Luck found us in the way of Rosario. Not only had he a replacement suspension fork for Alvaro’s bike and could change dollars at a good exchange rate, he also offered us an empty apartment to rest in. After fixing the bike, we spent the evening with him and his family to say ‘thank you’ for all is help. Alvaro was preparing a spanish tortilla on this occasion.
Leaving San Antonio, we soon gained altitude before turnong off on the famous Ruta 40, whichs spans almost the whole country from north to south for more than 5000 kilometers. In the afternoon the clouds looked anything else than inviting and around the mountain tops lightning could be seen while blasts of thunder resounded around us. We found shelter in a tool shed of a cemetery, a rather cramped spot and the surroundings with the tombs probably not to everyone’s liking, it still made for a good night’s sleep and a photography playground for Alvaro.
The next morning the view had changed dramatically and the mountains were covered in snow. Photo also taken by Alvaro.
The weather was nice and we started the real climb towards the pass. With declining energy it was a bit disheartening after turning a bend, to see that we were not even halfway there and the view of the whole road ahead up to the top seemed to be the work for more than one afternoon. But taking it one turn of the wheel at a time, we soon had the last turn of the pass behind us.
At almost 5000m, it was rather chilly…
and though a lot of the snow of the night had already melted, we still found enough to built this snowy compañero.
The descent was spectacular. Had the ascent been a bit monotonous, now the scenery changed every five kilometers and we stopped every so often to take in the views, which passed almost too quickly now going downhill.
We had planned to reach the next village but camped at an abandonned house instead with a river flowing nearby. The following day, the road descended more gently along the river through this beautiful valley.
Especially at first, the road crossed the river very often, around every kilometer, which made for some wet feet.
After all the rigidness we had seen over the last weeks, this valley seemed to be the land of plenty and every tree seemed to be an invitation to take a rest.
Shade was also starting to become a necessity, as we were dropping into a drastically hotter climate. When we reached Cachi, it seemed to be too good a place to just pass through. And after we had settled in at “la mamama”, it was clear that we would not be cycling the next day.
Tags: equipment · food · locations · people
The road out of San Pedro at first is straight and flat and there is nothing much to see around. We made good progress until i headed into Toconao and stopped at the first little shop with Alvaro some minutes behind. Since it was the only place for the day along the road, it was clear to me that we would make a break. Only after half an hour i was growing suspicious that this might not be the case for all members of the team and i returned to the main road. It was hard to stop passing cars and some drivers just waved at me in response to my sign to stop as if i had greeted them instead. And the driver of the first car that stopped, coming from the south, was cocksure that there was no cyclist in the road ahead. So i waited longer. The second person i could ask was coming from San Pedro and this time the information was, that they had seen a cyclist coming from there. But by that time i was already past the point of believing that Alvaro could still be lagging behind and i approached the other passengers of the truck and they told me that they are pretty sure that the cyclsist they had seen was me, an hour ago. Perfect. Finally the next driver confirmed that a cyclist was about twenty kilometers ahead and some kilometers down the road i found further proof.
I caught up with him in Socaire, where we camped next to the plaza and the church. The real climbing started the next day, for half of the day on asphalt until we took the turn-off towards the lagunas Miscanti and Miñiques, a sandy and rocky road climbing towards the entrance six kilometers further. The idea was to cycle along the lagunas and exit on the other side, rejoining the main road towards the pass. But at the entrance we were told that the road is closed because of a protected bird nesting on the shore. Usually a friend of laws protecting wildlife, this bird wasn’t making it easy for us to become friends. All efforts with the person present were to no avail and in the end we paid the entrance fee and started with the bikes unloaded to explore the two lagoons. Alvaro in front of the laguna Miscanti.
The road is closed. ¨Fucking ave (bird)¨ became a line often used these days for anything annoying that happened.
Laguna Miñiques, just a kilometer down the road from Laguna Miscanti.
We were not allowed to camp within the park and thus returned to the main road and cycled some kilometers more before finding a beautiful spot to camp between beautiful rock formations, that also provided protection from the wind. The next day brought more lagunas and by now were felt compensated for having missed out on some in Bolivia.
Whiter than the laguna blanca…
and greener than the laguna verde.
We had heard from other cyclists that the miners just before the border are very friendly and from time to time offer cyclists a place to sleep. Nicolas, the man in charge, offered us a room and later a soup that was boiling on his stove. We also met a familiar face in form of Armando, a motorcyclist we had met in San Pedro, who had no luck entering Argentina without international insurance. But being a guy with good spirits, he hadn’t lost his smile just yet.
Things became distinctly greyish just before crossin the border.
Recovery service seems to be rather poor in these parts and so cars are just ‘parked’ next to the road after an accicdent.
A last look back towards Chile and its, at least in these times of the year, seemingly always blue skies.
Rock formations just before the borderpost of Argentina.
Just in front of the building, Alvaro realized that his fork had a crack, that wasn’t inspiring confidence. The people of the border let us sleep in one of their unused buildings and we made plans to make it at least to San Antonio de los Cobres and see if it would be possible to mend it there. If so, we would continue to the south and the highest pass in Argentina, the Abra Acay.
Tags: equipment · locations · people · travel
Our arrival in san pedro was a bit overwhelming at first. After a month of being surrounded by bizarre landscapes and hardly any opportunities to get fresh produce, here we were in a posh tourist place with everything that money can buy. After changing our bolivianos for chilenean pesos, we went straight for a heladeria. Only later did we realize that we had each spent five dollars for that treat. We camped at a hostal, which seemed to be the cheapest option, and spent the first days regaining some calories and tending to the equipment. On the weekend there was a fiesta at the plaza and the feeling was refreshengly local while the tourist where crowding the shopping street, a block away. Two bands were playing and delivered the perfect soundtrack for a sunny afternoon in the park.
And so i was spending a good while of the day in the shade of a tree listening and also getting used to the heat after we had dropped around 2000 meters in altitude since leaving Bolivia. Towards the end of the concert, a lot of people were dancing in front of the stage and wouldn’t let the band leave the stage before another encore.
There are quite a few interesting places around San Pedro, put being a bit tired and still processing the experience of the lagunas route, we did not explore these. After having lots of sand around me for the last couple of weeks, i changed my plans and, instead of riding through the atacama desert, i joined Alvaro once again over thePaso Sico towards Argentina.
Tags: food · locations · music
Well, we did the lagunas route only sort of and, accidently, circumnavigated most of the lagoons sovereignly. Since a fairly new road had degraded the former main trail to the Laguna Colorado to an inconspicious turn-off, we ended up at the Laguna Chalviri instead. But with a hot pool to soak in, we soon were reconciled with our route choice.
Since we had slept at almost 5000 meters the night before, this was especially rewarding and the cold was soon forgotten. We slept at the restaurant opposite the hot springs before we crossed the desierto del dali the next day,
crested a last pass and a had to overcome a bit of sand. But with hardly any pushing involved, we reached the last of the lagoons, which for sure was a cause for celebration.
First we stopped at the laguna verde, that is supposedly more ‘verde’ if there is wind.
We met a super friendly lady from La Paz, who insisted to give some fruit to us and also to do a ceremony to honour Pachamama, the mother earth. Cycling along the shore of the laguna blanca, we soon reached the immigration on the bolivian side before cycling into chile.
The immigration of Chile is in San Pedro de Atacama, some forty kilometers downhill from that sign. On this stretch we met Laura and Barbara, two girls from Switzerland we had met in the casa del ciclista in La Paz, cycling into the other direction towards Argentina. Back on asphalt, progress was fast and we were looking forward to some reward in form of icecream and other food we had dreamt up during our ride through the lagunas in that oasis, that San Pedro had become in our thoughts within the last weeks.
Tags: food · locations · people · travel
After all that salt, we were riding straight into a mud bath when we left the salar. By then it didn’t matter much anymore.
We stopped for lunch in Yonza, where we were offered a place to stay next to the plaza and could also wash the salt and mud off our bikes. The next day saw us cycling to san pedro de quemez, where we camped in the yard of the staff of the centro de salud and cooked up some good dinner for him when he returned from work.
Crossing the main tourist trail at san juan the following day and the rail line coming from Uyuni, we were soon on our way to Alota and Villamar.
A sandy ascent, but with nice skies to look at while we had to push occasionally, was followed by a descent on a much better road surface…
and delivered us into this valley were llamas were munching on algae in the river.
The road was heavy washboard and so we were glad, while thinking we would have to ride another twenty kilometers, to suddenly arrive at the international road and the pueblo of Alota. Time for an icecream at the plaza.
On the way to Villamar, we were stopping at these rock formations close to the valley de las rocas.
From Villamar the idea was to rejoin the main route at the Laguna Colorado. That didn’t quite happen…
Tags: equipment · locations · people
It is sort of a tradition amongst long-distance cyclists to take a picture while riding naked through the salars. The vastness and the lack of any soul around is i guess inviting for this gesture of boundlessness.
If you want to see Alvaro naked, look at his blog.
In Tahua we found shelter at the local school. The kids of the groundskeeper mistook me for monkey bars while we were waiting for their dad.
One of the kids had a developmental disability and reminded me on the character ¨Arnie¨ in ¨What’s eating Gilbert Grape¨. There is a program in Bolivia to pay for the care the child needs. Here in the rural parts of the country, these kids are left to the care of their siblings but are likely to be robbed of the chance to ever learn to walk.
We arrived with the ambition to climb the volcano Tunupa just north of the salar de uyuni. In the end, lack of preparation and energy changed our minds and we turned around half-way through. But at least we got a closer look.
We were glad that we changed our minds as we were descending, the weather changed dramatically and hailstones were drumming on our hoods.
Tahua also brought a reunion with a french couple we met at the casa del ciclista en la paz. Just as we got back from the volcano, we met them at the plaza and could offer them half of the floorspace of a classroom for the night. The next morning we cycled out into the salar…
before we went our seperate ways and they vanished into the distance, floating on the clouds…
until they were only dots on the horizon.
The whiteness was blinding at times. It was one of these places were the wonder wears of slowly and reluctantly. Even after hours of cycling, it was at times hard to grasp.
Rain was all around, but luckily not upon us,
and we encountered only little water at first.
After our half-finished excursion to the tunupa volcano, the following hailstorm and rain during the night changed this slightly, and while the vulcano slowly got smaller in our backs, we cycled through a varying depth of water.
Which was never enough to hamper the cycling and made for a great mirror effect.
It took a long time, while the sense of distance fails to deliver any idea about how long it will take to get to the other end, but finally the mountains on the southern side drew nearer.
We stopped for a salar camping experience on the isla de tortuga.
After an early dinner we waited for the light to change and had enough time to appreciate the sunset while the shadows grew longer.
Despite the freezing wind, we held out and it was worth it.
As was the getting up at an early hour for the sunrise at similar, if not colder temperatures.
Luckily our campspot was well chosen and one could enjoy the view directly out of the tent.
We were a bit worried about the rain beforehand, but it turned out to only add to the experience. Though i was glad about the raincovers for the shoes that i got made in Huaraz and the bikes were in for a good cleaning once we got off the salt.
Tags: locations · people · travel
After riding into the city, i didn’t feel like dodging traffic on my way out. Together with Alvaro, whom i met in the casa del ciclista, i hopped on a bus to Patacamaya from where we made our way around the volcano Sajama. Soon we left tarmac behind and wouldn’t see any of it for the three weeks to come. Alvaro in front of the volcano.
We passed abandoned villages and only rarely one sees people in these parts. Even in populated areas, the villages appear like ghost towns during the daylight hours. Our first camp spot was well below 4000m and we could still find enough firewood.
The next day was a bit tougher through quite a bit of sand. A superb lunchbreak at Tomarapi was a well-needed boost for the ride to the village of Sajama. We found shelter in Chachacomani and stocked up on supplies although our panniers were filled with food for a week. While reading about the Lagunas Route it seemd tobe a bad place to run out of food and thus we were maybe a bit overcautious. The next day we saw some flamingoes up close at the laguna at Macaya.
We took single trails along its shore through herds of grasing llamas.
which became a common sight. But it is hard to get tired of these creatures as their faces not only have a funny expression most of the times, but are also very distinct from one another.
Some pushing through sand was involved from time to time, but never long enough to be frustrating.
As well as some river crossings, which at the end of the dry season were never too difficult.
Travelling with Alvaro brought also some changes. I would have camped probably most of the times whereas he is more used to ask for a place to sleep. Usually i was rather reluctant to use official institutions, like health centres or schools, for such purposes, but it brought with it some really nice encounters with the people and thus i didn’t feel like misusing their hospitality. And often we found shelter in unused buildings of which seem to be plenty around.
Here it was also not only a question of comfort and not having to pitch the tent. With severe winds and thecold during the night, these places helped to conserve our energy for the road.
We stopped at some chullpas at the rio lauca, famous for the paintings.
This was on our way to the salar de coipasa. Less famous than its bigger neighbour, the salar the uyuni, this was recommended by other cyclist because of its lack of tourism and thus traffic.
Tags: people · travel
The first view of La Paz is an impressive one. Arriving in el alto, the city is lying in a huge bowl below.
Humbert, another cyclist travelling with a guitar, and stephan rocking the casa.
While usually not too motivated to explore cities, i sometimes yield to persuasion and take a look.
The plan was to visit the musical instrument museum which is located in this quaint little street.
The museo is small enough not to overwhelm a tired cyclist. One of the more curious items on display is this guitar with five necks, probably contructed with indian gods in mind as patronage.
The casa is full of scribblings of other cyclists that have passed through. And i found quite a few familiar names on the walls or in the guestbook, like Dallas for example, my host in Brisbane some years ago. The room we slept in is decorated with this tree and some suggestions what to do while resting.
The house got a bit crowded in the last days of my stay. On the left is Christian our host.
Thank you for this great place!
Tags: equipment · food · locations · music · people
The ride through Puno and from there along the lake wasn’t that impressive. A construction site for kilometers on one lane and dust clouds in the face with every passing vehicle wasn’t helping either to make it more fun. After the turn-off to Copacabana things improved. I couldn’t warm up to the town itself but i met a lady from spain while having breakfast which made more than up for that and was also responsible for a late start towards the second half of the day. The route from there towards the ferries across the ‘estrecho de tiquina’ is beautiful. Here while climbing out of Copacabana.
It was a special day: Todos santos. The day to honour the dead. While trying to escape the rain in the evening, i was invited to a family’s house. On All Saint’s Day people visit cemeteries to make a picnic, make (rather awful) music with drums and flutes…
and don’t miss out to have a good time while no drink is rejected.
Soon i had a glas of beer in my hands as well as my first mouthful of coca leaves. After the festivities, i just rolled down to the lake and camped at its shore, a nice welcome to bolivia.
The next day i set out to La Paz and some rest days at the Casa del Ciclista.
Tags: locations · people · travel
From Arequipa i climbed on the old road to puno towards the altiplano. First with the misti volcano on one side towards the laguna de salinas.
I didn’t make it all the way up that day and found a nice campspot in an abandoned house. When night fell, the lights of arequipa glistened from below.
During the climb, i had to share the road with trucks coming laden with salt from the salinas and the road was at times a sandy mess, making for a cloud of dust whenever a truck was passing.
After reaching the plateau, the laguna de salinas comes into sight.
The first night i was camping ina mini canyon of white rock which protected me well from the wind.
Finally on top, i was exposed to the wind but luckily we were heading the same way.
Herds of vicuñas were a constant sight and with more animals than people up here, it was difficult to imagine that these creatures are endangered.
Animals, changing colours and rock formations kept things interesting along the road.
Tincopalca was a good place for a rest. As there was no restaurant to be found, i had to make my own meal. Remembered our breakfast routine in huaraz, i found all that was needed in a nearby store. Soon i was sitting on the main square cooking up an omelette and was surrounded by twenty kids watching attentively. For the first ten minutes they were commenting on everything i did, unaware that i could understand what was being said, until one of the youngsters pointed at me and said: ¨my name is¨. Answering in spanish, a big roar of laughter and an even bigger bunch of questions ensued. I was really hungry as i hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast and now it was way past teatime. Though i was so relaxed from the last days of cycling that i didn’t mind the volley of questions and managed to shove in four advocado sandwiches while answering some of the questions. Sometimes just replying ‘como’ which usually bought me enough time to have a bite or two in between. Later they requested some photos being taken…
and one kid wanted to try at least once as well to be the photographer.
Onwards, past lagoons with only the occasional motorbike interrupting the silence.
The last night i spent around 4500m with my water bottles being forzen in the morning. Another pass and a great downhill brought me to mañazo, where i was offered a room at the municipio for five soles. The next day was all paved and a slight tailwind pushed me towards puno and the lake Titicaca. As i was up before six and had started early, i had all day to cycle along its shore.
Tags: food · people · travel