The 5 days in Disneyland…äh, sorry San Pedro de Atacama…were great. We catched up with our friends from Holland (Bunno & Wietzke) and the Aussie backpacker Stuart.
Before I even started my trip I read about the “Laguna-route”, which goes from San Pedro de Atacama into Bolivia, to the Salar de Uyuni. Usually you do a 3-days-Jeep tour, even some of the cyclist avoid this part, there are so many stories circulating among the cyclists about bad/no roads and no food-/water infrastracture.
It became clear that 4 of us (Holger, Bunno, Wietzke and me) will not cycle up to the Passo Jama again but hitch a ride to the border on 4.600m altitude. From there we started, at same time as a handful Jeeps, very excited into the Laguna route.
We didn’t have to cycle for a long time and we got the first 2 lagunas, Laguna blanca and Laguna verde. There were actual no official roads, but many Jeep tracks and we usually followed the most used track. This time the track led us through the middle of the 2 lagunas including a little water crossing.
After our first 50km of this adventure we got to the natural hot water springs, which have a restaurant nearby. We knew from other cyclists, that we could sleep on the floor of the restaurant. The highlight was a bath in the hot springs at sunset. The warm bath, together with the little beer, the altitude and a full day of cycling let us sleep right away.
The 2nd day we had an early start, because the first guests in the restaurant arrived at 7am. On our program that day was a climb to the mud-geysir “sol de manana” in 4.950maltitude. Check out the pictures, the lunch-break in the middle of bubbling mud holes was exceptional!
It was only to some parts the sandy underground, but mainly the high altitude which made this day very hard. We were rewarded for our efforts with a beautiful downhill towards the Laguna Colorado. In the end of the downhill the tracks had more in common with a potato acre than with a road.
At the end of that day we made it to a camp of all the Jeeps tour where we could sleep another night inside and even didn’t have to pack out our stoves, but ate with the Jeep-tourists. I only realized at the camp that my GPS has fallen off the bike on this bad road and so I ran the last 3km back to the last crossing and with “mucha suerte” I found my GPS next to the road.
Funny story: Holger’s rack broke 2 meters away of a welding machine, the people living there fixed the rack within a few minutes.
The next day we climbed up to the famous “arbol de piedra”, the tracks sandy but possible to cycle. We hardly could leave our nice lunch spot out of the wind. The next possibility to sleep inside was more than 30kms away, by 5pm (sunset is at 6pm) we realized that will not make it to the Hotel in the desert and pitched our tents next to a giant rock. After the Paso Jama we’re used to cold nights, but this one was different. Right after sunset the temperature dropped to -5°C, we cooked and went into our tents asap. It was first time that I was cold in the night with my sleeping-bag, the temperature must have been below -15°C that night.
Slowly warmed up by the sun and another uphill, we got from the more desert part to a stretch with several lagunas. It was beautiful cycling from one laguna to the next, ending up the at a Hotel at the laguna Hedionda. Other cyclists told us that it would be very expensive and the people not very helpful…we gave it however a try. We started with 100$ for the room and got in with some patience and smiles down to 10$ per person. While chatting with the staff of the hotel, we cooked with our stoves in their kitchen and enjoyed the evening on couches next a woodfire…that’s exactly what you need as cyclist!
From south to north the roads became worse, the 5th day we did some quite extrem mountain biking with our heavy loaded bikes. Even on our downhill to the Salar of Chiquana we had to push our bikes for short stretches. We camped just before the Salar on a nice spot, the night getting only -10°C cold.
Across the Salar we passed the first signs of civilisation, a military post and finally made it to San Juan. We expected a good choice of restaurants/street food in the first town since entering Boilivia – we were dreaming already the last days of “pollo con papas fritas” and fresh fruits – but this village was dead! We had troubles to find food and a good accommodation. In the end we stayed even in a Salt Hotel.
The highlight of the Laguna route would be to cycle from the south into the Salar de Uyuni and from there to Uyuni. Unfortunately the Salar next to the shore was still under water (salt water), no way to cross it nor to find someone who would drive us over the water.
Finally Uyuni, a town with the charm of some of the eastern european cities I’ve visited.
After we gave our bikes and our sore butts a day of break, we cycled without luggage on the Salar and made the obligatory shots on the Salar. It was also time to say goodbye to Holger who left towards the heartland of Bolivia – good times cycling with him the last 4 weeks!!
Unfortunately I realized in Uyuni that my passport was gone – now I’m in La Paz and got today a new passport in the german embassy.