ExperiencePlus! Northern Argentina Bicycle Tour 2012 – Day 3

Our hotel in Purmamarca
The colorful hills around Purmamarca
One of a thousand sleepy dogs in Argentina
Group dinner in Purmamarca
Me on the salt flats

At the end of the 2nd day, we arrived in Purmamarca. Our hotel was a great little place called the Hostal Posta de Purmamarca. Click thru for their web site. Nice place and a beautiful setting. The colors of the hillsides in all directions were impressive, especially in the late day sunshine. One of my photos here is a shot of the hotel from its parking lot.

Like Tilcara, a lot of the little town was gravel streets, so pretty much everything was a little dusty. There was a great little market around the town square in Purmamarca. Our guide on the tour said they didn’t really negotiate on prices but things were not terribly expensive and as it would turn out, relatively economical compared to other towns further south. Lots of interesting bags, hats, blankets, rugs, sweaters, metalwork and jewelry. Picked up a bag for Kem here. One of the other guys on the tour, Grant, found a great sweater here. I wish I had looked for one. We didn’t need one in Purmamarca, but it’d turn out later that I’d really want a sweater.

A hill right in the middle of town had a trail up to it and it made a great spot to get a birds eye view of the town and take some pictures. Herb and I hiked up and took some photos.

The next morning, our 3rd day of the tour was a pretty jam packed one. It was intended to be a ‘rest day’ where you explore Purmamarca but it was effectively only the 2nd day or the tour and the 1st day wasn’t all that taxing a ride. More than a couple of us were up for a ride that morning. Plus, the weather that morning was outstanding. Little or no wind, bright blue sky, cool temps.

The ride choice that day though was non-trivial. Especially considering it wasn’t really a ‘supported’ ride day. Route 52, our road for the day, goes through Purmamarca toward Chile and over the Andes. It quickly heads up at a steady 7% grade or more to a mountain pass that peaks at 4,170 meters. That’s about 13,600 ft. My Garmin data for the day indicated our overnight stay in Purmamarca was roughly at around 7,400 ft. Given all the hills and mountains around us it was hard to imagine we were already at altitude. So to get to the summit is a considerable climb from Purmamarca of about 6,000 ft.

Our bikes for the trip were outfitted with triple cranks and some really low gears. The extended 7% grade wasn’t going to be that bad in low gear. My main concern with doing the ride was running out of water and what the effects of altitude would be. We weren’t backed up by a van that day and there’s literally nowhere out there in that part of the world to stop and get water. It’s basically a desert and few people live there. I would have loved to give a shot at going all the way to the summit that day but it would probably have taken 5+ hours at the pace I was going and certainly more water than I had. I started out with 3 water bottles and went as far as the water allowed.

Aside from the limited water, our group was on a timetable that day. We were supposed to shuttle up to the salt flats starting at 1pm, beyond the summit on route 52. If I wanted to join that excursion I kinda wanted to get back in time to shower, grab a bite and be ready by 1.

The ride that morning was great mostly because of the stunning views and fine weather. Thankfully the road was good as well. There were a few places where it had crumbled or been washed out but otherwise much better than I imagined it would be.

These kind of climbs are not bad if you just find a gear you like that allows you to spin and then keep a pace that has you just this side of breathless. No doubt at that altitude it’s a little easier said than done to keep from being breathless but my pace was quite slow. You can look at the Garmin data again (that link has 2 days of data, so look at 2nd day) to see that my pace hovered somewhere around only 5 mph. I rode up somewhere above 10,600 ft and then the Garmin seemed to quit registering for some reason. Maybe it only quit telling me what the grade was, I don’t know. In any case, as I headed to 11,000 ft I was down to my 3rd water bottle and I wanted to be ready by 1pm so I turned around and flew back down to Purmamarca.

It may have taken 2.5 hours to climb up but to get back down it took very little time. Trust me, you want to bring a jacket or more to wear going back down. It gets cold. You’re no longer working hard and you’re going fast and you’re at altitude. I had good weather even but later in the day the clouds rolled in and I would have been riding through fog on the way back down. Assume the weather’s going to be bad.

The photo here of the road behind me was taken shortly before I made my U turn back toward Purmamarca. The view back down the mountain gives you some perspective of the winding hair pin turns you take as you ride up. Going back down the turns are a bit treacherous because many of them are strewn with gravel. You have to go pretty slow on the descent. I never got over 30 mph going back down.

It’s taking me forever to get my notes written up on the tour. Can’t believe I’m only on the 2nd day. I want to get notes down before I forget what the details of the trip were like….

Looking back on the road/mountain I've just climbed.ju

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