Yala Camping to Camping spot just north of Colonia San Jose
Distance: 59 miles
Av speed: 12.6
Moving time: 4 hours 40
Door to door: 8 hours 25
Tough day of relentless climbing although super sunny all day and riding through amazing mountain valleys surrounded by 15 ft cactuses made life a bit easier, and still the perfect way to spend a Sunday!
One of the most challenging climbs we have done yet began as soon as we left Yala, taking us from 1200 metres to 2,700 in just 10 miles. Huge gradients and lots of heat made life really tricky!
Once we made it to the commune of Volcan things started to look up as the road flattened somewhat and the afternoon breeze started to blow in our favour.
Unfortunately Roo took a big detour off the road to get a photo of his bike next to an abandoned railway and a huge cactus - what a setting - but on this detour managed to fill his front tyre with dozens of thorns, meaning a prolonged lunch stop in Tucumán taking out every single spine. Check the picture it was definitely worth it!
Finally we were back on the road, and having only done 20 miles by 5’o’clock had to go into beast mode for the next few hours, finally putting up the tent just off the main road as it got dark at 2,800 metres.
Both exhausted as we had cycled uphill virtually all day, although very grateful for the tailwinds that had made our evening ride a bit easier!
DAY FIFTY NINE
Wild camp spot before Humahuaca to Tres Cruces
Average speed: 10.7mph
Moving time: 4h50
Door to door: 9h10
Today we have encountered almost every different type of ups and downs there are to be had whilst cycle touring. We started the day with beautiful blue skis, both very happy as we headed off early to get to a beautiful town called Humahuaca for breakfast. After a visit to the bakery and multiple chats with some really friendly people about what we are doing we hit the road again edging closer and closer to Bolivia.
As we climbed north out of Humahuaca we were hit with some mighty headwinds again. After ten miles or so of gritting up the hill through the winds we decided to take a break and hide out in a bus stop. The winds quickly were accompanied by lightning which made it even more difficult to get back on the bikes. As we forced our way through the wind and rain for another 10 miles slowly the rain began to stop and the winds began to change direction. To our amazement the sun came out and the winds started to blow onto our backs! One day closer to Bolivia!
Tres Cruces to Villazon (Bolivia!)
Distance: 68 miles
Av speed: 11.8 mph
Moving time: 5 hours 35
Door to door: 9 hours
Both extremely excited to reach Bolivia we were on the road early, beginning the final steady incline towards the border. After a pit stop in the fairly useless town of Abra Pampa (the worst town James has ever been to) the wind became our menace again making the final push much harder.
We were forced to break the day up into small 15-20k stages, stopping for coffee or Mate along the way. No headwinds nor steady uphill could stop us though and we made it to La Quiaca and crossed the border into Villazon with the two cities broken up by a river that acts as the border.
A very strange and exhilarating feeling crossing the bridge into our third country on this huge adventure. We really are making some headway and it felt like a huge milestone.
After three days of nothing but open altiplano and dusty towns our first taste of Bolivia was completely different, with colour everywhere, women in traditional dress and a general hustle and bustle that meant we immediately took to Bolivia. Even better, after two expensive months in Chile and Argentina, Bolivia is far more affordable. Huge plates of rice and meat (we think it is normally Lama) for just £1 and if we are still hungry we can always ask for seconds! A cyclists dream.
We ended up spending the night in Villazon, eating as much food as we could and passing out early, absolutely exhausted after the past three days of climbing.
DAY SIXTY ONE
Villazon to Yuruma
Distance: 31 miles
Av speed: 12.9
Moving time: 2 hours 26
Trip time: 3 hours 44
After a morning of admin we were slow to leave Villazon, finding it impossible to find all the things we needed. As there are no supermarkets in Bolivia this meant trawling through the market looking for food which was great fun but does make life a lot harder.
Tough afternoon cycle across the altiplano, mainly uphill. Amazing how we were able to see for miles all around us and such varied scenery. Lighting storms and rolling hills on one side and blue sky and red rock mountains on the other.
Eventually the lighting storm found us and we were forced to take refuge in Mojo village next to an abandoned but beautiful Spanish church.
Began the descent into Tupiza but Roo has a puncture so we had to stop short as it was getting dark. Managed to find a camp spot by the train tracks.
DAY SIXTY TWO
Yuruma to Tupiza
Average speed: 12.3mph
Moving time: 2h09
Door to door: 3h10
Waking up with three flat tyres is not how we planned for the day to start. We woke early to try and get many miles done before lunch but having multiple punctures meant we didn’t leave our camp spot till 11.30. We both still had a slow puncture meaning that we had to stop every 15 minutes to pump up our tires. A really frustrating morning.
Even though we had so many difficulties we tried not to let them distract us from the unbelievable scenery Bolivia has to offer. We spent the short trip cycling through the amazing Tupiza valley made famous by Butch Kassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Although we were forced to spend much of our evening at the bike shop in Tupiza did have time to wander this amazing town, and both slowly starting to love Bolivia. Huge plate of Street food for supper for only £1!
DAY SIXTY THREE
Tupiza to 4,000m camp
Average speed: 12.3mph
Moving time: 2h09
Door to door: 3h10
After all of our efforts yesterday to get our bikes ready to take on the gravel road to Uyuni we woke up with another slow puncture on James’ bike. How is this possible?! Getting a fresh inner tube we hit the road leaving later than planned but ready for the ripio and big climbs ahead.
We were told by Danche (the very friendly man in the bike shop) that the road is flat until you reach the big climb. The road leading up to the climb ahead of us was awesome, certainly not flat, but awesome.
We sat at the bottom of 20k climb looking up at the switchback roads preparing mentally or in Roo’s case physically by having to make another pit stop on the side of the road, this is becoming a regular occurrence for us in Bolivia.
We were both so relieved as we reached the top after such steep roads, it was a day of only cycling uphill. The road was beautiful though, amazing views and lots of goats to give us encouragement along the way. We found a flat spot just off the road where we decided to set up camp. At 4,000m this was the highest either of us had ever been.
DAY SIXTY FOUR
4000m camp spot to river camp 5 miles north of Atocha
Distance: 50 miles
Av speed: 10.1
Moving time: 4 hours 15
Door to door : 10 hours
Determined to have a big day we were up early and on the road by 730.
Lots of climbing to start the day, taking us up to our highest point of the trip so far 4250m! We had heard before that roads in Bolivia were steep but couldn’t have imagined the near vertical walls of tarmac, without a bend in sight.
Again the incredible scenery made things a little bit easier, with the huge and imposing Cerro Chorolque keeping us company nearly all day. We really didn’t know what to expect but after nearly three weeks of riding through the Andes, Bolivia wins the prize for toughest but most rewarding.
Eventually we made it to Atocha, in time for lunch/Almuerzo (2 courses for £1!!) although absolutely exhausted. After a one hour break soon turned into a three hour break we were finally back on the road, neither of us sure why we were finding it so hard.
After reading up on it, we now know the altitude (not dropping below 3,600m all day) was to blame, making everything that much harder.
Found an awesome spot to camp on a dried out river bed, next to a train track. A really tough day, although it could have been even harder. Just last year the road was nearly all tarmacked. Before that all the crazy steep ascents and descents were gravel ripio, so we definitely dodged a bullet there!
DAY SIXTY FIVE
Atocha to Uyuni
Distance: 46 miles
Av speed: 13.1
Moving time: 3 hours 30
Trip time: 5 hours 38
Awesome day again cycling through amazing scenery, the highlight being the view of Cerro Choroloque and lamas for breakfast.
Finally we made it to Uyuni and so happy after the last few days had been much harder than we’d imagined. Although the overpowering smell of dog shit and litter lined streets weren’t exactly welcoming, it was great to be in a town again with shops and food. After two lunches and two ice creams we made it to the Casa de Ciclistas that was only opened a few months ago. Run by a lovely and welcoming family it was the perfect haven from the hussle and bussle of Uyuni.