DAY 691 - SUR LIPEZ
Day 691 - Laguna Colorada, Sur Lipez, Boliva - 14855 km
Sur Lipez is the southernmost province of Bolivia at the edge of the Atacama, the driest desert on earth. A barren landscape rich with salt lakes, volcanoes, geysers and lagunas with surreal colours. Not many Bolivians call this place a home, apart from a dozen refugios and hostels that serve adventure tour groups visiting the landmarks. Those are the only places that provide food, water and accomodation.
In the town of Uyuni, the main town near the salt lake, I clean all the salt of the bike and make sure everything is properly lubed. Traces of the salt are not mentionable, in contrary to my ride on the salt lake in Turkey, 4 years ago, where many parts went to rust. The difference was the amount of water on the lake, which sweeps up the salt into places you don’t want. The Salar de Uyuni is mostly dry at this time of year, which is much more bike friendly.
The only traffic here are the speedy 4x4 vehicles of tour agencies which plow the sandy surface to washboard roads. Since most initial tracks have become uncomfortable to drive for any participant, additional tracks have been created, next to the official road, resulting a chaotic network of tracks. By bike it’s an uncomfortable ride for most of the route. My tires are at minimum pressure to soften the shake. This makes it extremely slow, given the weight of the bike. I’m constantly looking for the smoothes track.
Coming from Uyuni it doesn’t take long before the road reaches 4500m and stays around that altitude. It makes me choose to map a route via the refugios, because I can’t get a good sleep in the tent on these freezing altitudes. After nearly two years on the road my down sleeping bag is wearing thin. The first two days I can do the distance quite easily to the next hotel, but the 3rd turns out to be a challenge. It’s 80km and 1000m of elevation, which is too much with these road conditions. At the end of the afternoon I’m struggling through the sand and still have 20km to do. Near Laguna Colorada I find a stream, so I could possibly camp, but far over the laguna I can see the lights of the refugio twinkling in the distance, so I decide to continue. The road is hardly noticable in the dark, many times I have to check if I’m still on route. For two hours I cycle in the dark under the dim light of the stars and my headlamp. When I reach the refugio at 8.30pm my gps app tells me I’m 12,5 hours on the road, of which 8 actually moving.
The refugios are basic. Outside are 3 old Toyota Landcruisers. The restaurant serves dinner for a tour group. They weren’t expecting me, but I can join. There are many beds, but no electricity and no wifi. A generator outside provides power for light only until 9.30. I can’t charge my devices so I have to carefully plan my battery power.
The next day during a little break, a speck appears on the horizon. It’s Adan from Santiago de Chile. He’s on a short two-week holiday through the south of Bolivia. Because his tires are much thinner he can’t go as fast on the rough washboard roads. There’s strong wind too, almost everyday, which awakens around noon. At Laguna Verde, the last lake in Bolivia, the wind is so strong that we don’t stay long. We make it to the refugio near the border of Chile well before dark. There are two more cyclists, a couple from France. There’s many cyclists travelling this section. You could perhaps say this is the bottle neck, many people travelling in between Alaska and Patagonia come through this part of Bolivia. I stay for a meal and a chat. Outside it looks a big storm is coming over the mountains. Little flakes of snow hit the window. Adan calls it a day because his knee is hurting, I’m continuing towards Chili. It’s still another 45 km, but it’s mostly downhill and the road in Chile will be paved.
The last stretch on the washboard roads is hard. The border at 4750m looks deserted, there is no traffic at all. I stamp out and put extra clothes on. The skies look grim, but I’m not expecting more rain or snow. It’s to dry for that here. I put all my jackets on for the long downhill. It’s a 2200m drop for the next 30km, so I don’t have to pedal. The sun peaks from under the dark clouds, shedding dramatic light on Volcan Licancabur, which is half in Bolivia and Chile. The paved road is impeccably smooth and the high speeds blow the dust off my face. For a good hour I cruise down and have an incredibly far view in the valley. I couln’t wish for a better welcome into Chile.