Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Over The Hill

For those in the know: RN7/ International - Paso Cristo Redendor - CH60. (The main road between Argentina and Santiago, Chile.)
Another roller coaster of a day. Both geographical and psychological. It starts with a climb, a truck ride and a frontier crossing. Starting at -2 degrees and finishing at 28, started with the silence of a high altitude bivvi, and finishes with a Latino birthday party. Started in one country and finished in its neighbour's. We collect some more passport stamps and yet another version of officialdom's non-comprehension.
Camping and that essential element, sleep, are integral to a travel. Divining places of rest can be a trial, can be exciting. Like crap food which is best valued as simply fuel, so a poor site is simply a way of passing the dark time. At best a piece of questionable brain rest. A poor site, be it a grubby overpriced room or a mozzie infested scab of withered grass is tolerable but soon forgotten. Where as the notable or unusual is cherished. We collect two of the latter in quick succession. There was the tented classroom that came with parquet floor and trestle benches, followed closely by a bivvi high up on the Western Hemisphere's highest hill. To which was added a full moon.
At one time two competing train lines ran over the Paso Christo Redendor. Amazingly much of the infrastructure still exists. The track and the ties are intact, if at times swallowed up by the incessant upheavals of flood and avalanche. Near the top a series of corrugated tunnels still stand, the wooden beams still beautifully weathered, in places still charred by that last steam locomotive. In the past we've pitched between the rails of defunct lines. We were keen to repeat the experience, just for the sake of it. A bit of eccentric fun. On a wet and windy night the tunnel would be perfect, but with the promise of that moon and the array of high tops across our immediate horizon, we opt for the bielded shelter behind a couple of strategically positioned iron sheets. The afternoon gale howls down the tunnel, rattles loose tin, setting others to chatter and squeal, such that I'm convinced there's a troop of children advancing down the line. Eventually with the dusk, a profound silence settles as the sun sets and the moon arises. The mountain views still at full volume. Into this quiet a rogue gust of wind echoes along the tunnel waking me up. A ghost train of the imagination, those chattering tin sheets adding to the image.
Next morning is clear, the glacier melt streams frost rimed, but the promise is for heat. Rising through the bends to the Christo Redendor tunnel and a truck ride to Chile. Cerro Aconcagua and its attendants sharp, pristine, the ski resorts naked, empty and forlorn.
This crossing is popular with touring cyclists. It's the easiest way to access the Andes and western Argentina. Fly into Santiago and start climbing immediately. We know of eight cyclists who crossed during our two-day sojourn in the vicinity of the frontier. So what followed is a bit of a puzzle. This is our second entry into Chile with cycles; the last was with the convoys of Bolivian petrol trucks. The last was simplicity itself. Lorries and cycles being of a similar nature, the Navigator oft describing her cycle as a camion. The staff more interested in our impressions and intentions; their sole concern to make sure we had no garlic. Only here, we simply don't fit their simplistic binary formula, neither a bus passenger nor a car driver. The computer has no square box into which our round peg can be rammed. I'm now tempted to create an officious, laminated document just for my bike, along the lines of our spurious passport creations that nobody has yet to question.
We passed in and out of that hall numerous times, as we were sent back to acquire another piece of paper, to block up another queue. It became comical, its sole redeeming feature being the stunning panorama each time we emerged from that cavernous concrete hall. The Navigator giggling with each fresh absurdity. We eventually end up in a police office collecting a piece of photocopied document that states our name and number. I think its to show that we entered with cycles and when we come to leave, are not exporting or smuggling cycle contraband. Said scrap of paper accumulates four rubber stamps and now I'm concerned that I've garnered yet another piece of paper to lose. Yet the real absurdity has yet to be perpetrated. The bag search, carried out without the aid of an x-ray machine. Chile is well known for its fido sanitary restrictions, it has a major agricultural industry to protect, so the nuts and raisins are confiscated, yet the pan dulce is given the all-clear. Pan dulce has nuts and raisins in it. There's a giant poster right behind my parked up bike, depicting banned products, included is just what you might expect, fruit, veg, animal products and pencils. I carry a pencil, as pens get afflicted with altitude sickness. I also have a pair of Uruguayan sheepskin mitts that I'm rather fond of. I present them for inspection and they pass muster. Don't ask, I certainly didn't. Strange place the frontera.

Last night it was the silence that is sweet noise. Tonight it's Latino party night, to which can be added the clanking diesel loco and the jake brakes of tanker lorries, finally mix in a hazchem of rotten eggs. A day that gave us our fourth Andean crossing, yet it will be hard to think of a day that has given us such extremes.