Archive for the ‘Cycling’ Category


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


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