Archive for the ‘Bolivia’ Category


HEADWIND!

Headwind

Headwind

The light morning headwind grew in ferocity as I climbed slowly from the lake over a little pass before the main road.

Leaving the Lagunas

Leaving the Lagunas

Interesting sign

Interesting sign

By the time I pulled in to a little shop on the main road it was blowing an absolute gale. As I was inside having a nice chorizo sausage, it started to hail – horizontal hail.

I left the main road shortly after my chorizo stop onto a sandy track. There was nothing to it. Just like my day leaving Laguna Colorada, I pushed the bike forward a bit, and then stopped and caught my breath. Slowly but surely I made it this way over the last little pass before the end town of the Ruta de Lagunas – San Juan..

Then, suddenly, the sun came out and the wind changed direction. At some point it was even a tailwind.

Heading over the last little pass

Heading over the last little pass

Going downhill with a tailwind was lovely. The road was, however, very broken up, sandy and rocky, so a fast descent wasn’t happening.

The way down

The way down

The way down

The way down

My plan was to make it down the pass and make it to a military base for the night. Again, erring on the side of caution, I stopped at a nice little stone wall windbreak half way down and watched a beautiful sunset as I cooked and ate dinner.

My little camp spot

My little camp spot


‘Have you got snow chains?’ asked the guide.

‘I’m on my bike,’ I replied.

She nodded. ‘It’s going to snow.’

A tiny dusting of snow

A tiny dusting of snow

Today, although the weather looked threatening, the road was mostly firm, I had a tailwind, and I was going downhill. The wind makes so much difference. With the wind at my back I could push on through the soft sandy corrigations. It felt like skiing as I slid down the road over the high pass, banking around the curves as the rocky pebbles sprayed to the side.

The snow in the sun

The snow in the sun

On the way to Laguna Hedionda

On the way to Laguna Hedionda

I left at 7 to allow enough time to get to my destination at Laguna Hedionda. Rather than crawling along at 5km/h, I was flying along, rarely going below 10, and sometimes over 20km/h. I never knew what the weather was going to do. I had a little sleet storm for a little stretch with headwind. The pellets of sleet were like pins on my face.

I arrived at the Ecolodge de Flamincos at Laguna Hedionda at lunch time. It can be a luxurious hotel with prices around USD150 upwards, but they have a ‘refugio’ section for USD9. They welcomed me in and cooked me a calorific lunch (after me asking if the dinner was gourmet but small portions like last night).

Ecolodge de Flamingos

Ecolodge de Flamingos

The lodge is perched on the lake, and you can walk right up to the flamingos. I stood on the lake shore for a long time, still, watching the flamingos just metres away poking their heads in the mud and walking around.

Flamingos

Flamingos


Yesterday I slept with the foxes and today I ate with the rabbits. I pushed on through the elements and then walked through the door of Hotel de Desierto. Such a stark contrast – I’ve walked from the cold howling winds into 5 star luxury.

Dinner with a view

Dinner with a view

I was as warm as toast last night. I made sure I’d set up the tent, cooked and eaten before sunset. A fox was interested in my food.

The fox wanted my food

The fox wanted my food

I wrapped up to the maximum to warm up, and an hour later, I was too warm and was able to regulate the temperature nicely. Lunch was in a rocky area with very convenient protection from the wind. I wasn’t alone. The rabbits were out and keen to take my lunch.

My little lunch friend

My little lunch friend

And the road. Expecting a diabolically bad road, I was pleasantly surprised. I was able to cycle most of the time, only pushing around 30% of the time. The wind remained fierce and blowing directly against the way I wanted to go. My spirits were high after yesterday. I’ll check the road ahead and see what tomorrow brings.

On the road

On the road

On the road

On the road

My humble abode

My humble abode


Last night I met a couple on motorbikes. They were beyond exhausted having just completed what lay ahead for me. Translating that for me, I discovered today that means pushing – almost the whole way.

The soft road

The soft road

Most of the problem is soft sand. At its deepest, you can push a few metres and gather your breath. The next level is its still too soft to cycle but you can push for longer without stopping. Then there’s a light sprinkling of soft sand over hard earth. This is ok for cycling (about 5km/h) if there isn’t a hurricane headwind. There was usually a hurricane headwind. Then there’s the hard earth – with rocks and corrigations, but cyclable.

Crossing between two tracks. The grass looks greener on the other side.

Crossing between two tracks. The grass looks greener on the other side.

I had generously given myself 3 hours to get to Arbol de Piedra for lunch. Then another 10km to a ruin on the side of the road for dinner. I arrived at Arbol de Piedra just before 3 and decided to stop for the day. I couldn’t risk being caught exposed to the howling wind at nightfall.Arbol de Piedra means tree of rock. It is a place with lots of big boulders just standing there on the sandy plains. There’s plenty of places to hide away from the wind. It’s a pretty cool place.

Arbol de Piedra

Arbol de Piedra

A beautiful wind break at Arbol de Piedra

A beautiful wind break at Arbol de Piedra

Reading the route description, today’s road conditions were arduous but not atypical. Tomorrow I have 10km of better road and 20 of shit road until the luxurious Hotel del Desierto. I fully hope to make it there tomorrow and spend USD120 on a room before finding a lift out of this place. It may all seem better in the morning, but holidays don’t have to be this hard.


Today I had Chilean law sternly read to me at the border. Today I had a hectic run to change money. I was told it was better to do it at the border. It isn’t. Today I was dropped off on a sandy plain in the howling wind. Just as I’d planned.

Drop off near Laguna Colorada

Drop off near Laguna Colorada

Not only is my passport damaged, but I’ve lost the magic white slip of paper from the Chilean immigration. To get it replaced would have involved travelling 100km from San Pedro, and I was told I didn’t really need it.

The stern border guard, his dark hair pasted to his head with a severe part to one side, slapped his hand on the Chilean law book he had on the counter, opened it up with conviction, and read me a passage in Spanish loudly so all could hear. He then said (in Spanish) he could send me back.

Border guards like grovelling, so I grovelled.

‘I’m so terribly sorry. I really don’t know where I put the slip. I’ll be sure not to lose it next time.’

With a commanding stare he stamped my passport and waved me out. Luckily he didn’t notice the photo page was loose.

I was told the exchange rate was much better at the border so I only had changed a small amount of Bolivian currency in San Pedro. No one had any money to change and in the end I exchanged all their Bolivian money at the hostel at Laguna Blanca. I got a terrible exchange rate, of course.

But, I was through and I was getting a lift to Laguna Colorada. It turned out my jeep wasn’t a jeep of tourists and stopped absolutely nowhere except to let me pee.

Ruta de Lagunas from the car

Ruta de Lagunas from the car

When Laguna Colorada was in sight, the driver asked if I want to go left or right. I wanted to go left – going right misses a lot of the beautiful landscape.

So be stopped the car. In the middle of the sand flats in the howling wind. The bike was taken off the roof rack, my bags placed next to the bike, and off he went. I stood there. He had taken me to where I wanted to go. Not to a refugio, but I’d never asked for that. I changed into my cycling gear, making sure nothing blew away when I opened my bags, and off I went.

Drop off near Laguna Colorada

Drop off near Laguna Colorada

Cycling alongside Laguna Colorada

Cycling alongside Laguna Colorada

The descriptions of the road surface I had read were correct. Sandy, corrugated and rocky. The galeforce headwind made for a stark contrast to minutes before in the car. I thought my speedo may register more distance than what I actually covered as the wheels were spinning in the deep sand. I saw the first refugio about a kilometre directly into the wind. The place I was headed was a further 10km, so I pushed on. At a certain point the road changed direction somewhat, and I had a side wind and even a tail wind for a short while.

When I came to a stop in deep sand I looked around. This is such a beautiful place. Stretching away below me was a bright pink lake, dotted with flamingos. Behind the lake and all around were mountains. Jeep tracks crisscrossed the rocky, sandy landscape. The clouds were incredible. One was a perfect regular blob, another was a perfect oval.

Laguna Colorada

Laguna Colorada

The road was a bit sandy in parts

The road was a bit sandy in parts

After 15km of cycling I pulled in to the hostel at Laguna Colorada. Yes. They had a bed for $7. Lunch for $3. Dinner for $3. So much cheaper than Chile. I wheeled in my bike out of the howling wind and polished off a lunch of rice, hot chips and salad (tomato and cucumber).

Hostel at Laguna Colorada

Hostel at Laguna Colorada

I went for a walk along the lake to a lookout. On the lake’s edge were hundreds of flamingos. Just so many. There were also a few jeeps of tourists there.

Spot the flamingos on Laguna Colorada

Spot the flamingos on Laguna Colorada