Hell on High Earth

The Bolivian Lagunas (Uyuni > San Pedro de Atacama)

Magnificent scenery. Absolutely terrible ‘roads’. One very sore arse.

The last post was rather long. I’m going to keep this one short.  This was six days of hell, to be honest.  Six days of hell, in heaven.  If that even makes sense…

The route takes you from Uyuni (on the edge of the Salar/salt flat) West and then South through an area known as the ‘Lagunas’, much of the 450km route well above 4000m.

The scenery was absolutely fantastic and improved further towards the end – I can’t complain on that front – but the riding was purgatory. Six days of constant washboard, deep sand or deep sandy washboard, usually accompanied by a headwind or, at the very least, a strong crosswind.  I was lucky as my setup allowed me to ride pretty much the whole route without pushing (other than to get a few metres out of sand traps), but it was still incredibly hard work.

This route is somewhat legendary among tourers and I was aware that the road conditions can be testing but, frankly, not as bad as this! Actually, to call them roads is generous – they are jeep tracks in the sand, some of which (to the south) are moderately ‘groomed’ by a machine which makes them a little more passable.  However, in general, the jeeps appear to use one set of tracks until it washboards and then just create new ones next to it. This has the effect of scarring the landscape with tracks – admittedly in places this is just driving across sandy plains but elsewhere vegetation is decimated.  On the flip side, where the jeeps do stick to the road (in the Southern parts), they race past at high speed and cover you in dust.  The fierce headwinds do at least tend to clear this dust away reasonably quickly but, seeing as you are mainly well above 4000m, holding your breath is not really an option!  Add to that, a bike heavily weighed down with 7-8 days worth of food and overnight temperatures as low as -10C (this is the warmer season too),  and you ought to start to get a feeling for the challenge!

For those of you in the UK, the area is featured in the recent Episode 2 (Mountains) of Planet Earth II – see the flamingos at 33mins in…

Grandpa Dave states that, up here, exposed human skin burns in 4 mins!  I’m not sure that’s strictly true but it certainly gives an idea of the harshness of the environment.

My body was really yearning to get down to lower altitudes – I’d been above 3000m since leaving Lima at the beginning of September (two months prior) and was getting really tired of the regular shortness of breath (especially just before falling asleep) and somewhat poor health (I’d had a cold and bit of a cough since La Paz).  The very limited Bolivian cuisine, with a severe lack of fresh fruit and veg, was not helping either!

Needless to say, I was very relieved when I finally descended, after a fairly speedy (for this route) five and a half day traverse, into the desert oasis of San Pedro de Atacama!

Here’s the journey…

Click on to the next page for a select few 360s…

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