Archive for the ‘Chile’ Category


If I were to describe my last cycling trip in one word, the word would be ‘tough’. If allowed a few more words, I would add, ‘but beautiful and rewarding’. Here are a few more words of my three week cycle in Chile and Bolivia.

 

Starting in Antofagasta on the coast in Chile, I crossed the Atacama Desert to San Pedro de Atacama. I passed into Bolivia and rode (and pushed) my bike along the Ruta de Lagunas before ending on the Salar de Uyuni – the famous high altitude salt pan in Bolivia.

The Atacama Desert is an incredible moonscape of sand and rock. The rolling landscape is punctuated with rocky mounds poking out from the sand. The earth (and cyclists) are scorched by the sun hanging in the ever cloudless skies.

Atacama Desert

Atacama Desert

The 200km traverse of the desert from Baquedano to Peine saw me pass solitary trees marking the passing away of loved ones, eat lunch in the shade of mine buildings and road signs, and cross the vast salt expanse of Salar de Atacama. It was then an easy amble to San Pedro de Atacama where I spent a few days on an acclimatisation trip to get ready for the tough high-altitude road ‘Ruta de Lagunas’ in south-eastern Bolivia.

The Ruta de Lagunas was tough. Deep sand and a constant gale force headwind meant that I pushed my bike a lot of the way. There were moments I just stopped and hung my head over my handlebars in despair. In the elements you can feel the force of mother nature, and you feel so small and insignificant.

Ruta de Lagunas

Ruta de Lagunas

I camped some of the time and lived it up in luxury when I could. One evening I sat inside with my ‘gourmet meal’ in front of me looking out through the glass panoramic windows out over the inhospitable terrain.

I saw windswept sandy plains, bright pink lakes swarming with feeding flamingos and volcanos lining the horizon. I was sprinkled with snow, buffeted with horizontal sleet and blasted with the eternal headwind. I had a meal with a fox and with big Bolivian rabbits called viscachas.

The goal of my trip was to cycle on the Salar de Uyuni – a massive salt pan on the high altitude plains. Well, it wasn’t meant to be – kind of. Worn down by the struggle, by the time I got there I was exhausted, had diahorrea and didn’t believe I could make it across to the island in the middle of the lake through the soft salt and headwind. My bike trip kind of fizzled out at the lake’s edge. I joined a jeep tour across the lake. I did, however, get the chance to honour the age-old tradition amongst cyclists of taking a nude shot on the lake.

Salar de Uyuni

Salar de Uyuni

The trip was challenging and well worth the effort. I love bleak landscapes away from people and my route through Chile and Bolivia certainly provided that.


I went to bed last night with an altitude sickness headache and concerns about cycling the ruta de lagunas. I woke with a plan – one that involves a lot of cheating.

Frozen river at Machuca

Frozen river at Machuca

My struggle with climbing to 4000m with a fully loaded bike, coupled with a reread of the cycling blogs of people who have cycled the ruta de lagunas made me realise that the whole route I was planning was going to take longer than the 7 days I had read. After chatting with my friend Ty Domin, I think that taking a jeep to the half way point will do the trick.

Llamas at Machuca

Llamas at Machuca

Back in civilisation, it was time to feed up. From tomorrow it’s going to be tough.

Family sized pizza

Family sized pizza


4000m altitude has been reached, but it wasn’t easy. I’m lying, comfortable in my sleeping bag on a bed in Machuca village thinking how well I’ll sleep tonight.

Machuca village

Machuca village

Yesterday was meant to be a quick climb up to the thermal baths where I could relax for hours, acclimatising. It took me most of the day to get there. Today I was going to spend most of the day walking along a gorge but rather I climbed into the heavens, challenging myself to reach the next road sign before stopping. It was very slow going, but rewarding. Just by turning back I could see how high I was above the salt pan of the Salar de Atacama.

Looking back towards the saltpan

Looking back towards the saltpan

Looking back towards the saltpan

Looking back towards the saltpan

It is now clear to me that I’ll be taking a van to the high pass at the Bolivian border. Climbing from 2400m to 4600m in a day isn’t happening and I have better uses of my time. Sleeping at 4000m tonight will make me altitude ready for the Ruta de Lagunas in Bolivia.

I didn’t walk along the gorge today but I saw it from above, as did my drone. It was beautiful.

Guatin Gorge

Guatin Gorge

Guatin Gorge

Guatin Gorge

Guatin Gorge

Guatin Gorge

I love my lunch spot. A choice of sun or shade out of the wind in a little sandy space with a view out over the mountains.

Lunch spot

Lunch spot

I saw some more flamingos on a little lake, and I even saw some llamas.

Flamingo lake

Flamingo lake

The village I’m staying at is trying its hand at tourism. For me, it’s main inviting feature is that it’s at 4000m altitude. There’s a historic church that was closed.

Historic church at Machuca

Historic church at Machuca

It’s only 45km from San Pedro and on the way to the El Tatio geysers. Cars are faster than bikes and the tours don’t stop here. Makes it all the more peaceful for me. 🙂


I sat in the warm pool gazing up at the sun as it dropped below the canyon wall. The chain of warm water pools was nestled between reeds at the bottom of a beautiful canyon, and I had made it here by bike.

Termas de Puritama

Termas de Puritama

Termas de Puritama

Termas de Puritama

It was chilly in the breeze leaving the pool once the sun had left, so I left the warmth of tbe water and pedalled a few kms downhill to watch the light fade against the backdrop of the chain of mountains and volcanoes as I cooked dinner.

The Termals de Puritama are not on the road to Bolivia, but they are, strategically, at 3500m in altitude and thus a perfect destination for day 1 of altitude acclimatision. It was hard work climbing from 2400m at San Pedro to the springs. I had all day, and it was spectacularly beautiful looking back at the massive flats surrounded by mountains. I could see for hundreds of kilometres.

You could see for miles

You could see for miles

The road followed a river (which had water) uphill and then curved above the river as it became a canyon. There were multiple lookouts and little wind – time for the drone.

Looking back towards the salt pan from the drone

Looking back towards the salt pan from the drone

Looking upwards into the heights

Looking upwards into the heights

The night was clear and, like always here, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the stars were amazing. I went to bed at 8 and slept for 11 hours.

Day 5. 0km. San Pedro de Atacama

Posted: September 3, 2019 in Chile, Cycling
Tags: , ,

Well. That wasn’t what I’d planned for. I’m in San Pedro planning to catch buses and getting a new passport.

San Pedro de Atacama

San Pedro de Atacama

My passport is damaged and I need a new one so I’ll lose a week of my cycling time in La Paz. Enter the joys of bus travel with the masses. I’ll still see the places I want to see on the bike, but I’ll be spending more time in buses and tourist haunts – something I usually avoid.Tomorrow and the day after are acclimatision trips before I venture to the high plains in Bolivia. After today, it’ll be great to get on the bike again.


I sat in the shade looking out over the shallow lake with flamingos. They were wading along, head in the water.

Laguna Chaxa

Laguna Chaxa

Today was a flat affair, speeding along the road to the big smoke of San Pedro de Atacama. I watched as the chain of Andean mountains slowly slid behind as I moved forward.

Llamas crossing

Llamas crossing

The Andes mountain chain slides past.

The Andes mountain chain slides past.

Now I need to think about how to acclimatise (altitude-wise) for the next leg of the trip at 4300m.

Day 3. 117km. 95 km post – Peine

Posted: August 31, 2019 in Chile, Cycling
Tags: , ,

Over the top of the pass and below me opened out a great flat expanse with the high mountains in the background. Crossing the Salar de Atacama was my task this afternoon.

View out over Laguna de Atacama

View out over Laguna de Atacama

It was always going to be a push to make it to civilisation today in Peine. I thought it was just over 100km. In the end I cycled 117km, arriving in Peine as the sun was setting.

The dying rays of light on Laguna de Atacama

The dying rays of light on Laguna de Atacama

With 27km to go, it was flat, straight ahead crossing the endless plain. Time for an Infected Mushroom music energy boost. I felt super strong as I accelerated, cycling in this beautiful place. I’m on the road again!

Peine 27km

Peine 27km

But most of the day was spent crossing the absolutely barren landscape of the Atacama Desert. Endless expanses of rocky plains with mounds popping up randomly.

The nothingness of the Atacama Desert

The nothingness of the Atacama Desert

My goal for lunch was a ruin of a stone house near the top of the pass. It’s shade sounded perfect for a break in the hottest time of the day.

A room with a view

A room with a view

I was waiting for the standard lull in the wind around lunch before it changes from a headwind to a tailwind. I caught the lull so out came the drone!

The view from above

The view from above

What a beautiful day. Amazing landscape and a physical challenge. Perfect!


‘This is glorious – God’s creation. Look around and see the beauty.’
He was so excited as he spoke to me after pulling me aside.
The truck drivers were in form today.

The truck drivers were friendly

The truck drivers were friendly

Another driver stopped and insisted he load the bike onto tbe back of the truck – it’s too far on the bike. Another gave me water. All tooted their horn and gave me the thumbs up.

The weather seems to follow a pattern. It’s been the same both days. A morning head wind, a midday calm and an afternoon tailwind. Today I crawled up the hill out of Baquedano into the wind to the last shop 10km away. A truckie stop, I filled up on a kind of créme au caramel and a jelly trifle.

Truckie stop

Truckie stop

I then passed a solitary tree that comes with its own sign ‘agua por favor’ – ‘water please’. There seems to be no lack of doners. The ground was very damp around the tree.

Agua por favor

Agua por favor

Again, like yesterday, midday was not only windstill but the sun was strong. Stopping anywhere in the sun, the sweat rolls off my body. Lunch has to be eaten where there is a building. This time it was at a mine guard’s building. They were happy to let me eat in the shade there, but there was speak of ‘contaminacion’ and acid and other nasties. People were walking around with gas masks. I was careful to stay away from the copper mine’s nasties while I ate my lunch in the shade.

Mining lunch stop

Mining lunch stop

My decision at the end of the day was whether to risk returning cramp and make the climb for 10km ahead of me or try to camp at a particularly exposed landscape. I pushed on up the dead straight climb that I had seen from 25km back and made it to my flat spot up the top of the pass back from the road behind some mounds.

The climb ahead is visible

The climb ahead is visible

Dinner was pasta and a tin of canned fish. It tasted awful and I lay for several hours in bed hyperventilating, wondering if I was going to throw up.

I didn’t.


The dog stopped barking when he saw me, ran up to me, and gave me a big lick on the leg. He then sat on my lap, trying to lick my face as I relaxed under the trees looking out at the 40 year old eucalyptus tree.

Comunidad Gren

Comunidad Gren

All this green had popped up out of an absolute barren moonscape. Not a blade of grass and then, suddenly, trees and signs of life on the side of the road. Comunidad Gen. An old lady came out of a hut under the trees. She talked and talked in Spanish – happy to see someone. Noone ever comes during the week. Have I seen the chickens, goats, rabbits and ducks? The water for all this is transported from the coast. She has been here from the beginning, and planted that eucalyptus tree 40 years ago. She was proud of the project and happy with life.

Comunidad Gren

Comunidad Gren

It was hot today and the sun was just so strong. Not a cloud in the sky. Nothing but blue sky and bright sand. I would stop under the shade of road signs to put more sunscreen on and had lunch in the shade behind a truck weigh station building.

Near Comunidad Gren

Near Comunidad Gren

Near Comunidad Gren

Near Comunidad Gren

I passed the Tropic of Capricorn as I was blown forward by a strong tailwind.

Tropic of Capricorn

Tropic of Capricorn

I’m in Baquedano – a mining town. It has a bit of a wild west frontier feeling. It’s the last stop before I leave the main road and head towards the small town of Peine – 208km away.

Baquedano

Baquedano

Baquedano

Baquedano

Baquedano

Baquedano


‘Give me a tip. 20,000 or 40,000 – it’s up to you.’ ($A40 or $A80). What could I do? He had my bike.

How did this happen?

‘Antofagasta?’
‘Yes,’ I replied, bike and luggage in hand at Santiago airport, freshly out from customs, just through the sliding door.
‘You’re going to be late!’
That’s when the whirlwind started.
He whisked me away, up lifts, across hallways, jumping queues.
My bag was dropped off at the check-in and the bike was whisked away to oversized luggage by his colleagues while we ran to security.
He also took me past the ATM. I wanted to go to one anyway.

So, my bike with his colleagues somewhere back there and security ahead, he asked for a tip. And not a small one. I only had large denomination notes and he knew it. He had been helpful. He was an airport official. But asking for the tip made me wonder if my bike was going to arrive in Antofagasta at all.

I used my newly refreshed Spanish at the gate to check that the luggage was, indeed, on the plane.

Nothing bad had happened. Lesson learned. Be careful.

The bike arrived in one piece and survived me putting it together.

My evening and next day in Antofagasta was spent sitting on the balcony, getting provisions for crossing the Atacama Desert and watching kids dance in large square.

View from my balcony

View from my balcony

A nice lawn for urination

A nice lawn for urination

The dancing kids

The dancing kids

It seemed that the dancers were all teenage girls, some non-binary kids and effeminate guys. Quite an interesting mix.

Tomorrow the bike trip starts – up and out of Antofagasta and into the Atacama Desert.