Posts Tagged ‘Bolivia’


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