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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