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.
We rolled out before lunch towards the sleepy Sajama village at the base of the volcano and spent a piece of the afternoon swearing as we tried to ride our bikes through varying depths of sand for the last 12km. On arrival we were greeted by a local Cholita woman who took us around to all the open hospedaje’s to try and find us a bed for the night. Within no time we were welcomed into a local home and shown the best restaurant to eat at in the main square. After gorging on cheap food for 2 nights we set about finding me a pack to head off into the mountains for a few nights – our host kindly solved the problem for me and the following morning we packed a few things and marched off into the mountains in the direction of the border with Chile.
We had both wanted to summit Nevado Sajama but the mountaineering season proper doesn’t begin until May and most of the required gear wasn’t available until then due to the erratic weather conditions that come about 6500m+ peaks out of season.
Parque Nacional Sajama hosts, obviously, Volcán Sajama, and is flanked by a number of other Volcano’s straddling the border with Chile. As we walked we quickly found the way to the most obvious demonstration of the volcanic activity, and we made camp in a geyser field for the night. We had been clued into the geysers by a few locals and made sure to take some eggs to hard boil in some the more accessible ones.
Some absolute legends had dug small trenches from the geysers into the river and you could effectively choose your preferred temperature and hop in the river at that point for some hot spring action. It didn’t take long to find my way in and spend the afternoon blissfully floating about with no one else in sight.
An early night’s rest and we awoke at 4am to watch the stars and then hop in the river again before beginning the ascent up through the valley.
We climbed slowly towards 5000m and for the first time became aware of how easily a few metres can matter getting towards that altitude. I’ve been aware the last month or so that riding on the altiplano is much more testing than at lower altitudes, but my body has since adjusted and smaller riding days and more regular breaks solved the problem. Climbing up through the valley it was obvious that 10m elevation gain could be a lot as we took a very slow pace and rested every few kilometres.
At the top of the valley I registered another border post and wandered into Chile to collect water from the alto laguna as we made camp for the night. We found a sheltered spot out of the wind and with a first class view over Sajama, but were quickly aware of the dropping temperature, even out of the wind. Gorging on pasta and tea we made another early night and climbed into our tents for the night. As the wind died down I forced myself out into the night to take a few photos of the sky over Nevado Sajama – I didn’t register until after descending the following day how much of a smooth move this ended up being.
As we walked down the following day we stopped again for some more time in the hot springs and made it 3 days running with what might be considered a good wash (better than average). After arriving back in the village we made short work of finding a huge plate of rice and meat to get through before heaving our packs the last few blocks to our bed for the night, where we promptly collapsed and slept for the afternoon. Binging on coffee throughout the afternoon meant that neither of us had a really sound nights sleep and the following day Robert took off towards La Paz to explore Lago Titicaca with his remaining weeks in South America.
I rested another night to wash clothes and clean the bike and the intention now is to head towards La Paz slowly via an incredibly undulating route through the Southern Yungas and Cordillera Real. I’m expecting about 10,000m of elevation gain on the road and one grueling climb from 1000m to 5000m on approach to La Paz, if the road surface is kind to me I’ll detour by Oruro to have one final day off before beginning what’s meant to be a ball tearer of a bike ride.