This tough but extremely rewarding route took us through the first hundred kilometers of the typical lagunas route (past Laguna verde) before taking us away from the main jeep route and onto a much less used beautiful jeep track which led us up and over multiple 4,700m+ high passes. This was my favorite route in Bolivia (and one of my favorites in all of the world), and I would highly suggest it to anyone up for a bit of a challenge!
We have read about cycling families. We have talked about cycling families. But finally, finally, we got to actually meet a wonderful family – meaning awesome parents who really know how to teach their kids to live – on wheels. These forty year old parents and their ten year old boy, and fourteen year old girl, set out two months ago on their first ever cycle tour. They are now headed through Bolivia, before beginning their descend down to Patagonia. We saw them camped at the side of the road and ended up spending the night right next door which was a great way to spend an evening!
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!
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.
The first Bolivian village we entered into was Quentena, which stands in the middle of nowhere at 4,200m surrounded by mines which make up its main economy. A looming nearby mountain has an old road all the way up to 5,700m (6,000m peak) where the highest mine in the world use to operate, and down in the village, women in the traditional Andean attire – stockings, a pleated skirt, and a colorful vest or shawl – watch us a bit curiously as we slowly cycle into town. Though everyone speaks castillano (Spanish) to us, they speak Quetchwa amongst themselves. We eventually find a small shop which sells crackers, cookies, and some clothes, and after buying a few snacks, we continue past a few dozen more mud brick houses until we are once again all alone in the mountains.