Live from Argentina... The Tom Report!
After Salar de Uyuni Charlie and I were ready for a little class. Bright and early Saturday morning we took off down the road that Ty warned would be hell. The washboard was just as bad as expected. At 20mph my windscreen was slapping me in the face guard over the bumps; so I took Charlie's advice and kicked it up to 60mph and started hitting every third one. It's not the most relaxing way to ride, but with sandy desert on either side of me I decided to risk it. Luckily for the entire 200 kilometers from Uyuni to Tupiza I didn't come off (despite plenty of close calls).
In Tupiza Charlie and I pulled up on the road and discussed our plans. We decided to head for the border. It was only 90 kilometers more and there was plenty of daylight. He pulled away and I nearly ran off the road trying to get off the line behind him. Flat rear tire. An hour later the nail was removed and the wheel back on my bike. With the delay we decided to skip lunch and smash some Snickers bars and Oreos. Bellies full of chocolate, we hit the border around 4:00pm.
Others had warned us that we were in for a four hour border crossing, so we had our fingers crossed. As it turned out, we were through within an hour and a half. Charlie and I had bought international insurance in La Paz that covers every country south of Ecuador. That saved a lot of headache getting into Argentina. The rest of the process was pretty simple: I've got 90 days to get a job or go home.
Since crossing it has been all smiles. Argentina is momentous. It's been the destination in our hearts for the past seven months on the road and several years of planning. We pulled into a very nice hotel in the border town. It has hot water, water pressure, heating, Wi-Fi, multiple power outlets, a locking door, a bodai and most of all, you can flush the toilet paper. We took turns in the shower and then went straight to the in-house restaurant. We each ordered $10 steaks. They're far overpriced, but it was a celebration. The steaks were everything we hoped for: over an inch thick, spanning the entire plate, cooked to perfection, with two fried eggs on top. After that and a liter of beer I sank into bed at 9:00pm and slept for ten hours. Today we're taking it easy and moving south towards Salta. Last night we found out that Eddie and Lizzie are down there and we're ready for some familiar faces. We haven't seen them since Mazatlan, Mexico, so it will be a wild reunion.
As for our tour of the salt flats and the Atacama, there was so much packed into three days that I don't have much to say. Taking the three day tour in a Land Cruiser was definitely the way to go. We booked it with our friends from Potosi, Alleric and Gina. We met at 10:00am Tuesday morning and hopped in. Joining us were the driver, our guide Robert, and a young French couple. Robert was in his forties and he had less than half his teeth. The first thing he said to us was 'Hi everybody, I am Robert, like De Niro, and I used to work in the Potosi mines. When I was fourteen the mine collapsed and half of my crew died. The rest of us drank our own urine for days until rescure. I'm very lucky to be alive and excited to be out of the mines and guiding your trip now.' Heavy.
Robert wasn't great at English, and with his seven total teeth he was difficult to understand at times. Even so, he was a great guide for three days. First we drove out to a train graveyard. Just a bunch of old steam engines rustsing away in the desert. We took pictures and kept going. Next we hit the salt flats. 6,000 square kilometers of foot-thick salt sitting on top of a lake. It felt like you were getting nowhere out there. Just stark white in every direction. We stopped for lunch at Fish Island. It's a island in the flat with 1,000 year-old cacti growing on it planted by the Incas. A hike to the top revealed an amazing 360 degree view of the flat. It was unbelievable, like nothing I've ever imagined.
Next we spent a couple hours taking strange perspective shots on the flats. With the endless white background and blue sky backdrop, you can create some funny situations in a photo. There are a bunch that will make I'll upload someday. In some I'm standing in a cooking pot, being crushed by a giant boot, and even smiting Charlie.
We finished the day heading to the opposite side of the flats where our hotel was located. It's called Hotel de Sal for a reason; it's build entirely out of salt. The walls are salt bricks with a salty mortar. The chairs and tables are slates of salt. The floor is crushed salt. The only thing that wasn't salt was my bed, and even it was sitting on a salt frame. Salt doesn't insulate very well and that night was cold. I slept in my sleeping bag under the covers. We took off at 6:00am the next morning.
Our first stop was an hour away where we got to see some pigmy mummies. They were tiny, oddly shaped people who used boards to shape the infants' skulls like an alien's. The site was peppered with little rock domes and on the side of each one was a small hole. Inside the hole were the mummies. Most were just skeletons, sitting upright in the fetal position, but some still had skin on them.
Next we drove into the Atacama. Our first stop was a lagoon with a flock of flamingos grazing on microbacterials. The girls went nuts. We had lunch there and kept going. As it turned out, there would be many more lagoons and flamingos. By the end of the day I had seen thousands. Just before our hotel we stopped at another lagoon, this one completely red. Apparently the color only comes out in the daytime and is caused by phosphorescence. Quite a sight. We also saw some crazy rock formations.
Friday we were up at 4:30am and on the road. The roads in the Atacama are incredible. It's a wide open desert at over 4,000 meters and you can drive whereever you like. There is nothing but sand and gravel in all directions with a few peaks in the distance that reach over 6,000 meters. So when I say on the road, I mean, making a bearing towards our destination and off-roading toward it. Friday at 6:00am we arrived at a series of geysers blasting up from below the surface. They smelled like sulfur, which turns my stomach easily. You did not want to fall in; inside the craters was bubbling magma-hot filth water. I kept my distance. After the geysers we went to a hot springs and all hopped in. The night before the temperature had reached -25C degrees so it was great to warm up finally. After that we hit the Chilean border and dropped off the French couple. They were fun, and now we have French friends.
The rest of the day we roamed back across the desert towards Uyuni. It was a long drive and we made it back at 6:00pm. I'm glad we didn't take the bikes. Our tour covered 900 kilometers of trail very similar to the 200k from Uyuni to Tupiza. The bikes would have rattled to bits. In fact on the ride from Uyuni a bolt rattled out of Charlie's triple tree clamps which hold the forks to the frame. That's not supposed to happen. We pulled a bolt from my engine guard and called it fixed. After the tour we had pizza with Alleric and Gina and said our goodbyes. We'll all be in Santiago at the same time, though, so we'll see each other soon. Now it's all eyes on Argentina.