The Big Climb

On April 4, 2013

I’ve never been very good with altitude. Every time I rushed a hike in the Rockies I felt it. This is the reason I’m cycling up to the Bolivian border relatively slowly. That and I’m just too exhausted at the nights and sore in the morning.

Routa 9 from Salta to San Salvador (de Jujuy) was absolutely gorgeous. Extremely narrow, very tightly curved, and surrounded by trees. The mist and cool weather reminded me of the Carratera Austral. I was able to go faster than cars on the downhills since I could take the turns faster. Reminds me of racing cars of the way to school…. I like riding fast. I camped 14 km out of town in Yala. There I watched the newer Sherlock Holmes movie in a restaurant and met Herold, a Native American from Canada (and the US, learned some history) who is now living in Argentina. We had a great two hour conversation.

After San Salvador the climb started. San Salvador is at 1400 m (4600 ft) and my next stop only 76 km away was at 2450 m (8000 ft). I did make a side trip to see the hill of seven colors (or something like that). I stopped in Tilcara and Humahuaca. In Humahuaca I was feeling good enough to go to another peña, which was definitely worth it. From there I climbed up to a 3780 m (12,400 ft) pass which was hard work.

I think I’m finally getting used to the altitude and can catch my breath while cycling. I made it to the Bolivian border which was quite the experience. First I walked across the bridge into Bolivia missing the part where I get my visa. My visa costs US$135, which I barely had after buying more dollars from another tourist in Mendoza (he wasn’t doing me a favor). I think I should write a post about how backwards Argentina’s economic policies are becoming. You can’t buy US dollars in Argentina. So continuing with the border crossing, I show up and present my money. The guard examines every bill thoroughly. Every wrinkle, wear, and tiny tear. It turns out $30 was not in good enough condition. There was a wallet wear mark on a $20 and a tiny tear in a $10. Explaining that these bills have been on my bike since Ushuaia and I had no other USD on my person, he told me to go to the exchange house across the bridge in Bolivia. Of course the exchange lady tells me absolutely nobody in Bolivia will take my bills in this condition when I ask to trade. Greeeeaaaat. But she has a Chilean friend on the street that will take my $20 and as for the $10 I end up paying all of my Argentine pesos to compensate for the bad $20 and get a new $10. Long story short, good thing I had some pesos and next time get new bills.

Villazón itself is not a city people want or actually stay in. It’s used for smuggling, hustling, and there’s only two hotels. Most tourists go straight to Tupiza or Uyuni. There’s also only one foreign ATM that takes a percentage of the withdrawal. Nobody has change so good luck breaking those $100 Boliviano bills. I basically feel like this city ripped me off and am quite excited to ride to Tupiza tomorrow. From there I’ll be taking a tour of the salt flats near Uyuni before cycling up to Sucre. I’m intrigued and nervous about the Bolivian roads.

I have so many great pictures but since the Internet is super slow in Bolivia, they will have to wait.

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