The Puna Double Cross: Pt 1 Paso Sico

There’s nothing like discovering that your intended route goes through a minefield to throw a spanner in the works during last minute planning. Nice one Pinochet. The Paso Huaytiquina route into Argentina was proving as problematic as it was alluring, and, combined with a complete absence of immigration facilities, this latest bombshell was the final nail in the coffin for this plan. So it was instead back to neighbouring Paso Sico to take me over the Andes from Chile to Argentina, still a worthy dirt route but a little more straightforward, in that people actually use this one. (Note for future dirt riders; Guilherme from BBikes San Pedro, a Brazilian with much bigger cojones than me, is still planning to ride Huaytiquina soon, so if you see him in town with all his limbs intact, chances are it’s probably all fine!)

Sico was therefore to be first of two crossings of the Chilean/Argentine border, launching me into the desolate, but stunning desert landscape of Argentina’s Puna de Atacama, before being whisked back out again via the more involved Paso Socompa. I’ve come to term it the ‘Puna Double Cross’, basically a complete dogleg of a route taking 10 days and achieving little in the way of southerly progress. This was riding for the sake of riding.

Desert parties and digestive ‘troubles’ saw me leaving Chile’s San Pedro a little worse for wear, but the clock was ticking for my imminent rendezvous with Sam and I was hemorrhaging money (Chile is quite expensive, apparently). So, much like Chris Froome in last year’s Vuelta, I was going to have to ride myself into this one…

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The seatpost search reached a colourful conclusion in Calama with this florescent yellow bad boy. Just like a Thomson, apparently…

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Bike patched up it was time to hit the paved road towards Sico and the start of the good stuff

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Another one for the construction site camping collection. Given the fierce afternoon winds in these parts it’s a case of taking whatever shelter you can get.

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I’m not usually one for taking photos of my meals (as they’re usually rubbish), but I feel I surpassed myself this time….

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The next day it’s onto dirt roads and the spectacular Salar de Aquas Calientes

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Where a killer camp spot awaits at the northeast end

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Complete with sunset view…

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Closing in on Paso Sico, powered by Cappuccino biscuits…

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Up…

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And over…

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On to the Argentine Immigration post, with the Faulty Towers scene “don’t mention the war!” bouncing around in my head. Any preconceptions of a frosty reception soon evaporate though, as I’m offered food and a bed for the night, incredibly friendly folk. Good effort with the patriotic paint job as well…

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Plug sockets seem to be a matter of national identity down here, much like a flag; Chile has its bizarre triple pin job and here we have the Argentine ‘crow’s foot’. Points for creativity, but brilliantly unhelpful to the unprepared cyclist.

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In the rock and roll lifestyle that is cycle touring, you tend to get through sunglasses and earphones like no tomorrow. Now sporting new $5 baby blue earphones and my third pair of sunnies in as many months…

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Most riders would continue to San Antonio at this point and start plugging their way down Ruta 40, but here at The Ride South we like to do things a little differently and I veer off to the small village of Pocitos…

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Where sausage and rice awaits

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Along with a 3 week old llama…

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Another railway town in days gone by, with relics of the past strewn all over the place

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Leaving town and hitting the Salar de Pocitos

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And then the incredible Desierto Diablo, a place I didn’t know existed until I was in it (such is the lack of information on routes in the rarely ridden Puna)

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Surprisingly muddy for a desert

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And the drivetrain soon throws up its hands in defeat, time for some cleaning…

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More incredible scenery accompanies me all the way to the next village of Tolar Grande, the last pocket of civilisation before starting the desolate route towards Paso Socompa. Time to resupply and ready myself for Part 2 of the Puna Double Cross…

Route Info:

For Paso Sico see here. If going to Pocitos take the main road from the arg immigration post that runs alongside the salar and after 39km there’s a right turn which is a cool shortcut to the road to Pocitos. This shaves off a lot, the shortcut itself being 7km, then another 24km to reach Pocitos. Here’s how I split it up:

Day 1: San Pedro to Socaire 90km (medium)

Day 2: Socaire to Salar Aquas Calientes 68km (medium)

Day 3: Salar Aquas Calientes to Arg Immigration 65km  (medium)

Day 4: Arg Immigration to Pocitos 70km (medium)

Day 5: Pocitos to Tolar Grande 86km (long) Note: no water or food along this stretch but plenty of camping opportunities between 30 to 50km from Pocitos around the ‘big lumps’ in the desert.

7 responses to “The Puna Double Cross: Pt 1 Paso Sico

  1. Pingback: The Puna Double Cross: Pt 2 Paso Socompa | THE RIDE SOUTH·

  2. Hi Paul,

    The double cross looks awesome – nice one! Loving your photos of this amazing part of the world, and I’m impressed you found some mud up there on the Puna too…

    I’d always wondered about Huaytiquina (after seeing it on maps, then seeing the ‘Mines’ sign in Catua). I’m not sure where the minefields are exactly, but I thought you might be interested that these Brazilian guys cycled it 15 years ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUq_VkYtC6I

    Enjoy Patagonia!

    Neil

    • Brilliant, thanks Neil. Maybe one for next time then… It’d be great to cross paths with you guys at some point when I’m back in Bristol/Bath… Cheers, Paul

  3. The photos have been of a very high standard, but they seem to be getting even better – some look as if they were taken on ASA 25 Kodachrome!

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