…living in and dreaming of…

la guitarra

February 14th, 2015 · No Comments

Already in La Paz, the guitar was out of shape. Sadly unlike with cyclist, this could not be mended by some days of resting. With some meddling and putting a piece of a bicycle tube under the bridge i could get it back to a level that it was playable. Another month of riding through one of the driest climates on this planet and it was beyond my skills to repair it. The neck was bend. And most of the frets produced only a rattling sound with the highest point of the neck now being around the 14th fret.

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While there were no outer signs visible at the beginning, by the time i had reached Cafayate, cracks were obviously showing.

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Also on the top where body and neck are joined. Luckily this was more cosmetic and nothing substantial.

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I adressed the problem as one of the first things after arriving at the Huayra Sanipi. Pepo, one of the two owners, was quick to call up a friend of his and twenty minutes later i was talking to Pedro, an immensely helpful guy, still a  student but soon to be a luthier himself. He took the guitar to his professor and came back with some suggestions how to solve the matter. Some rather cheap, but only the most expensive one offering a solution that would last.

As the neck adjustment screw was still intact, the luthier changed to the medium expensive version without replacing the fretboard. Which brought the price down to about half of what we had agreed on and i still had a working guitar. In the evening we played a small concert to celebrate the rebirth of the that guitar.

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If someone is looking for a good budget guitar, this is a good choice. I’m not sure if the variations in quality are a big issue. Playability and sound were outstanding for an instrument with a such a low pricetag. Just be aware of dry climates while travelling with wooden instruments. I weren’t thinking about how to humidify my guitar until the neck was already bent.

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cafayate

February 4th, 2015 · No Comments

We had received a recommendation for a hostel which is quickly becoming the cyclist hangout in town: the Huayra Sanipi. It turned out to be a stroke of luck and soon all plans to reach Mendoza until christmas were forgotton.

Five kilometers from town starts a trek to a series of waterfalls along a steep valley. The idea was to visit some of them, but in the end, when we reached a pool and the sun was blazing down on us, we decided to have a swim instead.

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Once again i met fellow cyclists Maggie and Bryan, whom i met now i think for the fourth time during this trip. You can read Maggie’s account of the time during christmas here.

Cafayate is famous for its wine. Some of the bodegas are within walking distance from the hostel and so we went to some tastings.

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‘Nanny’ is one of the winegrowers who produces with strict ecological norms. Their patio, which we visited during the short tour through the premises, is one of the nicest in town.

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The hostel displays the spirit of its guests, who left all sorts of paintings and notes on the walls.

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Camping under the vines was as good as it gets. The first grapes were getting ripe during our stay, and especially bryan was lured out of his hammock from time to time to grab some.

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Goat cheese became a favourite for lunchtime in northern Argentina and when we heard about a goat farm not far from town, it was just a matter of time until we paid them a visit to taste their cheese. A small tour explained the process of making cheese and took us through their farm, before tasting some variations with different herbs and we left happily with a piece of flavoured goat cheese in our bags.

One of the best things about the Huayra was the communal dinners every evening, or rather every night, as it would hardly start anytime before ten. Especially on our first evening this was a challenge as sleepiness and hunger were battling against each other. But after a day or two it became normal. And with the adjustment to local habits, mainly taking a siesta in the afternoon, we were soon embracing this way of life (photo by Alvaro).

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Here with Christian and Pepo, the two owners, who are investing heart and soul into this place. On one of these occasions, rather at the beginning of our stay, i foolheartedly agreed to prepare the next dinner. That night we were only eight people sharing the dinner table, but towards christmas, more and more people arrived, and the next evening, our number had doubled. So i was in the kitchen for four hours preparing ‘Käsespätzle’, a dish i had prepared before but never from scratch with making the dough for the ‘pasta’ myself. Luckily, a girl from south tyrol helped out with her experience without which this would have certainly ended in disaster. It turned out great, the wood fired oven in the garden adding a flavour that went well with this hearty dish, and even though it looked like you could feed a peloton of cyclists with it, there was just enough for everybody.

One evening we went out to the ‘el ombu’ restaurant, where Andrea, a talented singer from Rosario and also guest of the hostel, was playing a concert.

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We arrived with everybody from the hostel during the concert, almost doubled the number of the audience and hopefully gave some moral support.

For christmas we prepared an asado, the argentinian version of a barbeque, which is never just about the food but also a social event. In a country famous for its meat, we also put sufficient veggies on the grill.

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The atospehere was like “en casa”. The temperatures stayed pleasant throughout the night and so we had, also because there was not enough room inside as our number had grown to around thirty, the dinner on christmas eve in the garden.

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After which Pepo Clause was arriving with the gifts.

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And after so much work, he stayed a while to have a proper rest with a small bottle of christmas spirit.

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After christmas most people left town. Here a last goodbye with most members of the family.

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And we also got ourselves ready to leave that cozy place and say our goodbyes to people with whom we had shared an amazing time.

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quebrada de las flechas

February 4th, 2015 · No Comments

Cycling south from Cachi, one is passing the small village of Angastaco and from there the Quebrada de las Flechas. Textured mountains flanking the river set a nice backdrop for travelling along the valley.

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It is these places where travelling on dirt makes the experience special, as it feels like the road is part of the country.

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Now on the argentinian side of the andes, black clouds were looming over us but still hardly any rain fell. Along the quebradas, apart from the rivers, the landscapes are still mostly barren (photo by Alvaro).

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A tour guide on the side of the road waiting for his group of tourists, who were allowed to roam freely for a while, told us of this viewpoint which revealed the spectacular rocks a little better.

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Some kilometers further down the road we set up camp at the river with just as spectacular skies (photo by Alvaro).

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Cooking on fire takes more time and energy, but in some places it is well worth the effort.

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It wasn’t as challenging as the cycling within the last weeks but still, we were looking forward to an extended break once we would reach Cafayate.

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abra acay

January 4th, 2015 · No Comments

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.

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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.
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The next morning the view had changed dramatically and the mountains were covered in snow. Photo also taken by Alvaro.
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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.

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At almost 5000m, it was rather chilly…
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and though a lot of the snow of the night had already melted, we still found enough to built this snowy compañero.
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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.
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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.
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Especially at first, the road crossed the river very often, around every kilometer, which made for some wet feet.
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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.

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paso sico

January 4th, 2015 · No Comments

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.

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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.

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The road is closed. ¨Fucking ave (bird)¨ became a line often used these days for anything annoying that happened.

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Laguna Miñiques, just a kilometer down the road from Laguna Miscanti.

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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.

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Whiter than the laguna blanca…

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and greener than the laguna verde.

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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.

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Things became distinctly greyish just before crossin the border.

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Recovery service seems to be rather poor in these parts and so cars are just ‘parked’ next to the road after an accicdent.

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A last look back towards Chile and its, at least in these times of the year, seemingly always blue skies.

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Rock formations just before the borderpost of Argentina.

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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.

 

 

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san pedro de atacama

January 4th, 2015 · No Comments

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.

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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.

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lagunas route

January 4th, 2015 · No Comments

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.

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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,

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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.

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First we stopped at the laguna verde, that is supposedly more ‘verde’ if there is wind.

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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.

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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.

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adventures in-between

January 4th, 2015 · No Comments

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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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and delivered us into this valley were llamas were munching on algae in the river.

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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.

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On the way to Villamar, we were stopping at these rock formations close to the valley de las rocas.

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From Villamar the idea was to rejoin the main route at the Laguna Colorado. That didn’t quite happen…

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mar de sal

December 15th, 2014 · No Comments

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.

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If you want to see Alvaro naked, look at his blog.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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before we went our seperate ways and they vanished into the distance, floating on the clouds…

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until they were only dots on the horizon.

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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.

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Rain was all around, but luckily not upon us,

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and we encountered only little water at first.

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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.

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Which was never enough to hamper the cycling and made for a great mirror effect.

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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.

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We stopped for a salar camping experience on the isla de tortuga.

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After an early dinner we waited for the light to change and had enough time to appreciate the sunset while the shadows grew longer.

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Despite the freezing wind, we held out and it was worth it.

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As was the getting up at an early hour for the sunrise at similar, if not colder temperatures.

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Luckily our campspot was well chosen and one could enjoy the view directly out of the tent.

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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.

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Sajama

December 15th, 2014 · No Comments

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.

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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.

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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.

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We took single trails along its shore through herds of grasing llamas.

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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.

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Some pushing through sand was involved from time to time, but never long enough to be frustrating.

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As well as some river crossings, which at the end of the dry season were never too difficult.

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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.

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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.

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We stopped at some chullpas at the rio lauca, famous for the paintings.

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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.

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