12 most difficult days of our traveling … altitude, sandy and rocky roads, cold, wind and illness
We leave the salt hotel at 11am because the whole morning we are constructing alcohol stove from a beer can (after last night fail of our stove we would like to have a backup).
The road is unbelievably terrible and bumpy with big stones and sand parts where is almost impossible to cycle and it comes with wind, 4×4 leaving us in dust and uninteresting landscape.
My mood is bad and I’m still asking myself if we really want to continue on roads like this to south… we know it’ll be difficult and even worse than here – so why?! My head is full of negative thoughts, I’m angry on the whole world and I swear after every bigger bump…
Enough! This is the best time to try the positive thinking … I’m a tractor driver in Bolivia, I’m jumping on the bumps, make a lot of dust and sometimes drift on the sand!
Unexpectedly it works, I smile and also the landscape looks nicer (but of course, nothing’s changed). I’m sometimes disturbed by Jan’s swearing and threats that he’ll throw the fuckcycle somewhere and leave … Then I accidentally hit him and then he’s probably thinking of changing me :D.
I share my knowledge how to enjoy it here with him in ColchaK which is like an oasis in this desert. After a good lunch and a juice in old-school design bottle which is not produced by CocaCola (this is real exception in central and south america) Jan mood gets better also and we continue bumping on the road to south.
After a nice night between coral rocks (it was a sea here before) we reach San Juan and we definitely decide to continue on Ruta de lagunas (the road of lagoons). We buy some more food to have enough for 10 days, we make perfect scrambled eggs at the square and construct new alcohol stove (the one from yesterday wasn’t working well).
This is the real start … with printed instructions, small key-ring compass and belief it cannot be that bad how everybody says.
After 8km we realize that the locals didn’t show us the correct road and we take a “shortcut” on a side road – twice we need to put the bicycles over the fence and cross big sandy field with many plants with big spikes.
I especially like this part because I feel like in a computer game – I have to find the correct path, avoid the bombs (the spiky plants), don’t fall on the sand and find the entrance to the next level … if I’ll make a flat tire, Jan will get so angry that I’ll loose all lives :D.
We join the road again (next level :)), my husband is not talking to me – just talks to himself why we two retards cannot just go normally sometimes.
Salar de Chiguana and a good surface – finally. And also the wind is with us, perfect … oh, it’s gone – in five seconds we have the wind in our faces and our speed drops from 25km/h without effort to 10km/h fully pedaling.
After 30km we reach a military base and we ask for water and a place to pitch our tent. The soldier is really nice and we get a bunker with two beds – awesome! The best times of the buildings have past long time ago but the sphere-shaped rooms have scary acoustic – everything one says is reflected from all sides and gets to the head (unfortunately we don’t have any photos, because we promised to not take any).
We start to cook and we hear strange sounds coming out from another room. With hope we’ll not find some tortured cyclist there (this is from watching too many american horrors) we open the door … through the 15cm gap a dog escapes and following her … 9 hungry small beautiful 2-weeks old puppies!
And the fight to get them back begins. The father helps also and pushes with his nose those who escaped through out legs back. 9 puppies and only 4 hands – that’s not enough :D. We are pissed all over because these small creatures release every 2 minutes from happiness, freedom or excitement.
And I’ve found her! All of them are beautiful but this one is – our! Small, nice, hairy, light brown hyperactive creature which gets my heart with her cute look – our tiny cafesina (coffee).
After an hour we close the door and also with the help of caring dad are all “children” at home. The mother comes back in another half an hour when she smells our lentil risotto. We are a little bit angry on her that she’s just run away from her duties but on the other hand she is closed with the 9 hungry ones the whole day and she doesn’t get enough food neighter.
Before going to sleep we share tea with the soldiers and we get 2 pieces of bread from them. Then we are thinking how we can do it with cafesina, that we can go back, buy milk in powder for her, go the ruta the lagunas, smuggle her to Chile, make her official papers in Santiago, buy flight ticket for her… we leave this thinking for morning and get on the steel beds.
The sun rays wake us up and the rational thinking wins. After another hour playing with puppies we say them goodbye and hope they will find another good owner.
First 15km on salar next to the railways is fast and good. Then the uphill and really bad road starts. During our pause the jeeps stop and ask if we are all right and don’t need anything. Some pushing, washboard and again good surface – it’s uphill but with tail wind the pedaling is good. The instructions say this should be really bad and difficult part but it’s really OK and we are happy that the instructions are too much frightening :)!
After 20km of this nice road we turn to a rocky road with many holes and too steep hills. The cars which pass us slow down just to take picture of us and we feel like animals on safari!
Brutal wind starts and we know that we’ll not get to the advised camping spot today. Many times we need to jump off from the bicycles because of the strong side wind which makes it impossible to cycle in the narrow path.
There are many small tornadoes around us. They aren’t enough strong to blow us away but they can give quite big hit of sand into a face. One goes through Jan and he just stays still surprised.
It’s too late, the wind crazy but we find a small wind shield on this open plane. I prepare and level the surface for one hour and my husband is the main cook.
We have to get to the tent with the sunset because the altitude (4000m) gives us freezing hugs in the night (water which we leave outside is just ice in the morning).
As usual, I get out of the tent when the breakfast is ready but my lips hurt and I feel like the Donald dug (it is probably because of the sunburn on the salar, the low humidity and wind). My husband also starts to call me “my supermodel”,”Naomi”,…
Today’s breakfast is more special – it’s the 8th of November and Jan has his 31st birthday. But instead of celebrating with friends, 20 text messages or 50 wishes on FB he gets in this desert 5 squeezed muffins with letters J-A-N-K-O, small bottle of peppermint liquor, handkerchief with his name sewn (this artwork was created during the time in toilet – only time we aren’t together :)), wish in form of 8-verse song and his personal botox-supermodel. Maybe it’s not the ideal birthday but he looks surprised and happy.
Many LandCruisers pass us when we start and as usual they are taking pictures of us – we can understand why they are doing it (just crazy people go here on bikes) but we don’t like it and are offended by this behavior. Today is full of bumps and it looks impossible to find flat parts. Fortunately there are many colorful lagoons with flamingos and together with the orange-red mountains around us they make this rough conditions better. We feel like on a different planet … nothing, just dunes, blue sky without any clouds and with moon over our heads and noisy wind around us (human activity is present by the refugio and many tire marks).
After many kilometers of fighting on this endless ploughed field we get to a mountain with big stones where we build a wind break around the tent. Total silence, arriving cold, finishing the liqueur inside, repeating of the birthday wishes and sweet dreams :).
My lips are killing me in the morning. The skin is stretched to the maximum and I feel the pain from the 5 herpeses in the teeth, ears and brain.
The road to the pass is cyclable but full of big stones, later comes sand and with combination with strong wind we need to push a lot. The downhill is possible on the bike with pedaling and some pushing. I fall two times and I’m so angry that I throw the bike on the ground and desperate sit next to it. Jan brings some cookies and together we’re thinking why we are here.
One more hour and we get to the luxury Hotel del desierto and I cannot believe I see in front of us marks of a trailer. The waiter is really nice and friendly even he sees that we came here just to fill water. He confirms that couple days in front of us are cyclists with trailer with two small children?! I cannot believe this! I’m dieing here just with myself and somebody is able to do this with two children (the hardest road we’ve ever done)???. Respect but I still cannot get it… :)
We spend the night again between rocks, it’s cold, silent, the sunset is beautiful and colors the surrounding to red-orange.
The days starts good … we are in deep sand but with the strong tail wind we are able to cycle. It changes when the roads bends and the friendly wind becomes nasty, throws us off the bicycles, the gusts cause me more pain on my swollen lips, the breathing is difficult – it’s like it steals the air from our mouths and sucks the snots out of my nose :D.
Finally we reach a road but with strong washboard. I’m still not sure if the sand or the bumps are worse. We pass many signs “Responsible tourism. Use existing roads!” but even the drivers cannot read or just don’t want to destroy the cars on this existing road and just create new and new ones along it.
At noon we get to the most famous stone in Bolivia – Arbol del piedra (stone tree) – and we are totally alone here!
On one hand it is difficult and mentally exhausting to try to bicycle here, but on the other hand we are able to be on these amazing places alone and how long we want to. Pause, cookies and the fight against the wind on our “favorite” sandy washboard begins again.
We cross the pass and finally are able to see the red color in a distance – Laguna Colorada (colored lagoon). After 18km of downhill we’ll be enjoying the comfort of the refugio :)! Our smiles disappear after few meters … this cannot be true! I swear that there is no other country in the world where one has to push even downhill.
After more than 2 hours we lean the bicycles against the rangers building and buy the tickets to the national park. Two tourists put their hats down as a sign of respect but I don’t have enough power to smile. Later Jan tells me that those were some guys from Czech republic and I’m little sad that I wasn’t more talkative.
Time for the hostel … in the first one we ask for the price and despite the blockheaded lady we are staying at the end. We meet the group of Czechs and they offer slivovica :).
The alcohol burns my lips but together at the table we talk till late night.
I get an anti-herpes cream and some energetic gels from a French couple and also the mirror tells us that we need some rest…