Archive for March, 2009

What a journey!

SAN PEDRO to ORURO (via SALAR DE UYUNI)

So this is it, this is Atacama?  For some reason we expected more from the world’s driest desert??  Its vast nothingness seemed lost on us. Maybe it was the tiring 25km of uphill and constant headwind we’d battled from San Pedro that had left us a little jaded.  It wasn’t till the next day, and leaving Calama, that it dawned on us.  There is plenty of life in this desert, and it’s all about copper. To take a closer look, we donned hard hats and toured the Chuquicamata copper mine – one of the world’s largest.

And that wasn’t the only amazing thing…  The next day, a thunderstorm forced us to make an emergency camp in a roadside ditch. Huddled in our tent, with rain pouring and lightening cracking all around us, we remembered the last time this had happened – it was the Friday the 13th before – spooky!

So with a soaking tent, we left the driest desert in the world and started our climb to the Altiplano.  Now they don’t mess about in Chile, they build their roads straight up. You don’t pass GO, or collect $200.  It’s over when you reach Ascotan and 4,100m and that’s it.

But at the top, you quickly forget the pain and gasping for breath.  You are surrounded by salars, active volcanoes and the biggest of blue skies.  Every view is one you want to remember forever.  We make it to the mining camp of Cebollah that night.  There is no room at the inn, there isn’t even an inn, we settle for the animal pen and put our tent up in there.  Oddly enough, tomorrow we will leave the luxury of Chile behind and enter Bolivia… it sure has to be better than this… what’s that smell, llama poo??

Now when passing motorists offer you water, biscuits and sandwiches, it’s a good sign you are getting remote.  At the time though, we just thought they were being kind.  So with big smiles and a confident “Muchas Gracias!” we took the gifts and pedaled on.

It was getting late when we crossed into Bolivia, so the border police gave us a room for the night.  It wasn’t much – a mud room with newspaper plastered over the walls – but it did promise a good night’s rest.  Not the case!  A few hours later we woke, itching and scratching. We were being eaten alive by strange “tick-like” creatures.  We somehow managed to erect the tent in the room and hid inside it until sunrise.  Welcome to Bolivia, enjoy your stay…

There are no signs, or roads, you ride across a salar, following tyre marks and keeping one eye on the railway tracks.  The freedom is quite intoxicating – this is the main road from the border to Uyuni!  By lunch, our map and compass suggest heading north was the quickest way to San Juan.  We took the plunge and started making our own tracks.  By late afternoon, and after lots of pushing, we finally see a road sign… San Juan is 13km in the opposite direction?  Hmm, the compass doesn’t lie, we decide to keep heading north.  We make camp for the night, not in San Juan, but somewhere in the middle of nowhere…??

The next morning, feeling a little lost, we meet a small Bolivian man on a rusty motorbike that points us in the right direction.  We work out our expensive map is wrong, but luckily there is a sort of Inca trail we can follow to where we need to be.  What an experience!  It leads through an amazingly green valley, filled with llama and a few small, very basic villages.  To these folk, we must have looked like aliens in our helmets, sunglasses and fluro vests!  Reaching Santiago, the reaction wasn’t much different.  The entire town comes out to watch and stare at us… its strange, all friendly, but still feels a bit like you are an exhibit in a zoo!

Back on track, we follow the main road to Colcha K, and the next day onto Puerto Chubico, the jumping off point for the Salar de Uyuni.  The road was very corrugated and countless “gringo” filled 4×4s wizzed past us.  The whole experience, made yesterday’s detour even more special.  Finally, with oiled up bikes, we were ready…

Being on the Salar de Uyuni was incredible – we both couldn’t stop smiling.  It was like cycling on a pure white ocean, or maybe the north pole!  We pedalled for ages with our eyes closed, there was no need for them – it’s not like you are going to hit anything!  Definitely one of the truly memorable experiences of our journey so far…

After that, the 200km to Challapata was always going to be hard.  The highlight of the trip was behind us, and only corrugated and sandy roads lay ahead.  But it was even worse.  For three days it rained, turning the roads to mud and blocking out any possible views of the Chicas mountains.  The road was so flooded, we even had to push our bikes over the railway bridge to get into Sevaruyo!  Add to that, we couldn’t find anywhere to change our US$ … and that meant only rice & lentils for comfort food!

But it passed quickly and before we knew it… we had the sun on our cheeks, bitumen under our tyres and a pocket full of Bolivianos.  Life was good again, we pedaled hard to Oruro – the tough work was done, and a rest day and some good restaurant food was waiting for us!

From here we now ride two days to La Paz, where we plan to take a break and spend a few days at a luxury eco lodge in the Amazon rainforest.

It’s been an amazing journey the past two weeks, and four months for that matter… and believe it or not, we are now over 7,000km… I think we’ve earned the lodge, don’t you?

Thanks again for all the comments and emails.  They really are a boost!

Jules & Jess

Atacama, that´s it?

Atacama, that´s it?

Chuqi - that´s one big hole

Chuqi - that´s one big hole

A thunderstorm, out here?

A thunderstorm, out here?

Amazing views on the Chilean altiplano

Amazing views on the Chilean altiplano

There is no looking back now!

There is no looking back now!

The hard way into Bolivia

The hard way into Bolivia

The real "Inca Trail"

The real "Inca Trail"

Its like a white ocean...

Its like a white ocean...

...or maybe the north pole?Its incredible...

...or maybe the north pole?

Its incredible…
...memorable

...memorable

... a highlight of our journey so far!

... a highlight of our journey so far!

The next 200km was tough...

The next 200km was tough...

...rain, rain, go away

...rain, rain, go away

The only way into Sevaruyo!

The only way into Sevaruyo!

Sun shines again, Oruro here we come!

Sun shines again, Oruro here we come!

On top of the world

SALTA to SAN PEDRO (via JAMA)

Yeah baby!  Paso de Jama – we’ve done it – and have now well and truly earned our stripes as adventure cyclists!!  What an incredible experience…

From the get go, the challenge was on.  Leaving Purmamarca, we began the slow climb up the Cuesta de Lipan – 25kms of the most amazing road ever!  Twisting and turning, higher and higher, each bend in the road sapping our strength and stealing our breath.  From a tour bus a woman shouts, “You must be crazy!”  Maybe we are, but at 4,170m, the feeling having cycled there is incredible – you’re crazy not to!

But we can’t celebrate too much, after all, we still have 5 passes and 450km’s to go…

After a nights rest and a brief downhill, we found ourselves in the Salinas Grandes – one of Argentina’s largest salt lakes.  It’s brilliantly white, and the high Andean mountains reflect perfectly in the mirror-like waters.  It was incredibly beautiful, and has now really wet our appetite for Bolivia!

We climb again to the village of Susques.  This will be our last “real” town before we reach San Pedro, some 320kms away!  Having no problems with the altitude, we decided against a planned days rest, load our bikes with 15L of water, and push onto to the Jama pass.

Now maybe it was the coca leaves, but incredibly we complete the 130km journey in a single day – taking on another pass, outrunning a thunderstorm and battling “Patagonian-like” headwinds in the process.  Not a bad effort at around 4,000m, I must say!

Feeling sorry for us, the police at the border give us a place to stay.  They then tell us it rains only twice a year here… just our luck, to be nearly struck down by lightening then, isn’t it?

The next morning we make a short climb to the actual Jama pass, and for the last time, wave goodbye to Argentina.  We feel a little sad, she’s been good to us and we’ll miss her.  We pose for photos and feel like hero’s.  San Pedro is getting closer… just 160kms to go!

The Chilean side of the pass is truly spectacular.  We enter the Atacama desert, complete with sand dunes, salt lakes and lunar-like mountains everywhere.  It’s beautiful and couldn’t contrast more with our toughest days ride yet – an incredibly steep climb to 4,840m!  We make it. We are on top of the world.  Now if only it was all downhill from here…

The wind forces us to make camp just over the pass at 4,500m.  We use rocks to hold down the tent, and cook inside the vestibule to shelter from the sandstorm raging outside.  Was that woman right? Maybe we are crazy??

We wake to a freezing morning.  Unable to feel our hands or feet, it’s really a struggle to ride… why is this bloody road still going up?  Come on sun, warm us, damn it.  We climb again to 4,700m.

Finally, we see the sign we’ve been waiting for… caution windy road ahead!  We punch the sky, put on all our warmest clothes and get ready for the 40km downhill into San Pedro!  Paso de Jama – we’ve done it.  Right, now where’s the nearest bar?!

Next on the agenda, is crossing into Bolivia, via the salt lakes of Uyuni. We climb back to 4,000m and take on some of the toughest roads in the world.   Stay tuned, it’s sure to be a wild ride!

Thanks again for all the support and we hope you like the pics below.

Jules & Jess

Setting off with Tom & Celine

Setting off with Tom & Celine

The amazing Cuesta de Lipan

The amazing Cuesta de Lipan

Hard work at altitude

Hard work at altitude

Incredible feeling to be at the top

... But incredible feeling to be at the top

The Salinas Grandes

The Salinas Grandes

Jess & I

Jess & I

On the road

On the road

Outrunning a thunderstorm

Outrunning a thunderstorm

Paso de Jama - Goodbye Argentina!

Paso de Jama - goodbye Argentina!

Amazing views on Chile side

Amazing views on Chile side

Like riding on the moon

Like riding on the moon

4840m, can you believe it!

4840m - On top of the world!

...And sure feels good too!

...And sure feels good too!

Hiding out from the sandstorm

Hiding out from the sandstorm

Freezing cold morning

Freezing cold morning

40km of downhill from here

40km of downhill from here

Paso de Jama - we've done it!

Paso de Jama - we've done it!