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从智利骑往阿根廷 From Chile to Argentina by Bike

从智利骑往阿根廷 From Chile to Argentina by 1)Bike


  We flew across the Chilean Altiplano until, like the world had been bleached, there lay ahead of us nothing but white. 2)Flamingos looked on. We passed through the Valley of the Moon as the light faded and the sun went through its 3)valedictions, washing the rocks 4)vermilion then gold then 5)ochre. In the distance, a string of cartoon volcanoes, perfect 6)calderas, and beyond, the High Andes, the brilliant white 7)bonnets fading to grey.

从智利骑往阿根廷 From Chile to Argentina by Bike  We rolled into 8)San Pedro de Atacama, kicking up a trail of dust. It’s the 9)Dodge City of one’s imagination, a 10)Paramount 11)backlot come to life, albeit with internet cafés and 12)poncho shops. Upon entering a door I was surprised to find that there was actually a restaurant beyond, and not just wooden 13)joists holding up the walls. We ordered some food. 14)Tamales and 15)llama steaks and beer that came in litre bottles. I was loving South America. In the middle of the room was an 16)open fire. Above it a large circular hole in the ceiling, through which we gazed at the stars like diamonds. I asked the waiter what happened when it rained. It doesn’t, he said.

  Then we were off to Argentina. Climbing slowly at first, more llamas, then some weird-looking rabbits the size of 17)wallabies, and then some things that looked like 18)alpacas. Still climbing. Then suddenly there was nothing. No scrub, no cactus. Just an endless plain with the High Andes 19)cradling and 20)looming over it, like a 21)proscenium arch. The motorbike’s 22)console flashed alarmingly. Minus two. Minus four. Minus six. That’s the ground temperature. At 80 mph on a motorcycle it’s more like minus 30. I had my heated grips on, but I could have been clutching 23)vials of 24)magma and still I wouldn’t have felt them. Still, it could have been worse. To fight off 25)oedemas and to keep myself from slipping into a 26)hypothermic coma, I repeated my 27)mantra: “This is not a holiday it’s an adventure; this is not a holiday…” The border with Argentina lay somewhere up ahead. I just hoped that they had the blankets ready.

  Shortly, we were plunging down again, every 100-metre drop bringing air more 28)syrupy and rich; every degree of temperature raised bringing back the real prospect that one day I might be able to straighten my fingers again. We pulled over at a café for coffee. Having coffee in Argentina after being in Chile should be the first thing one does. For coffee in Chile means a 29)sachet of Nescafe and 30)tepid water producing a 31)lumpy 32)glop of extraordinary 33)vileness. While in Argentina, it involves a loving process of 34)alchemy with freshly crushed beans and warmed milk and an end product of such 35)ambrosial ecstasy that you instinctively close your eyes as it slides down your throat and sigh loudly.

  We spent the next few days riding through northwest Argentina. First down 36)intestinal 37)tracts of roads—the kind of roads that fill bikers’ winter dreams—that wound their way around bald, crumpled hills that changed colour at every bend—green, pink, yellow, even 38)aquamarine—like your TV being 39)on the blink. Then along 40)arid valleys of sandstone, with fluted 41)columns like giant organ pipes and eroded rocks forming fantastical sculptures.

  We rode along the Valley of the Butterflies, millions of them forming fluttering clouds that we passed through, like riding in a 42)kaleidoscope. Down from the mountains, we hit the plains. Mile after mile of vineyards, then brilliant yellow tobacco crops, their leaves drying on the walls of the 43)pueblos we passed through, each with a 44)whitewashed church and a dusty football pitch, the twin obsessions of Argentina. We rode along highways so straight and so long that a 20-degree bend constituted extreme sport; past the pigs and the horses and the donkeys and the chickens that seemed to wander around the 45)Pampas at will, as if Argentina was one giant 46)free-range farm.

  My last day with the group was spent in 47)Alta Gracia. The day after they would be heading off to Buenos Aires, where they’d started their trip five weeks and 5,000 miles before. That night, as on every night in Argentina, we dined in a fine restaurant. The food was washed down, as ever, with wine that felt so 48)sublime on the tongue it seemed a crime to swallow it.

  The group talked about the trip, recalled the roads and the 49)spills and the 50)near misses and the things they had seen which would stay with them forever. For this had been an adventure, not a holiday; exposed and vulnerable on a bike, a part of the landscape through which you travel, it brings a real feeling of achievement, of movement, of survival. Driving a car is like watching a movie; riding a motorcycle is like being in one.