30: Still in San Pedro de Atacama

Days 93 & 94

Day 93 (25th Feb.)
We spent a lazy Sunday, mostly reading our books and Mark dozing in a hammock. However, we wandered into town in the late afternoon to visit a museum, the ‘Museo Gustavo le Paige’, which has a collection of ancient ceramics and textiles. According to the Lonely Planet guide, it has ‘an extraordinary collection of shamanic paraphernalia for preparing, ingesting and smoking hallucinogenic plants’. It seemed an interesting place to visit but, unfortunately, like the museum we tried to visit in Santiago, it was closed for refurbishment!
On some nearby local stalls we saw Coca tea and Coca sweets being sold to reduce the effects of altitude sickness.


The highest altitude we’ve risen to so far was on the way here at 3,500m and we both felt fine. Here in the town it is about 2,500m, but when we ride over the Andes into Argentina it will be higher than this at 4,200m. The road we’re taking from Chile to Argentina is apparently the highest main road in the world (higher than some places in Tibet). There are higher roads, but they’re all secondary.
When at altitude, one is advised not to drink alcohol, to drink plenty of fluids, take the incline as slowly as possible, and rest if feeling unwell. The symptoms of altitude sickness include headaches, nausea, sickness and nosebleeds. Anyone can suffer this condition, whatever level of fitness they may have, and if severe it can be life threatening! We have some Diamox tablets (which we got on prescription before we left) and we’ll probably take these as a precaution when we leave here. We now have the Coca sweets too, so hopefully we are as prepared as best we can be, and hopefully the bike will cope ok as well!
Day 94 (26th Feb.)
We had a message from our hostel’s reception that we must go to the welder ourselves, which was what we were planning on doing anyway today….we’d thought it slightly odd to be told originally that the welder would come to the hostel. The welding garage was only 10 minutes from our hostel, on the outskirts of the town. The mechanic was very helpful and was able to carry out a repair on the spot, welding the sheared section of bracket precisely back in place.


The garage was very different from any UK garages – there was a herd of goats wandering around their back yard and several dogs lazing around the place, one dozing a couple of feet away from the welding operation. The mechanic prepared the tools and equipment he needed to weld the bike, whilst Mark disconnected the battery. For a heat shield, to protect some nearby cables, he used a wet rag!

One of the benefits of having an older bike is that the frame is made of steel, which is easy to repair with conventional welding…..every town (and many villages) we’ve ridden through seem to have a local soldador (welder).  Many newer bikes, particularly those which are more expensive, have alloy or aluminium frames which need more of a specialist process to repair and weld, which in South America is most probably available only in a few large towns.

It only took a short while to do this repair which cost 8,000 pesos (about £10). Mark had a brief chat with the mechanic about where we had been, and how we had got the bike to Chile, and then we left, very pleased with the speedy service we’d received.  Once back at the hostel, Mark re-assembled those parts of the bike which he’d removed to enable the repair to be undertaken, and also gave the bike a general check-over since we’ll be leaving San Pedro in the morning.


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