When I was growing up I was told “Go west, young man” and that ended up shaping my life, so far. It still holds true here in Argentina and Chile; a week of going south in Argentina is enough of dusty desert riding and so the bike gets pointed west back towards Chile. There’s a thin road on the maps leading up into the Andes, promising another low traffic dirt pass: Paso Pichachen.
First say goodbye to Lee, traditional cyclist farewell involves two rounds of bakery-bought cake, dulce de leche permeated sweetness. Lee continues south, bound to a tighter deadline for wrapping up his tour. The end of my trip is coming, but there’s still a bit of time left.
Set off solo again, probably for the last time on this journey. A meet-up with Paul is scheduled when he finishes riding in northern Chile and Argentina. But for now it’s just Ace and me on the road, a return to mental contemplation accompanied by legs pumping up and down, over and over. It’s far enough south that the sun comes up early and sets late, and these are the best days to let thoughts swirl however they may.
Argentina to Chile via Paso Pichachen. Chos Malal (Arg)-El Cholar (Arg)-Paso Pichachen-Antuco (Chile)-Los Angeles (Chile).
Lee Vilinsky, fueling up on a combination of a mil hojas and alfajor that’s been covered in peanuts. True cyclist food.
Blue skies and dirt, not too shabby.
Argentinean roadside shrine. They all vary in size and neatness, but they always fly the red flags.
Towards the mountains, glacier topped peaks promise some measure of relief from the southern hemisphere summer.
Typical arid Argentinean landscape. Pro tip to keep throat moist: maintain a supply of hard candies, or, in local Spanish, caramelos.
Approaching the pass starts to bring an end to the dryness.
The Andes keep Chile and Argentina separated all down the length of the countries, and the mountains maintain distinct ecosystems on each side. Chile’s land squeezes itself in between the Pacific and the mountains and stays much greener than the corresponding land in Argentina. In Argentina, for once the earth becomes greener and takes on more color as it rises up into the mountains, but away from the mountains the land just stretches out eastward into an expansive desert.
Bathed in sunlight at dusk falls.
To reach the pass just as the sun sets. Following standard Chilean sensibility, the Chilean immigration station lies 30km away from the actual pass, as far away as they could sensibly build the station. A quiet night camping in No Man’s Land with only some cows grazing nearby for company ensues.
On the Chilean side of the border, the road weaves its way through Parque Nacional Laguna de Laja. Volcanoes thrust upwards stand as background for the huge lake in the park’s basin.
Commemorative plaques and Chilean flags adorn the road throughout the park, remembrances of a tragic military training mission. In 2005 474 soldiers were sent into the region on a mountain training exercise. An unexpected blizzard fell upon them, and lacking adequate cold-weather gear they were forced to shelter as best they could. Rescue teams managed to evacuate 429 soldiers, but 45 died due from hypothermia. A somber note to a beautiful place.
I am a distant cousin of yours originally from Cleveland. Long story short, my son is doing a study abroad in Valorporais, Chile and it sounds like you may have stashed your bike somewhere there. He (Adam Becker) is currently traveling through Columbia which may be where you are too?
Anyway, I believe you were sent his contact info through your mom. It would be crazy if your paths actually crossed!
I hope you enjoy the rest of your travels. We live in Portland, Oregon so if you are ever travelling in the boring U.S.of A. Please look us up.
Safe journeys. Be well.
Thanks for the note! Valparaiso was a great city, great place to stay for a while. My buddy and I aren’t sure of our plans yet, but the Patagonian winter is bearing down fast, so aside from picking up my bike nearby we might not be in the area long. Would be fun to meet up if it works out! Else maybe someday in Portland, I’ll be back on the West Coast soon.
Is the roadside shrine a toilet?
No, just an enclosure housing some photos and candles and well-wishings. For the lake… not so much. Was in a hurry to get onwards to the next town and find something to eat, Chile has very strict rules limiting what can be brought into the country!
Do you have more pictures of the basin lake? Did you get in the water?