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abra de acay


After a very brief pit-stop in San Antonio de Cobres, which entirely wipes out my available Argentinian cash* supply I head off to cross Abra de Acay, Argentina’s highest pass.

I’m still pretty tired after the trip from San Pedro so it’s not until 2PM that I drag myself out of San Antonio and an early afternoon electrical storm soon has me searching for cover after lightening strikes the ground beside the road only a few hundred metres away from me. Much as I love a big electrical storm the smoking bushes on the hillside just above me are little sobering. Nonetheless, the clouds and rain are welcome after Chile’s utterly arid deserts. I am quite pleased to be out of the Atacama rain shadow.

Rhea, large Emu-like birds, are a common sight in these parts. These guys peer at me, curiously, from above.

It's a steady climb...

... to the top. Abra de Acay, if the stickers are any indication, looks like a popular pass amongst the PanAm bike and motorcycle crowd.

Down the other side it is deserty but relatively lushly so compared to the area around San Pedro, in Chile.

There are plenty of indications that it rains in these parts and that when it does there is a lot of fast moving water to contend with. I am cautious when picking a camp site to avoid areas which look like they flood when the thunderheads empty their contents over the hills on either side of the valley. I have no desire to be woken in the middle of the night by a flash flood washing through my tent.

Red rocks and green oasis valleys...

... support haciendas that are clearly centuries old.

It's all very poetically Western.



Noisy parrots crowd just about every tree - although apparently they live in holes in the ground.

It's a spiky place with a sudden corresponding increase in the daily quota of flat tyres.


As I drop down again into the valley, I pass through crazy rock formations in what was once the bed of an ancient lake.

I am told that this area was the shooting location for some episode of the Star Wars franchise and although I can find no evidence to support that claim it certainly looks the part.

*A word on changing money in Argentina:

The Argentinian government, in its inscrutable wisdom, artificially pegs the peso to the dollar at a patently unrealistic value but given an unstable economy with ruinous inflation, many Argentinians are willing to exchange pesos for almost double the official rate. It makes travelling in Argentina much more affordable if you change your money on the ‘blue market’, as it is known, rather than drawing it out of ATMs or changing it at banks. ATMs are particularly disadvantageous because not only is the exchange rate unrealistic but there are heavy charges for each transaction and miserly maximum withdrawal limits. The biggest problem with the parallel economy is that it is not always easy in smaller towns and villages to find someone who has excess cash to exchange. There are also, of course, a few potential risks when performing financial transactions with dubious characters on street corners. At this point in the game, I have only managed to exchange a small quantity of cash with the French cyclist that I encountered en route and I would be willing to deal with practically anyone outside an official banking institution.

{ 2 } Comments

  1. Neil | January 20, 2014 at 3:24 am | Permalink

    Gotta watch out for the lightning round these parts! And those thorns too- Haz had one go through the sole of her trainer once!


  2. anna | January 20, 2014 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    It was distinctly disturbing, that bolt of lightening. I was off the bike and looking for shelter within seconds. Not that there was much about.

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