The Puna Double Cross: Pt 2 Paso Socompa

The Paso Socompa crossing between Argentina and Chile is shrouded in a certain amount of mystery; a remote and desolate place, over which no one can seem to agree whether or not it’s actually a legal border crossing. Long since closed to vehicular traffic, it’s now a rather forlorn and forgotten outpost where a handful of plucky cyclists are about the only action it sees.

Frankly it’s a miracle the place is still manned and when I arrived at the Argentine post it was no great surprise to find no one there; I simply assumed they’d buggered off or hung themselves out of boredom. When they did finally appear it transpired I was the first person to cross this year and was evidently a pretty big deal. Those of you used to the impersonal efficiency of airport immigration would find the process here a little different; it’s more of a sit down for a chat, have a meal, then add each other on Facebook kind of affair. The chaps on the Chilean side weren’t quite so welcoming though and actually seemed pretty stressed out by the whole thing, openly admitting they’d never processed someone entering the country before. Brilliant. Two hours of flustered phone calls later and they’d just about figured out what to do, but even then I still had to politely suggest that they actually stamp my passport. Easily the most drawn out border crossing of my life and absolutely fitting for this desolate, but stunning ride…

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Leaving Tolar Grande loaded up with 4 days worth of food and 5 litres of water ready for the remote route up and over Socompa

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More desert lumpiness

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Then a blast across Argentina’s biggest salar, with it’s rather ominous signpost… Gone is the white marble of Bolivia, salars down here look more like ploughed fields

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One of my more impressive lunch creations

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Along with some much-needed fruit for desert, it’s sweaty work when the sun’s out

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Then the climbing starts…

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With stunning views back over the salar

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A long 90km day on rough tracks and relentless climbs sees me ride practically to dusk

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But I know there’s water at the abandoned railway station of Chuculaqui so I push on. I also happen upon this ‘Aid Package’ left by a French scientist working in the area that I met very briefly on Paso Sico a week earlier. What a legend. (Pascal, if you read this, merci beaucoup you superstar!)

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Chuculaqui, abandoned buildings for shelter and a fresh water source. Future riders take note; this gem was key to being able to ride this route fast and light.

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On Paso Sico a Brazilian 4×4 expedition stopped to offer me clothes, a first for the trip, but I think the current state of my shorts may have had something to with it. They’ve seen better days I’ll admit…

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Riding the train tracks out of Chuculaqui

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More Puna epicness

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Things get sandy as I close in on Laguna Socompa, with brooding clouds on my tail…

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Crawling up the climb to Paso Socompa, against that familiar gale force westerly, I pass by this poor chap

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Then the Argentine immigration party kicks off. A great bunch, with an evident passion for their national beverage, mate. Bombarded with food and drink offers, as well as a bed and hot shower, it didn’t take much persuasion for me to stay the night. Chile could wait…

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The Argentinian crew and bedraggled English cyclist

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Amazingly the old railway line makes it up and over the pass

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You know you’re back in Chile when the proliferation of road signs starts

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Another sweaty day in the saddle, calling for a packet of rehydration salts for a quick ‘pick me up’….

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Before tackling the final climb on the Socompa route. All that was now left was a rather tedious blast through open desert down towards the Chilean coast. Mission complete, a tough but rewarding route that’s well off the beaten track…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy Puna jolly marked the last stint on the bike before taking a short hiatus from ‘The Ride South’. I’ve since embarked on a rather lengthy bus journey back up to Huaraz, Peru, where I’ve been joined by Sam to focus on another project for a bit. Normal service will resume shortly though; the Patagonian winter waits for no man…

Route Info:

Andes by bike covers some of the route here, and Nathan, one of literally a handful to have ridden this, does a great job of filling in the gaps here. The only thing I’ll add is that there are two reliable water sources in the vicinity of Chuculaqui station just off the road between Socompa and Tolar Grande. If you’re camping at the station there’s a pipe with good water about 200m to the east of the main group of the buildings, about 30m up the slope on the north side of the track (the water flowing down to the track is visible on Google Earth). If you’re not camping there you’re better off going to the second pipe outlet, which if travelling from Socompa is just past the station (maybe 400m) at the bottom of a short steep decent in the road and is just up the hillside to your left. Combined with the water source at Caipe station there’s really no need to lug loads of water with you between immigration and Tolar. It’s a tough stretch that pays to ride light. Also note that there is a strong prevailing westerly wind that kicks up from around midday onwards on the west/chilean side and will be with you until at least Laguna Socompa, so if travelling from Argentina it makes sense to start early on this section. Winds on the east side were all over the place.

Here’s how I split it up. (Although note that to make from Tolar to Chuculaqui in one day is a long slog with lots of climbing and difficult road conditions, without wanting to sound arrogant, you’ll need to be a pretty reasonable rider to do this)

Day 1: Tolar Grande to Chuculaqui 90km (very long)

Day 2: Chuculaqui to Arg Immigration 51km (medium)

Day 3: Arg Immigration to Imilac station (en route to Minera Escondida, as I was heading to the coast) 90km ish (long)

9 responses to “The Puna Double Cross: Pt 2 Paso Socompa

  1. hi mate, another tough looking area, I love the offer of clothes, must have been tempting for a pikey type!
    more excellent photos. Intriguing relationship with the Argentinian border guards! cheers, Nige

  2. Chuckle, slow progress, but Wow! those pictures and the narrative – thank you. Almost seems you don’t want the odyssey to end, as much as I…Such a life experience you are having – enthralling. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Desolate looking area, very good account and great photos. I admire your stamina. Take care. Sheila.

  4. Pingback: An Argentinian gateway (Paso Socompa) | Fatcycling·

  5. Pingback: Crossing the Andes by Foot via Paso Socompa – 250 km of Desert Solitude | Dominik Birk·

  6. Pingback: Inspiring Quotes for Crossing the High Deserts in South America | Dominik Birk·

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