For a couple of days I have now been able to stress my broken shoulder again :-) So I am busy cycling again to get ready for the tour. On september 28th I will fly to La Paz.
After a long flight, I landed early thursday in La Paz. Next morning I leave by bus already. When I park my bike at the bus terminal to wait for the bus, someone asks me to move it a little bit, so they can open a door. While I do so, I realize what's happening here: As I turn around my head, the backpack is gone already! This cannot be true. In the backpack I have the camera, my sleeping bag, warm cycling pants, all maps & GPS. The tour could be over, before it had began... I go to the police at the terminal and tell them what has happened. They immediately go searching. I cannot believe, I had been robbed with such a silly trick. After 10 min. the policemen comes back with a big smile and my backpack in his hand! How has he done that...? I am very happy.
The drive through the Lauca park is beautiful as ever. The weather is perfect. But seeing it from the bus, it is like a short trailer of the film I will hopefully be be part of next weeks.
In Arica I bath my feet in the Pacific and watch the pelicanos, before I continue.
Today I finally reached Calama, the starting point of this tour. I have already bought loads food. Tomorrow I will cycle towards el Tatio...
When I leave town, a strong headwind forces me to change to my smallest chain wheel already. After Chiu Chiu I leave the main road. What a nice surprise: They have repared the road; the surface is now made of hard pressed ground, which is as good as asphalt.
So it goes out into the Atacama desert. The sun burns brutally. The silence is incredible. Only from time to time I hear water ripple... please? Do I have a fata morgana already? The solution is a water pipeline, that runs along the road. Quite unfaire in this complete dryness.
Because it is sunday today, there are some cars on the road. Most horn, or great. One stops, askes me where I am going, whishes me 'suerte' and gives me a cold beer - Chile! Slowly, the roads climbs. My legs burn. Now I notice the missed training this summer. But this time I have no ambitions, to cycle as fast or far as possible. I rather want to cycle a nice route and see, what is possible with my shoulder.
Next day, the perfect surface ends. The climbs become steeper and it is always very power consuming to get arround the next corner.
At 3800m I reach the altiplano. Here it is again: this unique color combination of golden/bronze Ichu-grass with the deep blue sky, that can only been found here. I realise, that I won't get to the top of the pass today under the current conditions. But now I have problems with my water supply. Because there is absolutely no water here, I had to carry everthing from Chiu Chiu. One liter is left. I decide to stop a car and ask. With 3 cars a day, I am quite lucky, one passes shortly afterwards. They give me a big bottle of limonade. A am happy. This would have benn a uncomfortable night otherwise. At 4200m, just before the pass, I put up my tent next to the road.
Next day, it is not far to the pass at 4500m. Now it's only downhill to San Pedro. By far not! Now the whole thing has just begun...
At first, there is a quick descent to 4100m. For the first time, there is water. The luscious green looks fantastic in this dry enviroment. Then I pass a police post. He tells me about 2 possible routes: a steeper and a shorter one. That I would have to cross a river 5 times on the longer route, he did not say... But the colors of the river outweigh the wet feet. Now the road climbs. But it mainly consists of sand and rocks. I have no choice but to push the bike. I finally reach 4500m again. But now downhill. I quickly loose height until 4100m. But then the road makes an surprising U-turn: up the mountain again. The road now only consists of sand. I cannot cycle one meter anymore. For hours I push the bike, expecting the road to drop behind every corner. One more time, I reach 4400m. But this is the ultimate downhill. The road gets better and I can cycle again. On the 2000m downhill, the road changes from washboard-style to very good. But nothing can stop me now anymore: all I want is a cold beer in San Pedro...
An espresso for breakfast with music from Maná; I must say, life is nice here in San Pedro. Unbelievable what has become of the tiny little village, I visited 9 years ago. Today I have a day resting here, filling up all my supplies, before I ill start towards Bolivia (Laguna Verde) tomorrow.
From San Pedro you can see already the road climbing all the way up the bare slope to Paso Jama. Up to 4600m I follow that well paved road, then I turn left into Bolivia. At the Laguna Blanca there is a hut where I stay for the night, before the real thing starts the next day.
At first to Laguna Verde. Because of the concentration of lead, in the water, it really looks green. In the early morning the vilcano Licancabur has a perfect reflection on the calm water. The setting is spectacular: The mountains are painted most colourful because of the many minerals the ground contains. At the Laguna Chalviri I put up my tent. Not only because it is a beautiful place. There are hot springs here! There is nothing like a bath in 35°C warm water in this fantastic surrounding, after a hard day's cycling on dusty roads.
Next day, the road climbs to the highest point at 4950m. Soon I can see the Laguno Colorado in the distance. As far as here, the roads were quite OK, but the last 16km to the Campamento are terrible. Aleardy there with my thoughts, I am surprised by a horrible sand and washboard track. This night I enjoy a bed at the Campamento and have a beer with the many tourists passing here with a Jeep-tour.
My bike rather looks like a fire-fighting vehicle. 18l of water I carry for the next dry 160km, which I hope to cycle in 3 1/2 days.
After the Laguna Colorado, the road only consists of volcanic ash. Cycling is difficult, or often impossible. The first day I cover only 37km (in 6 hours). In the open desert, hundreds of trails lead into the same direction. If the sand is again to soft and deep so I have to push the bike, I try to switch trails, in the rarly fulfilled hope, that it is any better one left or right.
I pass the Piedra de Arbol, a rock that much eroded, that it now looks like a tree. Often I am observed by curious Vincuñas. I wonder what they live on here..?
After 2 days in the desert, the eyes are probably more sensible to colors: I cycle along 4 Lagunas, each one more beautiful then the other! At the Laguna Hedionda I put up my tent. Thousands of flamingos are on the lake. What a fantastic scene!
For one more time the road shows all the dreadful parts, it is made of: sand, washboard and then it becomes almost a quarry. The scenery becomes greener. I see Vizcachas hiding, when I come along. Passing the smoking volcano Ollague and a solidified lava stream I reach Chiguana, the first settlement after San Pedro.
In the big plain, where the railroad from Uyuni to Chile passes, ypu can cycle your own trail: everywhere the surface is stick-straight. What a joy after all the bumpy roads.
Next day I reach the Salar de Uyuni. It's 45km to the Isla Pescado, an island in the middle of the salar. Unfortunately a strong wind prevents me from racing across the fine salt surface.
On the island I search for a quite place for my tent. I almost feel like Robinson Crusoe sitting on my beach. Only that the white is no caribbean see, but the salt.
On the island everything is very sharp: the thousands of giant cacti (some more than 1200 years old) and the rocks, that are all covered with corals (this used to be a see, until the ground was lifted and only left the salt and the corals behind). At sunset the whole scenery is perfect!
Another 40km north across the Salar and I reach 'land' again. Two more days on uncomfortable roads, then, after 650km on gravel roads, I have again asphalt under my wheels! Just as to celebrate this, there are hot springs in Pazña, before the final sprint to Oruro.
The road from Oruro to La Paz I want to do by bus. It is not that spectacular and I have already cycled it a couple of times. When I go checking the busses, I hear, there are road blockades because of protests. I am not very surprised, as this would have been my first trip to Bolivia, without road blockades. One day later I go by bus , that takes another route to La Paz.
There is no better acclimatization then a three week cycling trip above 4000m! So I treat myself to climb Huayna Potosi (6088m), just behind La Paz. Together with Thomas, a frenchman and Eloy, our mountain guide, we set off. Eloy quickly realizes, that we are both in pretty good shape, so the first day he runs with us in one hour (normally 3) to the base camp at 5150m. In return, we enjoy a relaxed afternoon.
After little sleep we start the next morning at 2:00 AM. It is quite windy, therefor we have a starry night. The walk up the glacier is easy and we make good progress, despite Thomas's stomach problems. Soon we can see the many lights of el Alto in the distance. The last vertical 150m are little bit more demanding. The 45-50° face to the summit is quite icy and it costs a lot of power at over 6000m. Perfect timing: Exactly at sunset we reach the summit ridge and enjoy a fantastic view!
In the early afternoon we get back to La Paz, where I go sleeping first thing, before we go out for a good dinner to celebrate the day.