A small grid of quiet, dusty streets in the precordillera of northern Chile, the Aymara village of Putre sits about 75km west of, and at 3500m is 1.2 vertical kilometres below the remote Bolivia/Chile border post at Chungara. The population is somewhere around 1500 but to walk the streets is to wonder that more than about 10 people live here. Being somewhat warmer and lower than the high altiplano, and with some decent (i.e. edible and fresh with reasonable nutritional content) food on offer it’s a good place to rest up and recover, and stock up on food for the next leg.
I’ve been here a little longer than planned. Feeling a bit rough in Sajama turned into another cold with associated chest problems. Again. There is a pattern, hard, high riding.. get run down, post-pneumonia lungs prone to infection. Still, there’s been plenty of work to get done. Mental and physical energy are quite low at the moment, riding the highlands does take a toll, not only worries about my chest but also planning for food, the never ending thoughts about water, and just the physical punishment of hard days and bitterly cold nights. To ride through Lauca National Park and the Reserva de las Vicuñas was one of the primary motivations to returning to this part of the world. That’s the next leg, but then I have a choice; to cross the border back into Bolivia, ride across the Salars Coipasa and Uyuni, to Uyuni, and then head south to the puna of northern Argentina. Great riding, albeit another 1000+km of austere, high altitude and revisiting a number of spots traversed in 2010, or to head down to the coast of Chile and get a bus south in search of something more chilled. By many accounts also Uyuni these days has changed from the quiet, unassuming town I knew to something of a tourist hellhole. I’m sure the right choice will present itself once I’m back on my bike next week. A loss of momentum is always hard to deal with, away from the joys of riding a bike the negative thoughts and worries can start to creep in.
Despite feeling rough I had no desire to stay any longer in Sajama village; aside from altitude and cold not being conducive to recovery, the food on offer was really bloody awful. For my last meal there I was served a plate of rice that had the taste and texture of something left out in the dry altiplano air for a week, garnished with a few hairlike strands of a gamey-smelling meat with the consistency and flavour of a gently putrifying leather shoelace. Kind of normal for the remoter spots of the Bolivian altiplano. I did enjoy my couple of days in the village however, riding in from Tomerapi I bumped into a couple of mountaineers I’d met up at Condoriri base camp a couple of weeks earlier; father and daughter, they were great company at the time and proved to be once again until it was time for them to move on.