tarmac climb called Lipán.
Five days cycling on high altitude across arid valleys and yunga forests in Northwest Argentina.

Quebradas y yungas, Jujuy, Argentina
Fall Season (April), 2-19°C, no rain
Total distance: 477 km
Total ascent: 12.350 m
Elevation: 472 – 4.612 m

How high can you stand?

After a week pedaling in Salta, we had a nice acclimation to pedaling at more than 3000 meters above sea level. By the time we set our foot on Jujuy’s ground we were ready for longer climbs on higher ground. But how much altitude can one stand? As a group we had different sensations to high elevation, with headaches, dizziness and a fast beating heart being the most common. At the most critical moments only patience and taking one pedal at a time propelled us to reach the breathtaking peaks.

From dawn to sunset

The alarm clock beeping at 7 am–we started off early to take full advantage of daylight hours on the road. Coffee and toasts for breakfast, filling up water bottles and packing up were the lead-in to every ride.

Once we arrived at destination, we would leave the bikes on the porch of our rooms, go in for a quick hot shower, and come out to hang out over a well-deserved round of mates and snacks. When the five of us were ready–our clothes washed and our devices charging–it was time to discuss the day’s milestones and the next day route while savoring a tasteful dish of the local cuisine.

A moment of pause
Whether to take warmers off, apply sunscreen, get a quick bite, or simply stand before a picture-perfect view, pauses were part of the long journey. A moment to take a deeper breath and a longer sip of water.
This and that
In just a few days, across a few hundred kilometers, we came upon uniquely contrasted sceneries and the common Argentine outdoor practice.
The northern palette
A visit to Purmamarca, Tilcara or Humahuaca’s street markets is a way to capture the spirit of local life. Despite being mainly an attraction put on for tourists, one can really appreciate 17th century churches and old houses, the cobblestone streets, the calmness of locals, the vibrant colors of their textiles, the steaming locro and the various types of empanadas. Our favourite lunch snack was the grilled cheese tortilla that we could get on any street corner. We had many dinners with live music shows playing a mix of original and traditional sing-along folk songs. Wandering these villages definitely felt like immersing ourselves in a painting dominated by brown and orange hues.

Amid the predominance of ochre, orange and brown, there is an oasis of all-encompassing white light: the Salinas Grandes salt flats.

Climb, pass, descend, repeat

Over two days we experienced some difficult, strenuous pedaling on dirt roads. We had to layer up to stay warm in freezing cold temperatures, when riding over 4400 meters. As we were connecting remote towns, there were segments of 40 km with no traffic whatsoever, except for two 2 pickup trucks that passed by. Our reward was meeting the majestic 14-color hill known as Hornocal, transitioning into the cloud forest of the Calilegua National Park and tasting Doña Maria’s homemade torta fritas.

Close to the sky
After reaching the summit, looking down at the ascending winding road leaves you speechless. Because the process of climbing feels nothing like the figuratively breathtaking top view. No matter how well you’ve studied the gradient, the terrain, the distance, the weather… the pain of each pedal stroke, the infinity of the road ahead, the shortness of breath, the tiredness of a long, endless effort is only gained and understood by experience.
How small can you feel when surrounded by such immense mountains and so close to the sky? Although we felt lonely and helpless at times, conquering these roads could only bring a sense of greatness.

Photos by Iván Vañek (@ivandigital) and Sebastián Di Tomaso (@lavidadeseba).

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