(105) The Three amigos
Monday 13th April
After first thinking we weren’t going to be disturbed and a cars headlights had lit our tents I found it hard to sleep. It was also a cold in the night with ice forming on our fly sheets which didn’t help. We got up around 7.30am with Jules already excited about having a day off and with it already being 8 days since we left Uyuni and we were all looking forward to some time to rest. It was a stunning day with clear blue sky’s and a sun that warmed while we had breakfast.
If only you could hear Jules singing
You can see why he was
Once our things had dried we were loaded and on the road ready for the climb to Abra de Chachacomani at 4,365 metres.
Already being at 4,200metres it wasn’t a big height gain but at these altitudes any incline was going to be more difficult. We all reached the summit in good time with Sara bringing up the rear and arriving at the top a few minutes later. It was an incredible view of volcano Sajama and seeing this 6,542 metre giant rise out of the plateau. With a descent in front of us we made our way down enjoying the freedom of not peddling until the road turned west and the climb started again. This lead us to Tambo Quemado a border post between Chile and Bolivia taking us back up to 4,320 metres. We knew however once we reached this point we would also meet the Tarmac road that lead from the border to la Paz and give us an amazing 6 mile down hill. We felt free gliding down this smooth ribbon of black that lay over this beautiful yet harsh and unforgiving landscape.
Enjoying the tarmac 🙂
The local car wash
As we descended we past ever more llama grazing, Vacunia running off across the pampa and Ostriches hiding within the larger bushes. We were now in an area closely surrounded by volcanos that looked so impressive and powerful. We reached the river and turned into the national park just after the bridge. We stopped next to some old abandoned buildings to make a cupper and enjoy this incredible landscape.
Time for tea
An old church on the way to Sajama
After boiling the water from a pump we could to see a metallic film form on the top so we decided it was better to use the water we had so we weren’t poisoned. With the clouds building once again we continued to head towards the village of Sajama. As we did I noticed our route sheet had an extra 9km we didn’t have to do making it closer and with bands of rain moving across in front of us and more dropping down in front of the volcano behind us it was just what we needed. The sand road was good only with a few soft spots but a lot if steam crossings.
With only a few miles to go I heard a pop and couldn’t work out what it was as both tyres were still inflated then noticed my front panniers swaying as another bolt had sheered. As the rain drops started to hit us I noticed the others had stopped to put their waterproofs on. I pushed on ignoring the rain and making the most of the prewash and reached town.
Here comes the rain
We reached town and with the short shower now past we looked for a hostel. We went to the one we were recommended and while the others checked the room I found a builder to borrowed his drill and extracted the stud that was snapped in the frame. 5 minutes later and £1 down for the use of the drill, I was back in action and ready to stop for the day.
Just another day at the office
We unloaded our bikes and I gave Dolly a wash and saw a women hand washing clothes. I asked how much to wash our clothes and for £2.50 for 10 items we all opted to enjoy our day off and have our clothes washed for us.
We went for a wander around town and the number of massive volcanos that surrounded Sajama was incredible. With several that had already erupted thousands of years ago and the thought that they would flatten the town seconds made these giants more impressive. These weren’t just mountains these were vents and channels to the super heated molten magma that whole continental plates float on and we were surrounded by about 10 of them.
Kids making the most of the playground
The town however got on with normal life with the school band playing and a funeral march passing through the centre. The feeling of being so high after so many days riding was great. The air was so clear the view was crisp with no pollution and the hardy mountain people that lived in harmony with this harsh environment were kind and friendly. With tea cooked a beer on the table and our down jackets on where else would you want to be.
Tuesday 14th April
The night was cold but not under about 10 blankets, in fact I was toasty and with a day off I wasn’t getting up in a hurry. With a blog to write I stayed in bed as long as possible editing my work and going through pictures before getting up and joining the others for breakfast. once breakfast was out the way I continued to work until the Andy and jules said they were going to climb to a lookout. Needing to get out I went and joined them and started the climb up to 4,550 metres.
It was also snowing
A great place to be with good friends
Andy looking a little to comfy
The sunset lighting up Sajama
The view form he top was amazing and well worth the hike up there. By the time we walked down he sun was setting giving us an uninterrupted view of the volcanos and the village. After Sara needing to visit the docs I just hoped the 1 day off was enough for her to recover and regain her strength to get back on the road.
Wednesday 15th April
It was so nice to have a day off pottering and getting things done even if we did give our washing to someone else but like any day off they don’t last long and it wasn’t really a town where there was a lot to do. I had woken in the night remembering Andy had 3G and noticed on my Bolivian phone I had the same. Managing to down load emails and reply to a few messages at 4am in the morning wasn’t a great recipe for feeling refreshed. Jules knocked on my door at 9am and woke me from a deep sleep. I went in to have breakfast and started to clear my room which looked more like I had been burgled. Still bleary eyed we set off to the north and round volcano Sajama.
On the road north from Sajama we decided to find the thermal pool that we had been told about and given a rough idea where they were. After a couple miles we turned down a track and with a little bit of searching we found it. It was amazing and so nice to lay there with our feet up in hot water looking up at giant volcano.
Relaxing in the pool where else
While i’m there i’ll cut my hair! why not 🙂
Once dried we then had a river crossing to contend with
We stayed for about an hour and set off continuing to ride clockwise around the mountain. The road steadily climbed reaching the top of the pass at 4,402 metres. It was a steady climb to the summit and after it a steady descent. It was great going only slowed by the odd rocky bit or river crossing. We were all feeling tired and wanted to get to the Tarmac road. It seemed to take longer then we thought and with the storm clouds once again moving around us we managed to miss the rain and reach the road.looking back towards the volcanos
Just getting in front of the storm
We stopped just before we joined the highway for a cupper and to enjoy the many strange rock formations that surrounded us.
Feeling a little more energised and everyone’s stomachs behaving themselves we joined the amazingly smooth highway and started to head east. It was so nice gliding oblong this seamless highway with the wind and waving at truck drivers as we sailed along.
With the sun almost ready to set and having covered a few miles on the highway we saw a large cannon that we could camp next to. It was off the highway and out of sight perfect got a nights camp. With the ground being rock we did have to secure our tents down with rocks but it worked and with rice, veg, tuna and tomato pasta for dinner it was the end of a fairly hard day mainly because we were tired but at least everyone was starting to feel better
I’ll have a cup of tea please Sara 🙂
Thursday 16th April
Everyone was up by the time I was up. I felt tired but with some motivation I was sat eating bread and jam with a cup of coffee Andy had made me. Once breakfast was finished we were packed and on the road in about half an hour. Our camp had been great although it had been a freezing cold night. We set off on the high way and were making amazing progress compared to what we had in the gravel roads. We soon covered 12 miles and stopped at a roadside stop and picked up a few snacks for the road. The scenery was great as we climbed and descended through a wide canyon.
The rock formations were amazing and as we rode on we were starting to get tired. We stopped for lunch around 1 after cover a good 30 miles and I rested while they cooked noodles.
Stopping for a break
With very little water between us we hoped it wouldn’t be to long before we found some as we were all running very low. We rode on with the sun beating down on us making us feel even more tired.
Incredible rock formations
The scenery as we rode was incredible but with it came hill after hill and as soon as we gained height we lost it again and with fully loaded bikes at 4,000 metres it was taking all we had. Andy and I reached a sight of mud tombs and waited for Jules and Sara.
A couple of the hundreds of mud tombs that scatter the countryside
Spotting a village I popped down to get water and restock the others when they arrived. When Jules and sara arrived both looked tired but Sara was exhausted. We took a short break and decided to ride another 5 miles or go until we found a good spot to camp and call it a day. Feeling a little more refreshed after a short break we rode on and as we looked we saw a load of sandstone fingers that lead away from the road that had been made from water erosion.
They were incredible and with the sun getting ever lower the red colour glowed. We made tea early and sat enjoying the sun set with just the tip of volcan Sajama showing and the stars starting to shine. We were all tired but it felt so good to stop and in such an incredible place.
Friday 17th April
We woke to a chilly day with the sun covered by a blanket grey cloud. Sara had made bread for us all which we sat with a cupper to start the day. We didn’t have far to the main highway to la Paz but the short steep hills weren’t gonna let us get there very fast.
Another old earth church along the highway
With a few hills out the way the land opened up in front of us along with the long straight road to Patacamaya. It was amazing going and soon reached the town stopping to find a restaurant. With a set menu of finely shredded llama, egg, beans and potatoes it was a good boost to our energy.
road into town
Once we’d had lunch we restocked our food, filled up our fuel and headed out of town. We wanted to cross the mountains and come into la Paz on some back roads but as we started the climb on the gravel roads it was clear it was going to take a lot longer then we had first thought. We stopped to have a breather and managed to get Andy and Julian’s sister on the phone. It seemed like a great idea and a great pick me up. We tried Sara’s son Charlie’s but with no answer we took a look at the map to see if we were biting off more the we could chew.
The steady climb to our camp spot
With the climb already hard, some very tired legs, still some big climbs on bad roads and limited time it would have been a shame to make the end of their trip not enjoyable. With a group decision made to ride the highway we decided to look for a camp spot. It was a shame not to ride the pass but it was more important to have a happy team so deciding to camp early we rode a little further and followed a track away from the road. The relief on faces was a telling site that we had made the right choice. With the ground cleared of thorns and tall grass the tents were up and we were enjoying the view of the altiplano in front of us.
We had covered around 100 miles since Sajama and yet it and it’s two neighbouring volcanos were sitting as majestic on the landscape as they were when we first saw them and there presents never wavered. With a few visits from a couple farm workers and a donkey we enjoyed our tea and relaxed knowing we had an easier day tomorrow and the thought if another ice cream in town 🙂
‘Hey boss who’s that in my field’
Saturday 18th April
With the wind battering our tents of most of the night non of us really slept that well. It did stop for a while to give us some peaces but soon returned with equal force although I did get some sleep after putting ear plugs in and try and recover some energy. It got light quite early but being in the shadow of the mountain it took ages for it to reach our tents. Once I was up it seemed to take me ages to get ready trying to fit things better in my handlebar bag only to find it only made things worse. Then took me ages to sort my kit and ended up rolling my sunglasses in my tent. Once packed we pushed our bikes back to the road and made our way back to town. It would have been great to have headed the other way but in all honesty I think we all needed a couple days off before riding the extra bit and those two days we didn’t have. We reached the town picking up a few treats before hitting the road north to la Paz hoping to get within 25 miles to make the ride into the city safer and more enjoyable. The traffic was light and as usual the truck drivers beeped and waved encouragement.
Although we were on Tarmac and good Tarmac at that it was slow going. If the strong headwind wasn’t enough to deal with the constant climbing was. We were all tired but In good spirits. We reached a small town around 12 and being so convenient we decided to have an early lunch. We found a lovely lady who sold the most amazing bread and large blocks of soft cheese. It was just what we needed to regain some strength and with the break over we continued on ever climbing and yet we never seemed to gain much height. After a few multiple climbs we reached a town with the sky’s becoming ever darker. I thought it might be a big storm from the clouds I had seen the day before so we all clad our waterproofs and continued to ride on only to find it clearing and everyone sweeting to the top if the climb.
As we neared la Paz we needed to get water and find a place to camp. If we got to close it would be hard and in a large city dangerous. Being about 25 miles outside the city we found some water and spotted an exit off the highway towards some farmland. At first we were close to the highway and it wasn’t great so we headed further away from the road and found a fairly dry riverbed with sandbanks. It was low out of site and high enough if it did rain we wouldn’t float away.
Once the camp was set and we had chatted to a farmer about our camp the kettle was on and tea was being cooked. It had been a brilliant ride with a lot of tough bits and we were safe. Tomorrow we would have a short ride into the city of la Paz.
Is it me or do they look happier everyday?
Sunday 19th April
As the rain hit the tent getting harder all the time I wondered one would I get wet along with all my things and would it continue to rain as we rode into la Paz. As the night went on the rain stopped and I dropped into a deep sleep. We woke to a grey cloudy day with a few things getting wet. The tent was good it was just the fly sheet was touching the inner which transferred moisture to the inner getting a few bits wet. We sat and had breakfast and luckily as the sun started to come out we could dry our stuff. As I went to load my bike I noticed my back tyre was flat and had delaminated at one point. It was annoying as it still had a lot if tread left on it. Luckily having a spare tyre it was soon fitted with the rest of my things packed and loaded and made my way out to the highway. It took a while to catch the others who had gone on but once with them it was about 25 miles to la Paz and like all big city’s it was worth getting in early.
With a few climbs El Alto which it the flat part of la Paz appeared in front if us and off to the right in the distance we could see the ground disappear as the main city dropped away into a large bowl. We descended into the outskirts before it started to climb again. The traffic was light but we still had to make ourselves prominent on the road to stop being forced off by bus drivers. The road continued straight for mile after mile not turning or bends just straight for ten miles until the traffic backed up and the road dropped away in front of us.
Reaching the grid lock off minibuses before the descent into the city
From here the road wound it’s way deep down into the core of the city. Dropping over 500 metres with rest of the city wrapped around clinging to the steep sided hills in each side.
The pipe line should give you an idea of how steep the ground is
Approaching Saint Francisco church
We reached the centre of the city and found there was a lot going on. It was incredible to see so many people out for the day eating and drinking and watching various singers and dancers.
We made it and was so good to be there
Some good old local scaffold
Feeling hungry we stopped for a snack and headed for the casa de cyclista. With full bellys we reached the house and were let in by the owners brother. It was a large place but was already filled with a load of other cyclists.
Bags and bikes in
With no one there at the time we sorted our things and relaxed. It was great to have stopped and relax for the afternoon before the first if several cyclists arrived. We chatted for a while before our stomachs were rumbling again so we headed out for tea. After some searching we ended up at a steak house which was just what we needed at the end of a few days hard riding. We made it back and not really knowing where we would sleep we looked around found a room and headed to bed. We were shattered and needed a good nights sleep.
Monday 20th April
After our long ride into the city it was our chance to have a day off. I joined the others while they looked around town and had lunch before returning to the casa to try and catch up with my jobs. While Sara and Jules had planned on taking a trip to the lake, Andy and I had decided we were going to cycle up to the pass and ride the death road.
While we were in the casa we got chatting to a lovely German couple Elly and Thomas of which thomas had just ridden the death on a tour. At £40 each with an hours transport to the top of the pass, a short lift up the 10 km climb then swim in a pool at the bottom with food all day and bike included then a 3 hour bus ride back with a t shirt seemed to good an opportunity to turn down. We were a little disappointed not to be riding up the pass but they were on holiday. Jules and Sara returned having booked their trip and so we headed out for a curry.
we had struggled to find the restaurant the night before but armed with new directions we arrived and relaxed. Apart from the food taking 2 hours to arrive and the Andy locking the owner out of the restaurant for a joke the food was amazing and even better in great company. We headed back for an early night ready for our day trips out.
Tuesday 21st April
I was woken around 7am with Sara and Jules getting ready to head off on their tour. Andrew and I weren’t due to head out for another hour so we could roll over and wave in our comfy beds.
We waited outside for half an hour when our guide turned up to take us with 4 other French to the start of the death road. The bikes were already on the roof and so we headed slowly out of the city. It took about an hour and a half to get out of the city and climb up to just over 4,700 metres. We were given instructions on the bike which came natural to us other then the front and rear brakes were the wrong way round. On a road this dangerous slamming the front brake in instead of the rear could be a little nerve raking.
The group was great and soon were ready to set off. We would be on Tarmac to start with and so our guide told us to stay together and behind him at which point he shot off down the mountain at Mac speed.
We tried to keep up but we also wanted to have fun and enjoy it. It was incredible being above the snow line and have such a massive descent. After half an hour of descending at speed through the hairpin bends we reached the bottom of the first slope and stopped a snack. While we were stopped the guides loaded the bikes back on the minibus and we set off again climbing again adding height to the start of the death road.
Within about 20 minutes we had turned off the road and were now on a narrow track. We were now on the road with vertical drops that disappeared into the mist. We got ourselves organised and set off down the mountain. It was incredible that this road supported two way traffic and yet it was one vehicle wide with vertical cliffs to one side and a vertical drop the other.
As we turned the bends we would get views of the forest way below and send fear through our bones. It was brilliant and as we descended the temperature started to rise. With birds singing and insects humming and all different coloured butterflies would cross our path. I caught a glimpse of a huge white butterfly with bright metallic blue sparkle as it flew. It didn’t last long but for the few seconds I saw it made me amazed at how beautiful nature can be. As we descended Andy was in his element and racing the guide, he was loving the freedom of no panniers and the luxury of a full suspension bike.
You can just make out the road in the top right of the picture
once we reached the bottom we were given towels and shampoo and taken to a hotel where we could enjoy a cooked meal lay by the pool and enjoy the heat. At the top of the pass it was around -5-0 degrees and now we were down at 1,000 meters the temperature was around 35 degrees and in the tropics.
The difference was incredible and such a contrast to the altiplano.
With an hour and half to relax it was time to set off back up the pass to La Paz along the new road which in itself was a feat of engineering. It had taken 17 years to build and clung to the cliff as much as the old one only giving the sense of security to due to its width.
It took three and a half hours to get back only stopping part the way while some workers were moving a huge landslide.
We made it back to la Paz around 8.30pm and went for a steak again to celebrate a great day. We made it back to the casa by 9.15 to find Sara and Jules had returned from their trip. It was just what they needed and was great that they’d had the time to do something they wanted to do. With everyone happy with their trips we relaxed and chatted to the other cyclists that were there. Time was very quickly passing us by and it would be soon time for them to fly home a thought I didn’t want to think about. I had become so used to them being there I would really miss them.
Wednesday 22nd April
With one day left until Andy, Jules and Sara flew home it was meant a day of relaxing, packing, eating and catching up with other cyclists. Having the chance to stay at the casa de cyclista due to the kindness of Christian and his family. Most days someone would arrive and another would leave and today was Elly and Thomas’s turn. We had quickly made friends and was a shame to say goodbye.
It is like having another family
Jules and Andy making sure they get going ok
Once they had gone Andy Jules and Sara started to pack their things in bike boxes ready for the off. It was sad thought that the same time tomorrow they to will be gone and i will be back on my own.It had been amazing to have the three of them join me and have the chance to experience the life that I live at this time. I just hoped they had enjoyed it even though they had all be ill at some point. The one thing that I was amazed at was how much weight andy had lost in just three weeks which almost equated to around 12kg.
Here is a picture of Andy if he had stayed for another 3 weeks.
As the day went on we decided to head out for our last supper and to reminisce over the last 3 weeks. They had all found it hard and so had I but to hear fondness in their voices and how much fun they had even when they weren’t well was amazing and I just hoped they would come and join me again as I head north. As the night drew to an end and a early start for them, we headed back leaving enough time for Andy to make a little money on the way home.
The last three weeks had been incredible and fun and made reasons for cycle touring with others much stronger. To have those moments of pain, sickness, sunsets, weather, animals, nature, fun and laughter even more precious. I felt lucky to have such great friends and next to come was Steve who would join me in climbing a mountain. I’m not sure who’s idea that was but the more I thought about it the more I worried. I just hoped above all we enjoyed it.
Thanks for reading xx