Sunday, 26 April 2015

San Pedro De Atacama to Uyuni via the Lagunas

What an adventure we have just had. Cycling this route was an extremely challenging yet mindblowing experience for us. The environment was like nothing we had ever experienced before. We felt priveledged to be able to cycle this part of the world.

Day 1 San Pedro de Atacama to Laguna Blanca
This was definately one of our tougher days so far.  We had to cycle up 3100m to an altitude of 4650!  The road was paved but it was still extremely challenging.  The climb took us 6 hours and we were forced to stop to catch our breath many times due to the altitude.  During the climb we celebrated clocking in 3000km on our trip.   We were overcome with tiredness, our eyes just wanting to close and sleep.  Our fingers tingled and we struggled to breathe.  We finally hit the pass and descended on our first Bolivian road to immigration. We were instantly impressed with Boliva  as the boarder officials were so open and friendly.  We learned that Bolivan time was an hour behind Chile and set off for a further 6km to the park entrance where we had to pay 150 Boliviano (about $US25)  The temperature plummeted and we made the decision not to camp by the lake and instead take up a room in the Hostel for a very reasonable $US10.  Thick white polarfleece sheets were amazing and warm.

Day 2  Laguna Blanca to Laguna Chalviri
We were on the road by 8, keen to get to Laguna Verde as it is supposed to turn green at 9am.  We met a cyclist from Alaska (Vaughn) who we enjoyed chatting with.  What a day it turned out to be. The colours of not only the lake but the many surrounding Volcanoes, rocky slopes etc.  Brillian reds and oranges reminded us of our day cycling through the monkey puzzle trees.  The road, contrary to what we had read, was reasonably smooth and ridable.  The pass was gradual and the wind was at our backs.  We cruised into the thermal pools at Laguna Chalviri at 2pm and jumped straight into the hot pools.  It was amazing.  The perfect temperature!  We ended up spending 2hours in the pool, initially bathing with the locals and then later with some tourists including a Swiss couple who had stopped us earlier in the day to ask us if we needed anything ie water.... so kind.  Vaughn eventually joined us too and we had a great night.  We were able to sleep on the restaurant floor and enjoy a huge dinner for a mere 15 boliviano each ($3NZ)!!!!  It was freezing once the sun went down... we couldn´t believe it when we got our clothes off the line and saw they were frozen solid!!!

Day 3  Laguna Chalviri to Huayajara
We enjoyed breakfast in the sun outside the restaurant as the first of the jeep tourists rolled in to the pools.  We were happy we had enjoyed the pools with only a few people.
We said goodbye to our friends and climbed up the pass to 4926m.  It was tough but the roads were ok.  Just after the pass, we found Sol de Manana, the bubbling hotpools and a huge powerful geyser.  We ate lunch here, sheltering out of the wind as it was very cold.  Just after here we took as suggested shortcut but it was a terrible sandy road.  Even though it was only 3km, we were not particularly happy.  We were however feeling very priveledged to be in this remote, peaceful environment.  As we were rolling off the pass we met 2 Brazillian cyclists on the side of the road fixing a puncture.  We felt sorry for them as the wind had picked up and it was freezing.  The small village of Huayajara wasn´t far away but it was a tough headwind and the corrogated road made it hard work.  We managed to negotiate a room for 30BS each which we were grateful for as the 54km that day had taken us 9hours.  The Brazilian cyclists turned up later that evening and took the room next door to us.  We had our first experience of Coco tea (from Cocaine) and enjoyed some vege soup given to us by the kitchen staff who were very impressed to see 2 chicks cycling alone.  The poor Brazilian couple didn´t get the same treatment.

Day 4 Huayajara to Arbol de Piedra
Whoop whoop, we started the day with left over Pancakes from the jeep tourists.  We rode down to the beautiful deep red Laguna Colorado.  Lots of flamingos and great scenery.  There were Llamas everywhere and we loved their ear tags of colourful cotton and some even had necklaces!
We checked out of the national park and headed up to Arbol de Piedra.  It was tough.  The road was rough and we had an annoying headwind despite leaving early in the morning.  We found a sheltered spot for lunch behind one of the many impressive rock formations.  Whilst sitting there, we decided to call it a day and camp here the night.  We weren´t in the mood for battling the headwind and there wasn´t much in the way of camping options for the next 30km.  Averaging 5km per hour isn´t much fun.
We found a great campsite behind a small building that even had a water supply.  We set up our tent and boiled water for a hot shower and made some repairs to gear.  We were even given some water, a banana and 2 bottles of coke from a tour driver!!!  Very happy girls.
What an experience it was camping at 4600m!  It was our coldest night yet, at we would regularly wake gasping for breath due to the altitude.  It was actually quite scary and the last 4 hours of the night seemed to take forever.  Our tent was covered in sheets of ice and all of our water was frozen inc the big 3l.  Brrr.  However, the stars were amazing!  Today marked 2 months on the road.

Day 5  Arbol de Piedra to Laguna Hedionda
The warm sun hit our tent just as we got up which we were extrememly thankful for.  To our delight the wind had dropped and we headed off for the day.  As we rode passed the tourist jeeps taking photos, we were clapped and we´re sure they were thinking, where on earth did those cyclists just come from!!
We made pretty good time and managed to find our way to the Hotel Desertio intersection.  The main road split into about 100 roads and we just had to pick one that looked ridable.  We had thought we would stay here the night but since we´d make good time we pushed on to Laguna Hedionda, which was considerably lower in altitude.  Once over the pass, we rode down a cool rocky canyon.  It was a bit technical but we loved it and it took our minds off the effects of the altitude and the effort of riding in that harsh environment.  It was bliss as our breathing got easier and we warmed up.  We enjoyed a good 10km downhill and passed 4 or 5 more lagunas with incredible colours.  Be negotiated free camping outside Hotel de los Flamenco.  The view from our tent was amazing.  Lots of flamingos and stunning mountains in the background.  We were releived to be sleeping at lower altitude however it was still a cool night.  Our bottles froze again and there were more gasps for breath during the night.

Day 6 Laguna Hedionda to Villa Alota
We set off early but the cable ties on Emma´s carrier broke again and we were forced to do some pretty heavy duty repairs with what we had.  Hose, wire and cable ties made for some pretty handy work.  The day started with a climb over a pass that was higher and harder than expected.  We were also a bit unsure of the road as it split in many directions without any true Bolivian fashion.  We followed our noses and eventually found the convoy of tourist jeeps which confirmed we were heading in the right direction.  It was  a rough road and tough going but luckily we had the wind behind us.  We finally hit the international road which was smooth, hard and fast.  The last 30km of the day flew by as we hit a highest speed of 50km per hour without even peddling.  Debbie reakons this road could be a tourist attraction for those wanting a solid downhill riding experience through beautiful rocky formations and wildlife.  We had grins from ear to ear.
We cruised (literally) into Villa Alota at 2pm and met 2 American cyclists Daisy and Jason who were also on a big cycle tour.  We checked into the nearest hostel and enjoyed a hot shower and washed our clothes.  We ventured out to get some fresh bread and supplies and enjoyed seeing Llama on the main street and the local Bolivian village life.  We ate Llama, eggs and chips for dinner!

Day 7 Villa Alota to Just out of Ramaditas
We woke to Debbies back tyre being flat and despite repairing it, were forced to repump it up at regular intervals during the day.  We kept passing the Americans as each of us had mechanicals or stopped to delayer clothing.  We biked through Mining towns and were amazed to see how some people live.  Small, low mudbrick buildings in dusty surroundings.  We enjoyed an icecream in one of the towns but it was all a bit depressing.
Today was about long flat straight roads. We had read in a Blog there was accomodation in Ramaditas but couldn´t get anyone to confirm this so along with the Americans, made a decision to push on a few km´s out of town and camp in the Pampas.
We had a great night with them, cooking and sharing stories.  We felt safe behind a small mound and shrubs.  We clocked over 100kms today which was a first in a long time.

Day 8 Just out of Ramaditas to Uyuni
We woke to a very cloudy day and hit the road eager to get the 50km to Uyuni under our belts before the wind picked up.  We rode with the Americans and made good time into town before midday.  Through experience we now prefer to get into the big towns well before late afternoon as it is quite overwhelming finding accomodation, food etc.
We checked into a very nice backpackers and spent the afternoon eating, relaxing and wandering around town.  We enjoyed traditional Bolivian meals for dinner with the Americans.  What an adventure the Lagunas route turned out to be.  We are pleased we did it even though it was our toughest section yet.  Despite being a lower altitude now, we are still higher than Mt Cook.  We wonder when we will feel the benefits of this high altitude training!