I’ve decided to take a few of our favorite camping photos from pre-South America and tell a little story about each one. Though the photo sometimes captures the natural beauty of a place, it never really gives the whole story.
This past week of cycling has been awful. We have been riding along the nicely paved, often shoulder-less highway which is a far cry from the quiet rough country roads we are use to. Nevertheless, from within a kilometer of crossing the border into Peru, we noticed how much more outgoing and smiley the people here are, something we have really enjoyed. We had plenty of children and adults alike waving to us, or asking us where we were going, and whenever we asked a local for water or directions, they gave it to us with a huge grin and a wish of good luck.
How To Begin
1) Buy (or acquire) a bike.
2) Pick a direction.
It’s as simple as that. You will figure out what foods work best for you once you hit the road, just as you will figure out how amazing people are once you experience your first homestay with a stranger. Cycle touring is one of those things which you just can’t plan, because any plan you make is sure to change a hundred times over. Go out with a sense of openness and adventure, ready to wake up in a new place everyday, and I promise you that everything will work out. Don’t listen to the voices in your head (or the voices of those around you) telling you that you can’t do it, because it’s only impossible to those who have never tried.
Though we only spent six weeks in Bolivia, it has easily become one of our favorite countries as the people are friendly, the food is cheap, and the cycling is absolutely spectacular. We cycled up a dozen or so 4,000-5,000m passes, camped in the -20C chilly high altiplano, and passed through and stayed in a multitude of small villages. We struggled across frozen streams, survived steep climbs in the humid and hot Yungas region, and ate the typical “lunch,” and “dinner,” of soup plus a plate of potatoes, rice, and meat whenever we passed through towns. We also got to do a little mountaineering when we climbed Huyana Potosi (6,000m). Without further ado, here it is; Bolivia through the lens.
After eighty fast kilometers on the not-very-busy, large shouldered highway, we came to the cut off which would bring us through a four-hundred kilometer route to La Paz (instead of going straight there on the 120km flat paved highway). This route will take us up a 4,800m pass before dropping all the way down to 1,000m as we cycle through the South Yungas region of northern Bolivia, after which we will have to climb all the way back up to 4,700m in order to head back onto the altiplano and into La Paz. In total this route will involve 10,000m of elevation gain, which, to put into perspective, is like climbing Everest from sea level all the way to the top… plus another 2,000m just for kicks. Needless to say, we have a whole lot of ups and downs to look forward to!
For once, the headwinds were the lesser of two evils as it was the sand which literally stopped us dead in our tracks. After cycling the first of two salt flats, we headed along a forty kilometer very rural road where we didn’t see a single car all day.
When I visited Bolivia’s largest salt flat (which is also the largest in the world) four years ago by jeep I had no idea that I would someday return to cycle across it. In fact, I didn’t even know that was possible. For the first seventy kilometers we had to share the Salar with tourist jeeps which would speed by, and then flicker out of existence in a weird optical illusion sort of way. It was funny to watch all of the tourists, who looked like tiny cartoon stick figures, taking pictures on the horizon, though we were happy to have our bikes and independence in order to explore at our own speed. We arrived to an island 100km from Uyuni where there were dozens of jeeps, and since this marked the end of the road for them, it was where the fun began for us as we crossed the rest of the Salar completely alone. It took us two full days to cross the Salar, 150km of salt and about 190km of pedaling from one town to the next.
Bolivian (as well as Peruvian and Ecuadorian) markets are my favorite markets on earth, in fact, they are one of the many reasons that this whole continent far surpasses any other in my mind. As I don’t feel comfortable taking pictures of local people (I’ve had my picture rudely snapped many a times now, and know that the feeling of a trapped zoo animal is no fun), I’ll take you through a Bolivian market by words.
The last few days have been rough, sort of a three steps forward, two steps back sort of deal. We had four huge climbs (4,800m- 4,900m each) to do, and in between, there were little ups and downs which made it all the more difficult. The tops of the passes were often steep, and coupled with the poor road conditions, this left us pushing instead of pedaling most of the way up. Once we got to the downhill, instead of feeling excited or relieved, we sort of just felt dread as the road was in such bad condition we hardly ever surpassed 10-15km/h (on a downhill!). Plus, we knew once we got down that we would just have to begin the next climb right away. That being said, it was absolutely beautiful and though it was tough, every calorie burned was more than worth it to be high in the Bolivian mountains.
“Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t.”
Our last few days in Argentina (don’t worry, we will be back) were wonderful due to the easy camping and non-busy roads of waving and honking happy people, two things which are common in Argentina but very uncommon, as we are now finding out, just next door in Chile. The colors have also started to change this week which made the landscapes beautiful, and I couldn’t be more excited to be cycling through my favorite season twice in one year!