I’m writing the first part of this entry in a little town called Atocha about 105km from Tupiza …. getting here has been amongst the most fantastic bonkers biking I can remember.. well on a sustained basis, the Himalayas had it´s moments but most of that was on defined tracks/roads… This is a photo heavy post too… the tiny photos and poor web colours on here can never come close to doing the journey justice but it will give some idea I suppose and besides, I doubt anyone actually reads my words anyway.. right? ;-)….
So having tried the road we instead hopped onto the railway line… something of a commitment as it doesn´t go anywhere near the road until Atocha.
Easy riding to begin with as the locals use the path alongside it to get around on their bicycles…
but as we moved further away from Tupiza the going got harder with many bridges to negotiate, and some very technical sections of singletrack to negotiate in places… it all got very physical, and uphill so we only made 55km for the whole day at an average of just 9.5km/hr, climbing 500m in the process to about 3500m…
Despite running Schwalbe’s supposedly legendary Marathon XR tyres I also had 5 punctures this day.. the track was lined with bushes with thorns as tough as iron.. the final puncture of the day happened at 5pm right next to a perfect campsite: a patch of grass alongside and below the railway line and about 30m from the river.
I happily left James to sort out dinner in return for me fixing his bike the previous day while I fixed my flat and then went for a skinny dip in the icy river… :-)
In bed by 8.30pm the Tupiza-Uyuni train rumbled by at about 9.30pm, just 10 metres or so away – that was pretty neat. It got cold that night, down to around -5 or -6 degs, I made the mistake of leaving my waterbottles outside the tent….. everything frozen solid with a thick covering of frost next morning :-)
While thawing out in the early morning sun at our camp we figured we’d probably make Atocha around mid-day or early afternoon… Ha ha, no chance… the riding became increasingly extreme as we climbed to 4150m (13600ft).. averaging around 4-5km/hr it was a very physical day, frequently having to leave sections of unrideable trail to negotiate soft river beds and precipitious animal paths… so very difficult but in awesome wild surroundings with only the occasional hill farm or group of llamas along the way.. absolutely fantastic stuff… I’d hoped for some decent adventure in Boliva and here it was being delivered in spades…. and more than few cuts and scrapes, lol.
By mid afternoon we came across a couple of huts with a family up a hill by the track… a shouted conversation ensued .. we yelled we were going to Atocha, gawd knows what they thought we were doing but burying their surprise we got the message it was far… 10hrs far… ha, maybe walking…?
Having covered just 21km and worked our way around yet another impossible section we came across a faint track heading across the altiplano in roughly the right direction (northwest) so left the rail line behind and struck out across the puna…
this was heaven after the difficulties of the railway. I don’t know how to describe just how what it felt like to be up there.. exhilaration combined with intense fatigue… goosebump territory :-) The track eventually took us past a lake with flamingos to the remote pueblo of Tatasi…
not much here except a few crumbling adobe huts and scrawny looking hens. I knocked on a couple of doors to ask for directions…
eventually an old lady appeared and set us on the track to Atocha… which was all down hill, very soft and sandy… and spectacular.
Terrific fun negotiating the berms and sand traps at high speed as the sun set over the mountains to the west. Arrived in Atocha at about 3700m, amusingly via the river bed, around 6.30pm after just 50km for the day. Absolutely shattered and looking forward to a good feed but completely forgetting about Good Friday until failing miserably to find anything to eat in town… The whole place was shut, even the one place that was open couldn´t be bothered with a couple of tired gringos so instead we set up our camping stoves in the bathroom of the residencial we stopped at in the plaza, and assembled a weird but satisfying dinner using the remains of supplies brought from Tupiza, cheese and a can of sardines found at a little kiosk open by the railway line… mmmm. Hungry cyclist.. eat anything :-)
Writing this next bit in Uyuni…. Saturday morning James cooked breakfast same way… on the floor by the toilet… while I went out in search of bread. The chap running the residencial pointed me to the part of town across the rail tracks.. so off I went. I asked at the bread shop…”no hay pan..” came the answer. Tried another place “no hay pan”… reapeated that a few times before giving up and resigning myself to a day of crackers but the chap at the residencial took pity on us and gave us home-made bread from his family and refused any kind of payment. Nice guy :-)
The road to Uyuni started steep.. very steep… we had a range of mountains to cross so for the first few hours we were reduced to an average of about 9km/hr as we made our way up and down some very steep little climbs, eventually reaching 4000m altitude once again.
There the road turned to hard packed mud and we clocked some decent speed taking turns in the wind and racing across across the altiplano. There was a small pueblo, no idea what it was called, about 48km out of Atocha with a shop… handy from some more bread and pepsi which was just enough to squeeze another 12km out of my legs for a lunch stop at 60km.
It was at that village the road turned difficult… very rough, corrugated ripio with some super soft dusty sections, and even a section of sand dunes… There’s not much to write about this except it was bloody hard with a constant headwind.
Arrived in Uyuni at sunset after 105km feeling thoroughly beaten up…. Pizza and beer cured that. Mostly.. nah, it was an epic day, enjoyed it immensely ;-)
Still getting goosebumps when I think just how good the past few days have been :-) As for Uyuni.. well it is one of those places that really does deserve to be called desolate and windswept… at about 3700m up and just a remote outpost with litter strewn across the altiplano from about 5km out and a bunch of scruffy concrete buildings… but it seems friendly and I had good food and an awesome sleep last night so on that basis I like it.. as dumps go it´s OK :-) So here in Uyuni it is Easter Sunday but also election day.. the whole town has been pretty much locked down for the past 24hrs… no buses allowed to run to stop people voting and then moving on to another town to vote… the police/army are out and about and most businesses are shuttered. Oh the freedom of a bicycle :-)
We also bumped into kate & Malena again… they were dropped off their 4×4 trip and couldn’t escape to Potosi as planned because of the buses, or lack of… the 4×4 sounded hideous to someone used to the freedom of a bike.. not sure they entirely enjoyed it… We met at a pizza place run by a chap from Boston who has lots of useful local knowledge. The girls are intent on escaping to Oruro (brewery there you see…) while James and I are considering cooking up something a little different, skipping Potosi and Sucre in favour of something a little more adventurous…. before that tho I have some bike maintenance (mostly picking thorns out of my tyres) and 3 days of crustiness to wash out of my cycling gear.. so stay tuned and hast luego ;-)
p.s. as I write I am surrounded by Aussies whinging about the slow speed of this connection… mate you’re in the middle of nowhere in Bolivia… so if it’s that bad bugger off so my connection gets faster :-)
oh, by the way – I’m still fundraising for Shelterbox so if you enjoyed the read and have a few $$ or whatever to spare then I’d be grateful for any sponsorship – that big blue “justgiving” button at the top right of this page :-) Cheers!