2,400m of Steep Agony and the People Who Make it Worth it

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*We have just spent the last two weeks along the most amazing route in the Bolivian altiplano, so make sure to check back every few days for blog entries with a whole lot of amazing photos from this stunning expedition-style section. But first, a post about climbing out of Chile.*

After leaving San Pedro and the wonderful Belgian host we had spent the last few days with, we began on a 40km, 2,400m elevation gain climb up and out of Chile and onto the Bolivian altiplano. That sort of ascent is steep by any standards, especially at altitude (4,600m at the top) where it’s harder to breath, but when you are carrying eight days of food, and eleven liters of water (so over 15 kilos each of extra dead weight) it’s hard to even imagine. The most depressing part about a climb like this is looking down only to find that your speedometer reads a grand total of 0km/h, because anything under 4km/h is apparently unworthy of calculation. We cycled (and occasionally pushed) up this darn pass all day wondering why oh why we were on bicycles, until, at four o’clock when Kevin was about to call it a day, a tourist van drove passed us and then back-tracked in order to lavish us with edible gifts and encouragement. The guide jumped out with, “guys, do you want sandwiches? A piece of cake? A cold drink?.. Take whatever you want, we are headed back now and this is all extra,” and so as the tourists inside the van gathered around in order to ask questions about our trip and take pictures with our bike, we feasted on our impromptu snack which couldn’t have been better timed. It wasn’t simply the extra burst of sugar which motivated us on our way again once they took off, but the smiles, the encouragement, and the simple fact that this whole van of tourists was willing to stop for us and cheer us up as we struggled up the pass. Though these forty kilometers weren’t stellar, they could never change our mind about the benefits of cycle touring as a way of travel.

As we were climbing up the (thankfully) paved road, there was a huge mountain bike race going along side us along the dirt road. Though they looked as if they were flying compared to us (which they most certainly were) it was reassuring to see them pushing up sections as well. They then got to fly down the paved road which made us quite jealous.

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This little fox was acting like a dog, begging for food and hanging around.

This little fox was acting like a dog, begging for food and hanging around.

Kevin eating dinner at sunset.

Kevin eating dinner at sunset.

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The road beside our road.

The road beside our road.

Kevin walking up the last part of the pass.

Kevin walking up the last part of the pass.

Right before entering into Bolivia… Just imagine what is on the other side!

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Now, back to our time in San Pedro. Though we are usually hesitant to use couchsurfing, our experience with Horacio, a twenty-five year old Belgian currently living and working in San Pedro, encompassed everything amazing about meeting and staying with “locals” along the way. He was friendly and welcoming, an amazing cook, and made us feel right at home in his rented house. We played cards, met some of his friends, and even did a two hour desert hike which led us to a free hots springs river (right down from the one tourists pay 30$ to visit) where we ate kilos of guacamole while floating in the warm water surrounded by desert on all sides. We never would have found that hike or hot springs without him (he knew about it as he guides in the region), nor would we have enjoyed our four days in the extremely touristic desert town of San Pedro had we not been hanging out with him.

For a photo of the day and other updates follow me on facebook here, and for some awkwardly cropped photos from our journey, follow us on Instagram @awanderingphoto!

Facemasks ready for the wind and dust!

Facemasks ready for the wind and dust!

4 thoughts on “2,400m of Steep Agony and the People Who Make it Worth it

  1. Each time I’m feeling like I want to quit and see a car pull over, I hope they’ve stopped to offer treats or shelter. So far that has yet to happen, and I’m so glad you encountered such generosity when you needed it. Despite the extreme difficulties at times, the effort is always worth it. We’re cheering for you guys!

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