The Lagunas Route
Another year older, another year wiser; at least so the saying goes.
As we say goodbye to our adopted home of San Pedro De Atacama, we begin the long ramp like climb from the Atacama Desert toward the lofty heights of the Bolivian Antiplano. Heads gently thumping, as the midday sun beats down on us working out the remnants of the previous evenings Pisco induced festivities.
Older; Yes. Wiser; Questionable.
We leave as a rag tag bunch of four English cyclists. Neil the round the world cyclist, two years on the road and still impeccably turned out. Jose a fellow northerner from Rossendale coming toward the end of his trip south from Mexico. Exiled Bristolian, New Mexican and honorary Yorkshireman Cass, and yours truly.
After 2300m of climbing the smooth asphalt of Paso Jamma is left behind, the dirt road greeting us serves as a stark demarcation between the fortunes of Chile and Bolivia.
Immigration formalities completed spirits are high; Bienviendos Bolivia! A country whose stark, barren landscapes and picture perfect blue skies have long taunted me from a computer screen.
As an icy wind bites at us, Bolivia’s stark landscapes become a harsh reality as we find ourselves in the middle of a storm. Seeking sanctuary at the entrance to the Eduardo Avarao National Park we sit things as afternoon turns to evening we listen as wind buffets the building throughout the night.
By morning each of us brace ourselves for battle with the elements.
When you can no longer feel your fingers and toes, star jumps make for great exercise.
Taking what little shelter we can find, we survey the road ahead.
Before crossing icy streams.
The sandy, rutted road conditions slow progress for all. Neil’s skinny rimmed Condor Heritage out of its comfort zone, making for plenty of pushing.
Sandy and rutted.
With strengthening winds we decide to turn back and seek refuge once again. 4 hours and less than 20kms of actual riding. Epic.
The following morning, light winds and banner blue skies make for a more fitting introduction to big Bolivian landscapes.
Rugged beauty, all the way from Lancashire.
Jeep traffic buzzes us frequently, transporting a steady stream of goggle eyed tourists between the parks must see attractions. Never to step foot outside their jeep, its a landscape passively admired from the relative warmth and comfort of their arm chair on wheels.
Keen to make progress after so much downtime we push on before the Antiplano winds build during the afternoon.
Our reward; Three hours spent soaking in thermal springs as the sun slowly drops painting the Antiplano in reds and oranges.
A cold, rough days cycling over Sol De Manana (4950m) takes us to Laguna Colorado.
A rock strewn ‘Cass Especial Fat Bike Shortcut’ at the end of the day leaves Jose stopping to catch his breath as we bobble round on golf ball sized rocks.
Ice, Moss and Laguna Colorado’s pink hues.
Following starkly contrasting single track we are once again deposited on the jeep churned washboard. Unfortunately characterising much of the riding in this remote south western corner of Bolivia.
With dwindling time before his flight back home we leave Jose at the park gate to hitch a ride. A Surly Triptych: Troll, Ogre, Pugsley.
Churny, sand riding takes us through Arbol De Piedras.
Before a high camp at 4600m. The morning sun thaws out cold limbs, after chilly night time temperatures reach -15 degrees.
Wide, expansive valleys take us past mineral stained volcanoes.
Before rough, rutted descents take us to a cluster of lakes at the northern end of the park.
Some are vivid blue like Laguna Honda.
Others salt encrusted empty vessels.
Or flamingo strewn Laguna Hedionda.
Leaving the Laguna’s proper, we rip down sandy trails toward one of the many salt flats in this region.
Welcome to the gun show.
After days churning through sand and rattling our fillings lose on jeep induced corrugations the salt flats smooth surface comes as a revelation. It’s all smiles as we enter a Mad Maxian landscape.
We race toward the metropolis of San Juan and our first dose of fresh fruit and vegetables in as many days.
Onward the Mad Max theme continues as we pass through sparsely populated towns like Julaca.
My view for much of the Lagunas route as Cass and El Ponderosa tear away as things get sandy and corrugated. 3.8 inch tyres win in the floatation stakes that’s for sure.
Andi aka ‘Papa Noel’ joins us for a 6 weeks jaunt north. 4 days late to our meeting in Uyuni he miraculously tracks us down in a small Bolivian town by night. Bringing with him much needed bike spares from Keep Pedalling and a replacement camera body after cracking the screen on one too many rough descents back south he is a welcome sight.
Riding to Uyuni we follow the rail tracks.
The war cry: Bolivia!
Stopping at the Cemetario De Trenes outside Uyuni we find a veritable junk yard of railway memorobilia and rusting metal.
Asi Es La Vida = Such is life.
A special thanks needs to said to the Pikes on Bikes and their veritable treasure trove of adenturous Andean information over at Andes By Bike and Tour.tk for their Cycling South West Bolivia PDF which became compulsory bed time reading as teeth chattered during sub zero night time temperatures.