He rides faster than he writes!
Nick has been back in the UK for a couple of weeks now after completing his Destination Adventure trip around South America for Yamaha.
With time to kill, and plenty of stories still to tell, Nick takes us on the next stage of his journey:
“There are a number of passes which take you from Argentina to Chile. Some in the south such as the Paso Rodolfo Roballos approaches the slopes from Bajo Caracoles (that lonely hotel in Patagonia) and is reputedly beautiful. Further up there’s a crossing to Chile Chilo but the road doesn’t extend further. The route from Alto Rio Mayo to Cohaique joined me mid way along the Carretera Austral and had a surface comprising hard unyielding piste, large pebbles skewering the steering, wheels stuck in a rut of piled up stones. There is another crossing at Rio Frias from the Argentine side and Estancia Lago Verde further north which I also didn’t know but entering the western edge of Welsh Patagionia from Chile via Futaleufú, one of the premier whitewater rafting destinations in the world, was a crossing I did know and once again, the piste alternated from a hard stony environment to dirt.
The next crossing from San Carlos de Bariloche, a beautiful city bordering Lake Guitterez that tentacled deeply into the mountains would take you to the south Chilean city of Osorno. Instead I decided to cross at Puerto Tromen, starting the ascent from Junin de los Andes. It was a tiny frontier, manned by two people on the Argentine side and maybe five officers in Chile. Lesser known and formerly impassable by road thereby necessitating taking a ferry to sail around the cliffs. Traversing yet again these magnificent mountains you see vast forests, clear blue skies through which stir an infinity of peaks. There, very high up there is a dehumanised landscape inhabited only by condors, llamas and guanacos. When you cast your mind back, there, you see pre-Hispanic territory of ruined civilisations that can only be reconstructed in the mind, the detail of which goes back 4000 years. The Andes are the longest running mountain chain on earth, the name reputedly buried in the darkness of past ages. It is said, and I have stood beside my bike many times thinking this, that no landscape other than maybe the Sahara Desert, so mercifully exposes one’s own insignificance.
The Andes have always inspired fantasy, mythological happenings and a sense of awe. My own epiphany occurred when biking to La Leona in the south, I saw Mt Fitzroy in the distance across Lake Viedma. The mountaineering history of this peak is extraordinary but it was reminiscent of how I imagined Tolkien’s evil empire Mordor to be.
Ruta 5 from the south Chilean city of Temuco to the countries capital Santiago is the countries transport hub, it’s north-south axis the only one that connects the verdant south with the arid north. Here, it was thick with fast, dense traffic making it typical of a route that allowed little choice to get to where you needed to go to.
In Santiago I met up with my sponsors Touratech, they have an agent there called Mototechnik. Willi Linzmayer ran the shop which unsurprisingly looked like Nick Plumb’s Touratech place in South Wales – gleaming aluminium product parts sitting on shelves like bits of engineering art. Willi kindly supplied me with a new set of Conti’s, a TKC 70 on the back with a more knobbly TKC 80 on the front. It was an uncontroversial mix of tread but particularly favoured the front wheel to handle sand should it arise. I stayed a night and then rode out of town with Willi leading me to Los Andes and then Portillo before the palaver of customs formalities at the top of the Pass.
This, the Paso Internacional de Libertadores is the most major crossing of the Cordillera south of Bolivia and at the top, at 10,000ft, there is a small hostel housing walkers and the occasional motorcyclist, all with an interest in the highest mountain in the Andes, the nearly 7,000 metre Mt. Aconcagua. I stayed the night and realised the following morning my fuel was registering 40kms into reserve, so freewheeled down the Andes alongside the Rio Mendoza until I reached a gas station at Uspallata, 100kms away.
For several days I rode across a swathe of the Argentine. No longer looking at the dry tissue thin faces of Andean people, their mask of life was left far behind me until in time I had to cross this mountain range once again. I had chosen the northern route from Salta to climb over the Paso de Sico at 16,000ft, dropping down into San Pedro de Atacama.”