Over the Andes from Argentina to Chile.
I'm woken up by a seering headache. My eyes are stinging and my nose feels blocked. My swollen tongue has stuck to the roof of my mouth and when I try sitting up, a wave of nausea hits me Iike a ton of bricks, so I'm forced to run to the bathroom. I've succumbed to mountain sickness, for the first time in my life, here in the Andes, in the altitude of 4km. That's how the day started for us, at Paso de Jama border crossing. It's seven o’clock in the morning and the thermometer is showing a chilling outdoor temperature of -15c.
We arrived at the Argentina-Chile border yesterday morning. We could see the queues of lorries, cars and busses from quite a distance away and heard that the road across the border had been shut for several days due to a pile up of snow and ice. The border officials weren't being exactly generous with information, but I guess the spot strike on the Chilean side wasn't helping matters. In the end we were told that we'd all get across the border tomorrow . After receiving our numbered ticket in the queue we could only stay and wait overnight for the border to be opened. How glad we were to have heating and other comforts in our vehicle ! A lot of the other passengers weren't so lucky; there were bus drivers trying to keep warm by drinking flasks of mate, and we could hear the hum of lorry engines all throughout the night.
At sunrise, around 8.00am, the border reopens. The lorries get to go through first, and the rest of us follow suit in order according to the numbers on our tickets. The border control formalities are quickly over with and we're ready to begin our 160km journey from Argentina to Chile, at the top of the Andes mountain range. We're glad that the snow situation is under control now and that we don't have to travel all the way through with the rest of the vehicles but are allowed to stop and take photos whenever we like. Although we did come prepared with snow chains, it's a relief to hear that there isn't much snow left on the winding mountain road.
The road continues to climb further after the border crossing, reaching an altitude of nearly 5km. The snowy peaks of the Andes are glistening bright in the sun and the views are breathtakingly beautiful. We stop to make some coffee and even my headache is gradually fading. We see the occasional Guanaco hop across the road and can't help but wonder, where on earth they get their food from on these snow covered slopes. The piles of snow by the road side reach up to 2m at points and some traffick signs have disappeared under the snow altogether, but thankfully there's no snow on the road itself.
On our way down we're driving by the side of the 6km high, Licancabur volcano. Lower down on it's slopes there are lamas, watching the traffic go by. We take photos of them, as well as the strange looking upright stones of different shapes and sizes, which were formed during a volcanic eruption . These stones have been nicknamed ”the Pacana monks” and they get my imagination going, bringing to mind many a story of giants turning to stone..
My ears lock as we begin the steep, 30km long descend towards the Atacama desert, glowing in the sunset beneath us. I’m excited to see what new experiences the desert will throw our way. At least I can forget about our waterproofs for the next few days, because in Atacama, the driest place on earth, it can take as long as 400 years for it to rain again after the previous time.