(September 18 – written by Dave)
We made it to Argentina! Woohoo. We have flags on the back of our bikes that say Alaska to Argentina so if we stopped now, we would have at least achieved the flag goal. It feels really good. But I’m getting ahead of myself, today we had one last day of Bolivia to ride and it at least merits a mention.
We knew that we had over 90k to ride today and we wanted to leave early but we had a date that prevented us getting out of town until 8AM. Yesterday we stopped in a very local looking bike shop and spent a good deal of time talking to the very friendly owner. He had photos of other tourists that had come through and wanted us to swing by this morning so that we could be added to the collect, with all of our kit on. We were supposed to meet him at 7:30 but were 15 minutes late. Unfortunately he was not there when we arrived – either he gave up on us or he forgot. Either way we got a photo of the shop door. Even though he may not have all the latest parts, we’d recommend Tonchi if just for the owner’s enthusiasm.
We had about 30k of slight downhill to ride this morning before a 14k uphill. The beginning of the downhill was through the same valley we rode the other day – yes red canyon walls and lots of great scenery. I took a few photos but before long was given the hurry along by my senior editor – we had the hill, the Argentina time change and a border crossing on her mind and she wanted us to make more time than we were making with my stops.
There was a really narrow spot in the canyon where I could have taken a hundred photos but I resisted. And almost as if going through a secret trap door, on the other side of the gap, all the red walls disappeared and we were in the Bolivia we thought we’d see for the rest of the day – that is, flat scrub brush and less than inspiring vistas. The Southwest Bolivia scenery was something we never expected – we were glad that we took this route. And Nancy was glad things got a little boring at that point as well – as the photo taking pretty much stopped.
The 14k climb was not too bad, nothing of Peruvian standards certainly. We stopped about two-thirds of the way up to get a cold drink. I was again given the hurry along here as my cruise director was still in her “let’s get going” mode. We made it a quick stop. The wind was building as we rode up, but it didn’t really bother us until the top. From there to the end of the ride, we had intermittent strong and gusty headwinds. We stopped for lunch in a road cut, just to get a break and stay out of the blowing sand. Bolivia was not going to let us go easy.
The last 45k were into the wind and slightly uphill – we just had to grind it out. We were both pretty excited to see the “famous” Villazon arch and know that we could make it. It wouldn’t have been much fun to camp out in the desert on our last night. Villazon and La Quiaca, Argentina share the border, Villazon being bigger. We could have stayed on the Bolivian side of the border but as noted above, Nancy was on a mission to get to Argentina today and there was no stopping.
We pulled up on the Bolivia side of the border and found a money changer. The Argentina peso has lost about 60% of its value in the past 5 months. This is really good for us, if the locals have not raised all of their prices. It lost another few cents today. All this made the negotiations with the currency traders interesting. We got a pretty good rate for today, who knows, maybe tomorrow it will actually be a bad rate. We won’t be getting too much money in advance, as every day, it is subject to losing more value.
Exchanges done, the next stop was the border. There was a shared Bolivian exit, Argentina entry station that made immigration easy. Customs was a little harder as they wanted to x-ray all of our bags (yes, we had to unload everything onto the x-ray machine). We’d moved all of our food into my bags and the customs officer didn’t bat an eye at them. We’d heard that they would take food items but we had no issues – too easy.
We got a nice photo at the border, showing how many kilometres we have left to ride until Ushuaia. I think we have a bit more because we are going over into Chile at some point but it was nice to see Ushuaia on a sign and nice to see it as so few kilometres.
Once across the border, we found a hotel pretty easy – Hosteria Munay. We could have found a cheaper one but we had more chores to get through. And the hotel is nice. The bathroom is stunning with great hot water and we even have a bidet (that we won’t be using) but the thought is nice. After showers we ducked across the street for milkshakes before we started on our “chore quest”. First up we got an Argentina phone SIM – super easy and it works – easy. Second we got a power adapter for our extension cord – they have a different plug here in Argentina, it’s the same as Australia. Third we found bread – make that we found a great Argentina bakery – we are going to like it here.
The last chore was dinner. I was quite happy to find a proper Argentinean steak – I’ve been craving one since I don’t know when. And Nancy got a nice glass of Argentinean red – also craving it for some time. Neither of us ate any chicken or rice, we are going to like it here.
We are feeling pretty good about our day. We need to find a bank but have enough cash to last a few days. Otherwise, we checked off all of the normal international border chores and we’re ready to ride tomorrow. We thought we might need an extra day here but probably won’t now. All that, and we lost an hour today as well. So tomorrow, after our hotel brekkie, we head towards Abra Pampa. It’s a little shorter day and our first day riding in Argentina – can hardly wait to see what the roads hold for us…