Gone missing on Paso Agua Negra

With Mendoza at our backs and the Andes set in our sights we got our first taste of the Zonda wind. A hot and incredibly dry wind similiar to the foehn in Switzerland and also caused by bad weather on the other side of the range. Uh oh!

We fled the Zonda to camp relatively protected at a rustic ‘thermal’ baths, which were tepid but reputedly full of healthy minerals. We rode up through the pre-cordillera early (for us) the next morning and when we descended onto the plain, where we passed some isolated villages throwing the last of their autumn colours at us, we could see the real mountains in front of us. They were enveloped in cloud. Was it raining, or worse, snowing up there? Should we turn back, after all on a bike you are a lot more exposed to the elements and you should take 4700m passes seriously. At the border post we spoke to someone coming from the other direction and he assured us there was no precipitation. So we went for it. Well, we should have taken it even more seriously than we did...like getting up a hell of a lot earlier. One more check in at the border post and we were in for a long ride with seemingly exponentially decreasing temperature but absolutely fantastic scenery. Rocky or sandy plains in yellows and pinks, neon yellow grass where there was water, rivers dyed blue or yellow by the minerals and of course mountains striated with the reds, greens, yellows, blacks of mineral rich ores. We stopped every half an hour or so to windmill warm our hands and take a few pictures. The first time I saw that the streams were frozen I couldn't help but let out a little yelp. I am riding a bike in possibly sub-zero temperatures. Am I mad? (Axel confirmed my sub-zero hunch later - he measured minus 2 on the pass). One particulary steep section with scary drops down to the  valley below brought us right past 'penitentes', those weird spiky snow and ice formations that are indigenous to south america. It was with a feeling of relief when we made it to the top, but this illusion would soon be shattered once I realised just how many metres in altitude we had to descend before it would get vaguely warm.

We decided to camp as it was getting too late to carry on what with the temperature dropping even more rapidly once the sun set behind the mountains, not that we had seen much of it. So at about 3 800m I feverishly set about pitching the tent, while Mr Paparazzi feverishly tried to capture a sunset that was slipping under the cloud cover to fill the valley with a surreal golden glow. We dived into our sleeping bags and prepared a tea and a meal while keeping an eye on the temperature variations that followed the cooking procedures. 3 degrees, 6 degrees, tea!, 5 degrees, 7 degrees, 9 degrees. meal!

We arrived at the border post after a surprisingly long ride down a narrow valley dotted with goat herders shacks and pampas grass. The first thing the border guard asked us was where we'd been yesterday. Apparently the argentine side informed them to wait for two motorbikes and as nobody expected us to camp they dutifully waited. All of them. Every stamp from each official included a repetition of the question of our whereabouts the day before. Oops!