I crossed into Peru next to Lago Titicaca, but the riding really didn’t allow access to the lake. At that point I was on somewhat of a mission anyway to get to Arequipa for a flight abroad for a wedding and was pleased with the fast paved riding. I gave myself plenty of time to get there and ended up needing all of it.
Just before the border I crossed paths with Flavia, a Brazilian friend from Patagonia and we set off to Perú. We rode together to near Juliaca, where she continued North in search of National Parks and I turned off for some remote riding through high altitude pampas to Arequipa.
The route to Arequipa was difficult and spectacular, the wind rivalled that experienced in Patagonia and going was slow for the most part. I ended up shifting my routine and trying to bank kilometres in the morning when it wasn’t so bad. It was also cold, I camped most nights through the pampa and woke up to frozen water bottles each morning. I left Imata on the final day at 8am to find the descent to Arequipa, I began with water in the bottles but before 8.30am the water had frozen. I didn’t get to drink it until after 10.30am when the sun hit it. For the first time in Peru I clocked some serious distance, skirting volcanoes and big skies for the morning before locating the 70km long descent to the city.
Shortly after leaving Bolivia I rode down hill to Arequipa, where I hauled myself and limited belonging’s to Spain to get-down get-down and celebrate the wedding of two good friend’s and generally starve myself for sleep on account of beers instead of the frigid mountain nights that have set in at this time of year.
What a contrast, despite sweating myself dry in the Southern Spanish sun, I quickly appreciated just how difficult the small things were in Bolivia. That said, I enjoyed it infinitely more than Argentina and Chile which, despite being absolutely beautiful in their own rights, felt downright western in economy and urban landscapes.
Enter Bolivia, a dusty and forgotten place full of friendly earth hardened people and the most dramatic high altitude landscapes I’ve been seen. The first short section in the country was spent on some of the only asphalt I found, and took me to Tupiza to rest a few nights before heading off towards the Salar’s and the altiplano proper.
La Paz is the highest administrative capital in the world, though it doesn’t really matter which direction you enter from as you’ll likely be descending from somewhere higher. Speaking of course of the altitude and not the multitude of substances that Bolivia, and particularly La Paz, is famed for.
One month off the bike was more than enough time to finish the bottle of rum I’d been dragging around in my bottle cages and sample some of Bolivia’s best economical bottles of wine, explore, and along the way catch up with some old and older friend’s as well as making some new one’s.
I quickly established myself in the cities famed (in cycling circles) Casa de Ciclista’s and headed straight out into the night with some French company and an exceptionally large bottle of beer. Night one was a leisurely stroll around what became known as ‘gringo-ville’ (the cities tourist district) and ended watching a new French friend mock breakdancing as some local’s tried their luck at impressing us with their local freestyle rap. At this point I could tell I was in for an interesting few weeks. Continue reading →
Riding in Chile came in three discrete blocks and covered the remote and difficult to reach Chilean Patagonia, the oft quoted and cyclist loved Carretera Austral, and finally a slow and carefree spin towards (through the Lake’s District) and North on the Pacific Coast.
My final farewell to the country was as a rolling foursome with 3 other cyclists as we scaled the old road leading up and over Paso Los Libertadores to Mendoza, where I would stop to bathe in red wine.
Travelled: 3016 km
Tierra del Fuego – San Sebastián to Porvenir / Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales
Within a week of riding North from the bottom of the world, the first border crossing landed me in Chile. The frontier zone between immigration offices was dusty, though thankfully not quite as windy as the initial experiences in Argentina. To make sure I didn’t bank any complacency, the road turned to a mix of loose sand and medium sized rocks which succeeded in breaking one of my front pannier fixings with less than 2 weeks of use. Continue reading →
The route taken North through Argentina started in the desolate, windswept landscape of Tierra del Fuego and ended in the high Southern plains of the Bolivian Altiplano.
The riding through Argentina was generally fairly simple, fast and flat – one particularly notable exception of course being the famed Patagonian wind which plagued some of the more southern sections of the route around El Calafate and El Chalten, and of course when crossing Tierra del Fuego.
Travelled: 3205 km
Tierra del Fuego – Ushuaia to San Sebastián
Of course the beginning of the ride came with its share of shocks, culturally and physically. The feeling stepping off the plane in Ushuaia reminded me of a prior airplane departure in Canada in late 2008 – though of course with less snow and with temperatures a little warmer. Ushuaia wasted no time letting me know who was boss, over the next few days while I fine tuned the bike, small flurries blew in and the temperature dropped below zero. Continue reading →
For the most part this route follows the advice offered on the Andes by Bike website by Neil and Harriett Pike. The exception being at the end of the loop where I turned off to climb to Coroico instead of taking the climb closer to La Cumbre. You can find the full route information here.
As one final sendoff to a pretty grand experience in Bolivia, I decided to ride a 450km loop through the Southern Yungas, a department to the North East of La Paz. Only the South Western corner of Bolivia is locked on the altiplano, and the Yungas represents a transition zone between the altiplano at around 4000m, and the lowlying part if Bolivia representing the start of the Amazon Basin.
I’d done my research and knew that the road was a challenging one, almost completely unpaved and collecting about 11,000m of cumulative elevation gain along the way. The promise of shear mountain landscapes coated in tropical greenery, banana smoothies and maybe even some running water in the rivers was was enough to ignore the physical challenge.
Leaving Parque Nacional Sajama I tracked a paved road for a few days heading towards the turnoff the the loop and the beginning of a climb to Paso Abra Tres Cruces. Along the way I camped out in increasingly horrible spots near the road, culminating in a spot next to a old Bolivian man’s mud hut and having to put up with his crazed dog barking half a metre from the tent all night.
Eventually making it to Konani, I intended to take a few nights off and rest before starting the climb and descent into the valley. A combination of a few rude locals and an inability to find people manning the hospedaje’s meant that it meant that I ended up pushing straight pass the town that day instead.
The climb was relatively gradual, climbing and then losing metres constantly, and I camped a few nights along the way in fields of quinoa and near a small town about 400m short of the pass. That evening a llama herder stopped by to say hi and offer some of his whiskey, and then again showed his head in the morning to check that I had everything I needed.