Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Day 73 - Villazón, Bolivia, to Salta, Argentina

We expected to encounter a relatively speedy border crossing into La Quiaca, Argentina.  Getting our passports stamped out of Bolivia was very easy and to get the bikes out of Bolivia all we had to do was drop off the customs paper at the front desk. However, getting into Argentina was time consuming and somewhat complex, as we had to get liability insurance for the bikes before being able to take them into the country.  To make matters worse, the immigration line into Argentina was very long and progressing ever so slowly.

To get into Argentina we had to multi-task.  First we needed to get the liability insurance, then have our passports stamped at immigration and lastly customs for the bikes and our belongings.  RobC walked into La Quica for the bike insurance, even though he wasn't legally in the country and I stood in the long immigration line.  RobC returned with documents in hand (30 USD each) and I was only half way to the immigration window after an hour and a half.  RobC took my place in line and I took some pictures of the border area.

Looking at the Bolivian side of the border.

Argentine side and all the pedestrian traffic.

We noticed another strange  phenomenon.  An old train bridge that was solely used by an endless stream of people carrying huge loads on their backs from the Argentine side to the Bolivian side of the border.  Oddly enough the same picture popped into both our heads, "leaf cutter ants," was the best description of what we were witnessing.  Loads varied from huge 50 kg bags of flour, to several crates of eggs to bags of textiles, to 4 crates of beer, you name it these people were carrying it.  Some were plodding along, others in a light jog.  There were men and women, both young and old.  Goods going one way, empty carrying cloths coming back.  Very intriguing to watch.  These people were definitely in very good shape, physically and mentally in order to endure this hour after hour, day after day. Later, RobC learned that this activity is openly tolerated by border officials on both sides and they call it, interestingly enough, "contrabanda hormiga" (ant contraband).

"Holding area" for various goods on the Argentine side.

A closer look.

Some of the loads these people carried.

We also found out that we had entered another time zone, so we just lost another hour.  That was okay, as it was not going to be a "heavy" riding day anyway, plus we would be on pavement. Yeah!!  The first part of the ride was on the Argentine Altiplano at about 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) alongside an abandon railroad.  The first "town" we passed had a picturesque abandoned railway station, like something you would see in a Butch Cassidy movie.  It almost felt like we were riding the prairies as the Altiplano stretched as far as the eye could see.

Passing the tropic of Capricorn.

Interesting geological formations.

Local vendor in one of the small Argentine towns.

Our friend, Lars, from Perumotors, had told RobC about the old road from Jujuy to Salta, and that it was a must for scenery and an incredible ride.  It was an amazing, very narrow (about 4 meters wide) "two-way" twisty road through some spectacular scenery.  We felt like we were traveling through some miniature world because of the narrow road, yet it had all the markings on it for both directions of traffic.

 All the trees were covered in vines, which created a mystical ambiance to the ride.

We arrived in Salta at a decent hour, found a nice down-town hotel and planned on taking a rest day tomorrow, as we needed to catch up on our blog, do laundry and service the bikes after the past grueling week in Bolivia.

RobC:  During the afternoon ride we were elated and feeling great. Being on beautiful blacktop (I didn't think I would ever say that), seeing full-service gas stations with premium gas and that also sell snacks and great coffee, being able to ride at a nice speed so that the kilometers tick by fast, finding restaurants with predictable foods, seeing frequent road signs indicating upcoming cities and the number of kilometers, seeing school children in uniform, etc. It is not just because my dear wife is from Argentina, but it really feels great to be here. Of course, Bolivia was a great adventure, but a person can only take so much dust, bumping around, dropping the bike in the sand and gravel, sleeping in hot rooms and questionable beds, etc. After all, we are gentlemen riders, and it feels good to be clean now and then.  :-)


  1. Hi RobC,
    I wish you a marry christmas in Argentina.

  2. I wish you a Merry Xmas and happy New Year!
    Keep going!

  3. Mery Christmas and happy New Year are the wishes of your friends Ivonne & Jose Luis, Peru & Spain. The best wishes for you in your big trip...