Uyuni-Ramaditas-San Cristóbal-Rosario-Vilama-Soniquera-Quetena Chico-Uturuncu-Laguna Colorada-Sol de Mañana-Polques-Hito Cajon-San Pedro de Atacama (Chile)
Leaving Uyuni we take the main road almost straight south towards the great mountain of Uturuncu. There's a bit of traffic, but the wind is in our favor and blows all the dust the vehicles kick up away from us. For many sections it is almost as if we are riding on pavement.
November 9th is Danny's birthday. It's hard to do something special here in the middle of Bolivia but we have a fun evening playing games in the tent. Plus, it's not every birthday you get to spend camped in a llama pasture. These are the ones you never forget.
The next day comes our first true experience of the rough Bolivian roads we've heard so much about. The road quality deteriorates, turning eventually into one of the worst we have ever ridden.
|Bump bump bump bump bump bump bump...|
|The path of least resistance is not always on the road|
|The park is full of mineral reserves, like this iron-rich sediment that sticks to the circular magnet on my bag.|
I wake up nervous. Today we are going to attempt to climb the 6,000 meter volcano Uturuncu with our bikes, something I never imagined I'd be doing. As we walk outside in the early morning, the sun is just beginning to light up the sky. The first bit of road is sandy and we bike through a thin crust of ice on a shallow river. At 8:30 in the morning we're feeling pretty good about ourselves; we've completed 15 kilometers, half the distance up the volcano. Unfortunately, we've done almost none of the elevation. It's time to start climbing, and with expectations of steep rock piles as a road, Danny and Hannes both comment on how great the road is. I don't think anyone should call this road "great." Rideable, perhaps, but not "great."
I guess everything is relative.
At 5,000 meters we celebrate a new altitude record for the highest we've ever biked, woohoo! Then we keep riding.
|Tam heading up|
|Hello, hill. One of the good sections, just steeeeeep|
The saddle between the two peaks of our mountain is steaming with sulfurous hydrothermal activity. Along the road, small vents covered in brilliant green and yellow algae send up plumes of vapor. We hope that we don't plunge through some thin section of crust into some boiling chamber below, but the recent tire tracks indicate that we should be okay.
|Steam vents accompany a sulfurous smell as we approach the saddle|
|A steam vent|
|Hugs on the summit|
|The remains of some colorful flags|
|An iron-filled mountain nearby|
|We made it!|
|Bumping our way back|
|Good night, Uturuncu|
|Our first view of Laguna Colorada|
A huge thank you to Mark, Stefan, and the rest of the crew! We'll see you down the road.
Rather than begin biking up the next pass, we spend all of the next morning hanging out with the flamingos at Laguna Colorada. There must be thousands of them out here. We do our best to analyze the colors of their beaks, butts, and legs to differentiate the three different species that nest here. (We spot all of them!)
|Look at all those flamingos!|
|A graceful James flamingo|
|Delicate-looking birds in harsh conditions|
|Evidence of the hordes of jeep tours|
|Julia powering through some sand|
A frigid breeze is already blowing when we set out in the morning. Our first stop is the geyser Sol de Manana, a large hydrothermal basin filled with bubbling pools and clouds of sulfurous smoke. The landscape is active and colorful, painted with streaks of red, pink, grey, green, and orange.
|Steaming landscape. Technically fumaroles, not geysers.|
A big descent takes us to a brilliant blue lagoon and hot springs! Before soaking in the amazing pools we hang out by the restaurant, and some extremely friendly jeep drivers load us up with delicious lunch leftovers. These guys might be crazy drivers, but they sure are friendly!
|A vicuna keeps us company|
|the Piedras de Dali, "Stones of Dali," reminiscent of Dali's surreal landscapes|
|A colorful mountain|
|Laguna Verde, the "Green Lake", with Licancabur Volcano in the background. The lake's brilliant color is caused by its high levels of arsenic and copper.|
|Tam cycling on the moon|
|The surprisingly busy Bolivian migration. Chilean immigration is 40 kilometers away in San Pedro de Atacama, so we had to content ourselves with...|
|...this sign. Chile! Facing the wrong way, but exciting nonetheless|
|Pavement, yea! "There's a truck coming, just take the picture anyway!" That's Aritz on his back, Esti on the right side|
- The north part of the more famous laguna route runs slightly west of where we went. See here also for a solid guide, though the roads are better (just slightly...) than they let on.
- We headed south from Uyuni towards Ramaditas in order to be slightly off the most traveled jeep track and to set ourselves up to climb Uturuncu. Ramaditas (50 km from Uyuni) has water, maybe a shop. San Cristobal has a decent market with real food, pasta and such. About 10 km after San Cristobal we turned left, a shortcut through Rosario (water) and Vilama (water, perhaps a small shop). The last 30 km approaching Soniquera (water, small shops) were awful, lots of sandy and washboardy pushing and bouncing. Don't expect to go very fast...
- Soniquera to Quetena Chico (water, slightly larger shops, restaurants, accommodation) was another relatively rough day, though nowhere near as bad. Though exhausting, climbing Uturuncu was incredible; see here for all the details. This site also has an interesting account.
- The road from Quetena Chico to Laguna Colorada was where we got a ride, so I can't give a cycling perspective, but it was pretty rough in the truck.
- Laguna Colorada to Sol de Manana "geyser," about 20 km or so, was really rough and sandy, but the road improves after that and stays good (less bad, really) to the border. No water at Sol de Manana. At the hot springs there is water, leftovers from jeep tourists, and some buildings under construction that made a decent camp spot.
- On the south shore of Laguna Blanca there's an abandoned hostel, a fantastic camping option. Apparently it's prohibited to camp there, so just make sure the awful ranger at the refugio 1 km away doesn't know you're there. Even if she does know, you probably won't have any problems; she didn't even check around the side of her building to see if we were camping where she said we had to.
- Bolivian immigration didn't charge us the 21 boliviano fee we had heard about to leave the country; maybe the rules had changed. They can also change money there at the border, at a more fair rate than in San Pedro.
- Chilean immigration in San Pedro de Atacama is a fairly straightforward process. Just remember, you can't bring any meat, dairy, or plant/animal products into Chile.
- At 5,000 pesos (US$7) per person per night to camp, Aji Verde hostel in San Pedro seemed to offer the cheapest option for lodging. With a nice kitchen and courtyard as well, and fast wi-fi, it was a decent deal.
If going this route, it's unnecessary to bring all your food from Uyuni like we did. Quetena Chico is expensive but has enough to outfit you for a few days with pasta, mashed potatoes, bread (on certain days), and other simple items.