sea level, once there we make another selfie.