Bolivia – from the Altiplano into the Yungas

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A last view on the Salar de Uyuni. It had been one of the most amazing rides ever and I was unsure what would follow now in Bolivia, as I just had focused on the lagoon route and this massive salt pan. As well those two weeks were pretty tiring, physically as mentally. So I was glad when I had hit surprisingly a tarmac road soon after leaving the salt. I was actually prepared for another few days of gravel, as my maps indicated that, but Bolivia’s president Evo Morales has invested a lot into the infrastructure over the recent years, so that there are plenty road constructions going on in the whole country.

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Camping on the edge of the Salar de Uyuni.

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Jayu Quta. A volcanic crater just next to the road.

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Bolivian cyclist.

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One of plenty Lamas in that region

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I enjoyed cycling on the paved road, even though there was some traffic once I reached the main highway, but it was so much easier compared to the bad roads I was riding on during the weeks before. Also I finally got to encounter Bolivian culture, as I passed many villages and small towns. I talked to Quinoa farmers, who benefit from the rising popularity of this crop in Europe and North America. It’s one of the few crops which are able to grow at all in the harsh climate of the Altiplano. So the local farmers seemed to be happy to finally have something to export.

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Unfortunately I’ve seen too many crosses on Bolivia’s mountain roads

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The pass to Yungas.

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Somehow I had the feeling my time in Bolivia would fly away to quickly. What made me turn east towards the Yungas, a day day before I could have reached La Paz. This transitional zone between the Altiplano and the rain forest on the eastern slopes of the Andes promised a change. Once I climbed another 4700m pass, it was going down and the landscape changed immediately. While the dominant color of the Altiplano is brown, it turned now into green. For a long time I cycled past real vegetation and not just dry grass.

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Old stone walls form interesting patterns on the slopes.

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The Yungas consist out of many narrow steep valleys and I was either riding uphill or downhill on not the best kind of gravel roads, what made the progress pretty slow. But the landscape and the encounters with the local people were rewarding enough for the effort. As well I enjoyed the temperature. Different than the weeks before I could cycle in short and shirt and I had not to freeze once the sun disappeared. On the long uphills in the lower parts of the valleys I was even swearing about the quite humid heat. There doesn’t seem to be a perfect weather condition for cycling.

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I met Leo on his walk back home from school. He has to walk every day one hour there and one hour back. Due to a uphill I couldn’t cycle faster than he was walking, so we talked a lot and were listening to the Latin music out of his radio.

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I just asked for water in a village and got showed a water tap behind a house, where a group of villagers were baking bread. Of course I was invited to taste the warm bread rolls.

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The main income of most of the farmers comes from Coca. Chewing the leaves or drinking it as tea is big part of the culture in whole Bolivia and you can buy the leaves and other products everywhere. The Bolivian government backed from the USA tried once to prohibit Coca, without success though. And the current Bolivian president Evo Morales was once the leader of the Coca farmer’s union.  To dry the leaves every morning the farmers spread them out on every possible flat place in the villages.

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A beautiful mango orchard

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Coca fields on the slopes.

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Dust + Sunset

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Before reaching La Paz I had to climb again over 4600m pass.

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The icicles as well as the Lama road sign indicate I’m back on the Altiplano.

blog (39 von 40)And finally I reached La Paz, known as the highest capital of the world, although Sucre is officially Bolivia’s capital, it is still the seat of government. I was more than glad to made the detour through the Yungas, even though it took me more than 9 days  with 12,000 meters elevation gain over just 400km.

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Bolivia – not an easy ride

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After a leg killing climb from San Pedro up to a 4600m pass, it went down to Bolivia. The border control wasn’t quite that what you would expect. There was just little shed – Welcome to Bolivia. After getting two stamps for a 60 day visa I could start the infamous lagoon route.

I heard all those stories about the worst roads on the world and kilometers of pushing through sand. So of course I was excited, how it would really be. From the border a tailwind pushed me to the first of the many lagoons Laguna Blanca. The road was still alright, but soon after the turnoff to Laguna Verde the road didn’t deserve to be called road anymore. Instead there was a choice of jeep tracks, some better than the others.

Some ruins near the lagoons and the volcano Licancábur gave me shelter for the first night in Bolivia. The next day started as the previous one ended and thanks to tailwind and I cycled quickly over a 4700m pass before rolling down to the hot springs at Laguna Chalviri. After a long relaxing dip in the perfectly warm water I decided to call it a day. The friendly owners of the restaurant let me sleep on the floor, what saved me another cold night in the tent.

Watching the sunrise while lying again in the hot water can’t be a better start in the day, although the rest of the day was probably the toughest on that route. I was battling an ice cold headwind on the climb up the high point of the lagoon route at 4930m. At the top the steaming geyser of Sol de Manana rewarded the effort though.

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Laguna Blanca

blog (4 von 35)Ruins – always a great camp opportunity

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no road, just jeep tracks

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The great hot springs

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 I didn’t want to camp that high and hoped to get down a few hundred meters before it was getting dark, but it didn’t work out. The road now was as bad as I heard it from stories before. But the worst was that there were no sheltered place to camp and the wind made it quite impossible to pitch my tent just anywhere. Finally just before sunset I found a suitable place and after pitching my tent I fell just super exhausted asleep.

The mornings on the Altiplano aren’t very enjoyable. If you wake up and all your water bottles – even inside the tent – are solid ice blocks, you know it was a cold night. Though once the sun came out it was fortunately warming up quickly.

On the way to Laguna Colorada the road got finally pretty sandy. Quite often my front wheel got stuck in a sandy patch and I had to push it out again until the road got more solid again. But unlike other cyclists I’ve never had to push my bike for a long distance.

And so it went on and on for the next days. Due to the sandy roads I just made around 30km in a day again, but I loved to be alone in this incredible landscape. Some people might find it boring to be alone for that long time in a desert, but for me it was a very special feeling. Just a few jeeps loaded with tourist were passing me, usually all at the same time and after that I was alone again. It was like being on another planet.

In one day I passed a couple of lagoons until I ended up camping at Laguna Cañapa. The lagoon was crowded with flamincos. It was great to watch some life after being surrounded just by dead rock for a few days. Amazing that they can survive in this extreme environment.

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Fumaroles
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Laguna Colorada

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Arbol de Piedra – Stone tree

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another ruin, which served as camp spot for a night

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One of the few trucks passing me

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pushing was necessary sometimes

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In Chiguana the friendly guys at military camp let me sleep inside for a night. I actually just asked for water and if it’s alright to camp inside the ruins next to the camp. But the latter wasn’t alright, instead I got a bed in one of their weird camouflaged concrete domes. Interestingly I’ve never met a real soldier. The only people I saw were 18 year olds doing their military service there.

The next day I reached San Juan, the first village in ten days and the first time that I could buy food again. The lagoon route was finished.

The Salar de Uyuni is the world’s biggest salt flat. Around 10,000 years ago the lake dried out and left about 10 Billion tons of salt on an area of 10,500 km2 behind. I could hardly believe it that I’m there, it had always been a dream of me to get to this place. After a few kilometers of cycling I stopped and looked around. 360 degrees just white salt, countless polygons and the blue sky at the horizon. It was just awesome to ride over the endless flat and crushing the edges of the polygons, so easy compare to the weeks before. Definitely the craziest place, where I’ve ever cycled. Just incredible.

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Isla Incahuasi, the island in the middle of the Salar