Date: 9th October – 18th October 2012
Where: San Juan – Deserted house camp (San Augustin) – Alota – Villamar – Salar de Capina Campamento – Quebrada camp – Polques (Aguas Termales) – Rat camp (Laguna Verde) – San Pedro de Atacama (Chile)
Distance: 5652 to 5914 miles
It would take too long to describe the nine days we traveled to leave Bolivia in one blog post using anything other than pictures…so here goes:
Day 1 – San Juan to San Augustin
The terrain to San Augustin is challenging straight away, with both washboard (top) and sand (bottom) slowing our progress
A sandstorm blows through our lunch-stop…Bolivia is not going to make this easy!
A cyclist’s nightmare: Quinoa fields = sand…10km of pushing later, and we make it to San Augustin
The road eases after the village, but a large proportion of the time is still spent pushing
1km after the village a deserted house provides the perfect resting place for the night
Day 2 – San Augustin to Alota
Breaking the ice on an early morning river crossing in a beautiful valley
After reaching our first pass ~ 4300m, a new valley opens up before us with colours and scenery no camera can do justice
Down in the river valley a good road leads to Alota, with only a small exploding tyre hiccup for Emilien and Xinhan to slow us down
The seemingly deserted town of Alota eventually opened up for us
The alojamiento had no electricity, but we still succeeded in stocking up our food supplies (note the two loaves of bread)
Day 3 – Alota to Villamar
Leaving for the Valley of the Rocks (not the one in Devon!), with our new recruit, Jörn ‘The German Machine’!
Another river crossing – this one was a bit to deep for us to risk riding (although Jörn managed it)
And yet another…at least drinking water wasn’t an issue at this moment
Halfway up the hill, Geoff realised he had forgotten the aforementioned two loaves of bread. In a stroke of luck a motorbike was nearby and gave him a lift back to get it. Meanwhile Emilien and Jörn have the pleasure of advancing Geoff’s bike!
Cycling into the Valley of the Rocks for lunch
A climber’s paradise, it didn’t take long for Geoff to get stuck in!
The road gently undulated all the way to Villamar for the rest of the day (The last village before Chile). In all 51km, and a long day. By now we were all getting tired…perfect preparation for tomorrow’s steep rocky hell pass.
Day 4 – Villamar to Salar de Capina Campamento
With the others pushing on ahead, we are left alone to climb the pass.
The steep, rocky nature exhausted us completely.
After much screaming, crying and swearing we finally make the summit of pass2 ~ 4600m.
As we fly down the other side of the hill, Jörn has been waiting two hours to ambush us with his camera
We stand in awe of the Salar de Capina, as views and desolation open up around us
The others forge on ahead again towards the Campamento, as we catch our breath
Day 5 – Campamento to Quebrada camp (Laguna Colorada)
A parting shot. Our speed yesterday led us to decide to split as a group today. The next we thought we would see each other was Chile
Slowly going up the hill to the crest where we would see Laguna Colorada for the first time
Down the other side, the sun occasionally reached the Lake showing off its many colours, with the primary one being bright red!
At the shore, the colours sparkled even more
Flamingos were still everywhere (including eggs and dead ones on the shoreline)
We took our time to enjoy this special place before heading off to the other side of the Lake and a small canyon (quebrada) which would shelter us from the fierce headwind
As we arrived we saw bicycle tracks going into the canyon. Sure enough Emilien appeared with two steaming cups of soup. They had also stopped for the night, exhausted by the strong headwind
Spot the cyclists!
Day 6 – Quebrada camp to Aguas Termales (Polques)
Leaving Laguna Colorada behind we make our way up to the Sol de Manaña geysers, the highest point of the route. Feeling rested after yesterday’s slow day, we make good progess
Until we reach a junction that is… (Note to other cyclists: turn left at this point!)
…Exhausted and more out of breath than normal we hide from the fierce wind and stop for a spot of lunch. We seem to have gone further than the high point of the pass, yet are still going up and so Geoff checks the compass…we are going West, we should be going South. Accidentally we’ve cycled above 5000m and 2km in the wrong direction!
The tailwind soon gets us back on the right track and a landscape of metallic-sounding boulders opens up before us. Bolivia’s geology is so rich!
We’re taller than Europe up here!
The others wait for us again at the geysers and we’re soon re-united to do the 25km downhill to Laguna Chalviri
As we get closer the Desierto de Dali appears before us
Even more importantly, the hot springs (aguas termales) greet us like a a little slice of heaven. We have them to ourselves in the evening with all the jeep groups long gone
Day 7 – Aguas Termales (rest day)
After nine days on the dirt roads without a rest, we say goodbye to Emilien, Xinhan and Jörn to enjoy a rest day at the hot springs, either lazing in the tent, restaurant or water
We can enjoy another sunset and sunrise in the warm waters watching flamingos
Day 8 – Aguas Termales to Laguna Verde Rat Camp
The colours of the volcanos around the Desierto de Dali are fantastic
Dali himself sits in quiet contemplation surveying his bizarre rocky mounds
The hot springs have sucked all energy from Sarah, but luckily re-energised Geoff. Together, we make it to the top of Paso el Condor ~ 4700m, and descend past a lone vicuña
The impressive volcanos around Laguna Verde soon show their faces
Crossing to the sheltering bluff that would be our base for the night
The volcanoes are so huge they cast shadows over entire hills in the landscape
Day 9 – Laguna Verde Rat Camp to San Pedro de Atacama (Chile)
We don’t sleep well. A rat bothers us all night, but is eventually pacified by a trail of crackers outside of the deserted building where we spent the night
Sarah joins Geoff’s fashion sense for a day as we prepare to go off and greet the hordes of tourists at Laguna Verde
Volcan Licancabur reflects itself in the not-so-green Laguna Verde (apparently it stopped going green two months ago, and no-one knows why!). We think it is nothing more than a cunning ploy to get more tourists to visit the region
Crossing the small stream between Laguna Verde and the more aptly-named Laguna Blanca
A distant Sarah with Laguna Blanca
Goodbye Bolivia, your land really is amazing!
A tiring uphill takes us to Bolivian immigration
An undulating route through early Chile takes us back to tarmac at last!
A short way uphill after that and we are at the top of the 5th and final pass ~ 4600m. From here it is all downhill to San Pedro de Atacama. Known as murder mountain to cyclists who go the other way, this drops over 2000m in 30km at a relentlessly steep gradient past the other side of volcano Licancabur.
The next morning Jörn surprises us with breakfast. It is a very civilised affair with a quality of food we’ve only dreamed about since Ecuador
We loved Bolivia, and for the first time since Costa Rica, we’ve cycled every inch of a country. It pushed our bodies and minds (Seriously cracked lips and fingers amongst other things)) and our gear to the limits at times (broken tent, shoe soles, zips, and anything plastic), but also rewarded us with spectacular scenary, delicious food and friendly people. We now will take some time to adjust to the more developed Chile. We still stuggle to comprehend how one big downhill can separate these countries, which truly are worlds apart!
In various states of exhaustion at the top of of the five passes to reach Chile: 4300, 4600, 4900, 4700 and 4600m (each one over 4 Snwdns high!)