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The Andes are one of the greatest challenges on the Vuelta Sudamericana and one of the biggest draws for riders. Ever since Buenos Aires people have been asking questions about them. How high will we be? How cold can it get? What are the roads like? How many days will we be in the Andes?
Seventeen riding days out of Buenos Aires we arrived in Puente del Inca, not far away from our highest point in Argentina. Puente del Inca has a ski town feeling. It´s just a few kilometers from a ski resort and it´s nothing but a hostel and a few shops and snack bars at 2800 meters of altitude.
Not long after we got there, snow flakes starting coming down. Nothing special, only a few flakes – no one was concerned about it and the weather forecast didn´t suggest anything to worry about. We drove to the border to have a chat with the immigration officers about all the paperwork to be done on the next day and even at the summit (3200 m) the weather wasn´t very bad. A little snow, nothing to freak out about. Riders were drinking wine and listening to the manager of the hostel singing Karaoke at the bar. Everything was going according to what we had planned and what we expected. After dinner, everyone went to bed early to get some rest for the next stage.
At 6:30 in the morning on the next day we were informed by the manager that the mountain pass (and therefore the border) was closed. It was snowing a little bit more than the day before but it didn´t look bad. We tried to drive to the border to find out some more info. It didn´t make sense that an area used to such a rough weather in winter wasn´t able to manage a spring snow fall. There was not one single car on the road and as we got higher it was snowing for real and the road was very icy. As we got to the tunnel Redentor we found it closed. The local police didn´t even know the tunnel was closed, and the only officer we found at the Argentinean aduana had no idea what time the pass would be opened. It could be a few hours, or it could be a few days.
The snow accumulation report showed more and more snow for the afternoon and a lot more for the next few days. At 9 o´clock we invited Mark, our bike mechanic, who lives in Whistler and has a lot of experience with snow storms and avalanche control, to drive with us up there to see if the tunnel was opened. Snow was building up on the side of the road and the road was still icy, but there were already a few trucks plowing the road. The tunnel was still closed but Mark´s opinion was the same as ours. They would open the road soon. “In Whistler, no one would ever consider closing a road because of this. This is nothing”.
It was almost noon and we were already organizing lunch for everyone with the manager in the hostel when I saw a bus driving up the road. A few minutes later, another one. The first vehicles we had seen all day long except for the ones plowing the road earlier. We decided to wait no more and even without being sure that the tunnel and the border were open we put everyone in the truck and started transferring the whole group towards the border.
It turned out that we were right and as we got closer to the border we drove by a few vehicles coming on the other direction which meant that the pass was opened. After almost 4 hours freezing at the border dealing with immigration and customs, we were cleared to enter Chile.
The epic switchbacks and a total descent of over 2000 meters from the border to Los Andes in Chile was the reward for our hard work and patience. We arrived an hour before the sun started to disappear. Despite the exhausting day, everyone was smiling and happy. “What a day”, said Svend. “I love this, this is a real adventure! This is what I came here for!”.
Congratulations to the staff for their hard work and for keeping calm all the time and congratulations to all the riders for not losing their good mood – not even for a second.
Thanks a lot you all!
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