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paso sico

CHILE/ARGENTINA: SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA –TOCONAO — SOCAIRE — PASO SICO — CATUA — CAUCHARI — SAN ANTONIO DE LOS CORBRES

When the time comes to leave San Pedro it happens that the Pikes and I are – initially, at least – heading in the same direction.  I am going to enter Argentina via Paso Sico and the Pikes are heading into the Puna to bag a few more mountain peaks and passes. We leave San Pedro late-ish and, just before before our ways diverge, we set up camp off the highway for a final evening together.

In the morning, absurdly, we discover a group of Romanians camping on the other side of the road.

The Pikes cycle off into the wide yonder to collect a bit more Andean altitude. No 'bikepacking' for them on this expedition - they are carrying mountaineering equipment and enough food for 17 days!

I am heading upwards, too. The start of my long climb away from the desert plain is on smooth tarmac...

... but it runs out soon enough. I take a detour onto a side road through a small national park. This route is (officially) closed to traffic to protect the nesting sites of water birds on this lake but a gate staff are (unofficially) sympathetic to the low impact nature of bicycle travel. So long as you make sure you set up camp far enough from the lake to not disturb the birds...

... it's a very pleasant alternative to the main road.

Over the first pass I am back in the now familiar landscape of the altiplano...

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Despite the wide open terrain there are almost always a few sheltered nooks and crannies to be found in which to set up camp.

The vicunas eke out their existence in the barrens.

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Paso Sico is not actually a pass but a series of large road signs that alert the probably otherwise oblivious travellers to their passage across international borders. The associated bureaucracy takes place elsewhere*.

The first village in Argentia is Catua...

... where I receive an enthusiastic reception at the local school where I drop in to replenish my water supplies. The school cook provides me not only with water but also a three course lunch.

A series of morally uplifting messages adorn the cliff face where I turn back onto the highway.

This is not a rubbish dump but a shrine. In Argentina roadside alters have a distinctive folkloric flavour. Difunta Correa and Guachito Gil, the two saints most venerated here definitely have no part in the traditional Catholic pantheon. I come across shrines to these mythic beings every few kilometres, even in the most remote and uninhabited landscapes. I am fascinated enough by this phenomenon to have plans for a shrine post, so stay tuned to learn more.

* Do NOT forget to get stamped out of Chile in San Pedro before setting off on this route. The Argentinians had trouble identifying my blurrily illegible Chilean exit stamp and looked, for a little while, like they were contemplating the idea of sending me back to get another one.

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