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.
I left Sabaya after 3 nights rest, each afternoon big electrical storm’s had rolled in and I decided to take the larger (though maybe no more used) road towards the North East in order to get to Parque Nacional Sajama. It was a bit of a longer route but also a whole lot more paved for the most part.
I’d forgotten what it was like to ride on pavement as I quickly ascended through a saddle between a few large mountains and made 100km in a day for the first time in 2 weeks. I rode through the expected afternoon storms and hail before quickly making cover to set up camp hidden near the side of the road. This story was repeated over again the next few nights, taking refuge in an abandoned building at a once camp ground and then again after fording a deep river on approach to Cosapa village.
The following day when I set off I found my first bicycle tourist in maybe one month having breakfast at a local restaurant in the small town. Robert was from Germany and had taken a broken path North from Ushuaia and into the deserts in Northern Chile. He was looking a little broken after some hard and remote riding and had decided even though he was within eyesight of Nevado Sajama that he would ride or bus to La Paz to rest for a few weeks before heading back to Germany. I sat and had a big breakfast of potatos, chicken, rice and salsa and set about convincing him this was a dud move. It didn’t take long.
This route very roughly tracks the advice given on the Andes by Bike website by Neil and Harriett Pike. The shortcut mentioned onto Salar de Coipasa was taken and is NOT recommended as it’s a very soft and muddy route. You can find their full route information here.
On paper the ride across Salar de Uyuni and Salar Coipasa is an easy one, in principle I guess it really shouldn’t be so difficult. What I’ve now found out is that one Salar is most definitely not an indicator for another, even if the two are close together.
Riding out of Uyuni was a joy, after spending a few nights there I was aching to be back out on the bike, Rudy was cleaned up and looking good and just aching to roll her wheels. The first 20 km’s were paved for the first time in a while, and on approach to Colchani the track turned back to a mix of gravel and an obviously once paved approach to Salar de Uyuni.
Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat in the world, and although there are rough tracks that crisscross over the top, they seem to act as an indicator only, and the tourist jeeps that flood the surface just pick a heading and go. Wanting to get away from the traffic I quickly ignored the paths, took a heading off a flanking volcano and a speck in the distance that I assumed was an island, and rode.