ACROSS THE ALTIPLANO

La Paz > Coniri > Vichaya > Charaña > Visviri > Quebrada Allane > Acotango > Chachacomani > Julo > Negrillos > Sabaya > Tres Cruces > Llica > Isla Incahuasi > Uyuni

My stay in La Paz was slightly longer than intended/expected, having picked up food poisoning from a dodgy street burger on the first afternoon and then again when something went round the entire Casa de Ciclistas a few days later!  That’s just part and parcel of this type of travelling though and everyone goes through it at one stage or another (and usually multiple times).  Having recovered my strength, I took a few days to explore the city.  

Possibly the world’s worst band…?

The Casa de Ciclistas is run by a local, Cristian, and is a gathering point for both North and Southbound tourers, offering cheap accommodation and an opportunity to share stories/knowledge.  Over the days, several friends who I had made in Cusco (or before) arrived to add to those already there so we had a good collection of people – Thomas & Tina (with whom I had cycled before), Neil & Vicky (Irish/English couple) and Antonia (German solo cyclist), as well as the full-of-beans Anna and Faye, who arrived direct from the UK and almost immediately set off to cycle up to 5000m!

A few of us (Austrian Mike, German Antonia and Australian Garth) decided to ride the Camino de la Muerte (The Death Road) before we left, so we set off one morning to ride over to the bus terminal, from where we got a 45min ride up to La Cumbre (just above La Paz).  From there, it’s a 30km (mostly) fast descent on asphalt to the start of the Death Road, which is then a further 30km of dirt road.  There were some pretty great views and scenery…

I don’t actually have many pics from the road itself!  It was a fun experience and good to cycle down into the (Yungas) jungle a bit but, if I’m honest, there were more precipitous drops in Peru!  And the combination of the surface (very rocky and bumpy) with my non-suspension touring mountain bike and the large groups of tourists on rented bikes perhaps took away from the experience a bit.  There’s no doubt that being fully loaded with panniers etc helps a lot to absorb some of the vibrations and bumps on these sorts of roads, so whilst it was nice to ride a light bike for once, my arms were pretty tired by the end of the day!

Having finished and had lunch, we didn’t have the luxury of a vehicle waiting for us (like the backpacking tourists) at the bottom and had to climb 7km up to the nearby village on cobbles!  Not the highlight of the day.  That was then followed by a two hour collectivo ride back to La Paz, driven by a wannabe F1 driver!  Just to add to our nerves, after about an hour and just as it was getting dark, we entered the clouds and had to hold our breaths as he attempted all sorts of manoeuvres with zero visibility – not fun…

Two days later, I finally set off from La Paz alongside Antonia.  Getting out of La Paz is not entirely straightforward – essentially, you have to climb (11km/500m) back out of the city up to El Alto.  We did, however, happen to pick a good day for it as there was a big protest going on and the main Avenue was closed to vehicles, leaving us an empty road for the first few kms…

Once up to El Alto, we made swifter progress out of the city along the (disused) train tracks which, whilst not a scenic route (lots of rubbish everywhere) and a bit bumpy, is much less stressful than taking the main road out of town.

Around here, the locals like to make it clear what will happen to thieves…

It’s an odd city because, from a distance, you’d never know it was there!  All you see from the outskirts is El Alto with the mountains behind…

Once properly out of the suburbs, we rejoined the asphalt and made faster progress…

With the light fading and our legs tiring, we set about looking for a suitable place to camp.  As ever, a school made for a good option and so I went in to ask if we could stay.  The children there replied that their mother, the porter, was in Lima but due back shortly.  In the meantime, we made friends with the kids and agreed to play football with them!  After a while, their mother returned and, after initial reluctance to let us stay, she phoned the Director of the school and got permission.  This was the first of several encounters in Bolivia with people who were very reluctant to take any sort of responsibility, even though we literally just wanted a piece of flat ground with a bit of shelter from the wind and promised to leave no trace that we’d been there.  Once permission arrived though, we were shepherded to a classroom and the previously frosty porter became very friendly.  It probably helped too that we had the kids on our side!

Back on the road the next day, it was a beautiful clear day with wispy white clouds…

However, waiting some time at the top of the first short climb of the day, it was clear that Antonia was not in great shape.  After initial reluctance to give in, I convinced her to call it a day and let her body flush out the food poisoning that it transpired that she had picked up.  Finding a suitable campsite beside the (fairly quiet) road, I set up a tarp for Antonia and set about an afternoon of route-planning all the way down to Ushuaia!

Our campsite was amusingly littered with bicycle parts and a bedstead…

6 Comments

  1. Incredible pictures – can’t wait to see them on a big screen. And the nights on the Salar must have been extraordinary. Hope the few days’ rest has helped your knee Xxx

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