Donnerstag, 1. Juli 2010

English Summary No. 5

So, yeah, we had to climb all the way up again from San Pedro to the Bolivian border. There is not much to say about that except hat it was one and a half day of hard work. We camped at the same spot as on the way down with Marlis and Matthias and picked up the honey we had hidden there as it is illegal to bring honey into Chile.

On our second day we reached the first refugio at Laguna Blanca shortly after midday and did a luggage-free tour around the laguna blanca and to the laguna verde. In the evening, as soon as the sun was gone it was freezing cold, even inside the house. The only warm place was, as always, inside our sleeping bags.

We got up very early on our third day in order to have enough time to make it to the termas. We didn't get far, though. Apparently, the gear changing cable in Flo's rohloff was frozen and when he tried to change gears it broke. We had a replacement cable but couldn't open the little box. So we went back to the refugio, hoping they could help us. But whatever tools they lent us, it didn't work. What we needed was a star-shaped screw driver. And we had one, but it was slightly too big. So Flo hat to hitch back to San Pedro de Atacama to go to the bicicleteria where they had that tool. That was lucky for Martina and me, we could sit in the sun an enjoy the day.

On morning no. 4 we made sure to be ready when Flo came back, what he did before 10 am. Shortly afterwards we were on our way again. After surrounding the Laguna Blanca we cycled through some kind of stone desert an then climbed a 4'700 m high pass. On the top we were overtaken by Alain, a cyclist from Montreal. The road down on the other side was very bumpy and slow but we made it to the termas in the late afternoon. To our delight all the Jeep tourists were gone when we went to enjoy the hot water together with Alain.

The next day, day no. 5 was going to get quite tough, we knew that. We had to climb the Sol de Mañana, a 4'950 m high pass and all against a strong, cold wind and on a bad road. Nasty. On a even worse "road" we arrived at the fumaroles, the geysirs. Fascinated, we spent a while watching the boiling mud and the steaming holes. As it was getting late and as we didn't believe in good camp spots on the way to come, we decided to stay there. It was a cold night, particularly because my matress was, as so often, leaking and I mostly slept on the hard, cold ground (Exped, thank you very much for that expensive high-quality matress).

Our day no. 6 began with a climb up to the highest point of the pass. There we followed a sign saying "Laguna Colorada". The quite good road turned into a strip made of snow and stones and made us curse againg and again. But after a while, this bad "road" turned into another quite good one. This was just one of several idiot turns on this route, because had we continued for a few hundred meters more, we would have stayed on the good road. But it wasn't the last bad cycling for the day. After speeding down to the Laguna Colorada, we had to turn again and this time got nearly stuck in deep sand. More cursing and some pushing, but we made it, accompanied by some snowflakes, to the next refugio, also a freezing cold place.

Day no. 7 was quite bad, we had to cycle uphill against very strong, very cold wind and the road was bad again. And we knew from our book that the desert after the hilltop wouldn't make things better for us. We had lunch near the Arbol de Piedra, some strange rock formation that provided protection against the wind. To our surprise, the road had been clearly visible and not as bad as expected and we didn't have to push our bikes at all. We did some eight or nine kilometers more and decided to camp close to some hills were the wind was a bit less strong.

Day no. 8 was even worse. We had had a snowstorm during the night and the road was all white and the wind even stronger than the day before. Instead of staying in our tents, we tried to get going but we had to push the bikes against the wind. After a short time, we were nearly frozen stiff, we decided to turn back to the refugio. At the Arbol de Piedra we took another break before going on through what had turned into a sandstorm. At the worst moments we could harly see two meters so dense was the sand. But it pushed us on and at the same time it penetrated into all our bags where we couldn't clean it all out until today.

After a lot of struggeling and falling over we made it back to the refugio. We had to stay there for two more night as the storm kept going even the next day. We just hang around and waited for a cear sky. And I plunged my mattress into a barrel of water (that served as toilet flush) and had my suspicion confirmed that it didn't have a hole but a leaking valve. Damn it. We weren't motivated at all to climb the same pass again but we didn't have a choice. To our surprise it was much easier this time without a storm trying to push us back down. Unfortunately, on the top of this pass was the limit of the national park and the road ended there. What was left were Jeep tracks in deep sand, utterly unsuitable for cycling. It was getting late again and we couldn't find a place to pitch our tents. All was flat and sandy. Finally, in some sort of narrow valley we found a spot just besides the road and put up the tents in semidarkness.

Morning no. 11 dawned and we "cylced" down on the other side of the pass. Although, you could hardly call that cycling as the road was so more like a stony riverbed and in some parts, we were not much faster than walking speed. But we made it down to the Laguna Ramaditas, Laguna Honda and finally Laguna Hedionda. There is a hotel at Laguna Hedionda, but it is rather expensive. But after not having had a shower for so long and still being covered in sand, it was very tempting. And we got the price down from USD 100 to USD 60 for the three of us, so ok. And their shower really was hot!

Day no. 12 was hard again. Not because of steep hills this time but because of, big surprise, an extremely bad stony and sandy "road". The only good thing there was that there were two more lagunas where we could observe flamingos. But as even bad things have an end, we finally turned into a nice, broad road where we could cycle normally for the first time for days. And it was going downhill. Again rather late in the afternoon we found a campsite, the last before the next village, San Juan.

Day no. 13 was one of the easiest days on the whole laguna route. First we went downhill, then all flat on the Salar Chiguana and not much wind all day. In the early afternoon, Koene and Lot, a Dutch cyclist couple, whom we had met in Punta Arenas, caught up with us. Later they sped on but we met again in San Juan where we chose the same hospedaje. They decided to travel with us for a few days.

Now, on day no. 14 we were finally approaching the Salar. We didn't know whether it would be possible to reach it in one day, but it was getting close. In the beginning the road was rather good, until we turned at a sign saying "ColchaK", where we had to go according to our book. It turned out to be another idiot turn. We went to the next village and asked for the right way. Then, following the directions headed for a hill where we had to push the bikes uphill in pairs it was so steep and rocky. Martina and I pushed them a while even on the way down, the path was so bad. But we made it down and after some time on a normal road we turned into the valley of ColchaK. This little town made us very happy because for the first time for two weeks we could buy fresh fruit and bread. Because of all the delay we had nearly run out of food and there had not been that much to buy in San Juan. We kept going for a few hours and found a very nice, reasonably priced salt hotel in a village called Villa Candelaria. We head dinner and breakfast there and felt like in heaven so good was their food.

Next morning, day no. 15, after nearly an hour on the same sandy, bumpy road as last day, we reached the Salar de Uyuni. We were fascinated like little children to ride on this huge flat, white surface. In the beginning it was rather rough, later in felt as smooth as a paved road. Like it was to be expected, a strong headwind came up around noon and made cycling hard even on such a good "road". We arrived at the Isla Incahuasi in mid afternoon, ate a Llama burger at the restaurant and spent the rest of the day exploring the island. As cyclists, we could sleep in the refugio on the island which had an awesome view on the salar.

On the last day of the laguna route we were supposed to have tailwind as the direction was nearly opposite of the day before. But of course, that would have been too good to be true. That day we never felt the slightest wind that could have pushed us in the direction of Uyuni. At least we had no headwind. This day we saw the infamous "ojos", water-filled holes in the salar which can eben be dangerous for Jeeps and Trucks when hit by night. The terrain after the salar was still flat, but it was a long day, nearly 95 km and the last 20 were on a not very good road. But we got to Uyuni and found a acceptable hotel where we also could wash the salt off our bikes.

We spent two days in Uyuni and then wanted to ride to Potosí. We didn't even make four kilometers when Martinas Pedal fell off. Some part of the axis was broken and couldn't be fixed. So we went to the bus terminal and took the next bus to Potosí. It would have been a nice but hard trip by bike, but with the bus we safed quite a few days and had more time to explore the old mining town. Potosí lies at an altitude of about 4'000 m and was founded 1545 by the Spanish when they discovered silver in the mountain Cerro Rico. Mining continues today but the huge amounts of silver are long since gone. We visited the mines and figured that working there must be extremely tough and the mineros risk their health by inhaling toxic asbestos dust created by drilling and blowing up the rock.

From Potosí, Flo and I cycled on while Martina took a bus to La Paz where she would await the remplacement part from Switzerland. The first few days after Potosí were a lot of up and down and we wondered when we would get to the famous plano part of the altiplano. Wild camping in this area wasn't easy as it is densly populated and apart from the soccer fields in the villages there is hardly a flat space to find. After three days we arrived in Challapata, a town at the beginning of the plano. There in a shop we met Ramiro, a very funny person. In his youth he was an athlete and ran 800 m. In 1979 he took part in the Universiade in Mexico City. Compared to other Bolivians he was quite educated (he knew Switerland is in Europe) and loved to tell stories and jokes.

From Challapata we made the 120 km to Oruro in only one day. That was a long day but the land there is so flat that we got bored within a few hours. Oruro would have been a place to stay a few days, but as Martina was waiting in La Paz we went on the next day. One wild camp and a night in some sort of basic refugio later, we stood on a little hill and looked down into smog-covered El Alto, the highest part of La Paz at an altitute of over 4'000 m.

Crossing through El Alto took nearly two hours and we were stuck in the traffic jam several times. As there are always not only cars and minibuses but also many people on the road, I got rather nervous whenever we couldn't go on. But we were lucky and made it to the highway with all our belongings. From a view point we took some pictures and then enjoyed the ride down into the city center. Martina had given us the address of the people she was staying with and to our suprise we found the place even without a city map.

In La Paz there is a casa de ciclista, run by Christian and Luisa. The Chuquiago Café is some sort of center to meet other cyclists and there are several houses where cyclists find very cheap accomodation, one of which is Luisa's house.

As we had to wait for the replacement parts from Switerland, we stayed about two weeks there. In the meantime we did a touristy bike-trip over the Death Road into the Yungas. We rented downhill bikes with a tour operator in order to get the feeling of full suspension bikes on this rough road. The full supension was cool, the bikes themselves were quite lousy and my hydraulic brakes didn't work properly during the firs two hours or so. Unfortunately, as we came further down there was a thick layer of clouds, so we didn't have much of a view into the deep abysses. This dirt road is supposed to be very dangerous as it is narrow, has many curves and is slippery when wet. Well, we didn't consider it dangerous at all, but it must have been different before the new paved road was built and all the traffic went through here. We spent one night in Coroico, a small town in the subtropical Yungas, then we took a bus back to La Paz.

Still, we had to wait for several more days. So we did a bus trip to Copacabana on the shores of Lago Titicaca. There we took a boat to the Isla del Sol, where we did a nice hike and had a great view of this immense blue lake and the cordillera real behind it. We spent the night in a rather run-down hostal and returned to Copacabana in the morning. We continued our trip to Puno, Peru, to visit Uros, the floating islands. That was very interessting, in particular the lesson about how to build an island, but also quite touristy.

Back in La Paz we got bad news. Ian, a Canadian cyclist who had also stayed in the casa de ciclista, had been hit by a car on his way to Coroico. He was in hospital with a bad concussion and this condition was not quite clear yet. So next morning Martina, Flo and I went to the hospital to visit Ian and to check whether he needed something. His face looked bad, but he seemed more or less ok and could leave the hospital in the evening.

Ian's leaving hospital was one good message, the other was that Martina's parts had arrived. There was still the issue with customs to sort out, but Christian, helpfull as he always was, took care of everything. A few days later we took our bus to Cusco. We couldn't ride that part because Flo had his flight on Jun 23 and there was not enough time left. We spent our last days exploring Cusco and some ruins close-by as well as the Inca museum.

June 23 arrived and I accompanied Flo to the airport. The same night, Martina returned to La Paz for about two weeks and I had to figure out what to do in the meantime. The next day, a big festival of the sun, the highes Inca god, took place in Cusco. In the Inca time it used to be on winter solstice and had the purpose of begging the sun, who was far away at that time, to come back to it's people. There was a lot of colourfull dancing, music and the Inca and his generals holding ceremonies to worship the sun.

Two days later I joined a 4-day trip into Manú National Park in the Amazonas. We left at 5.30 h in the morning as the way there was quite far. Along the way we visited pre-inca tombs and during some breaks we saw butterflies and the Cock-on-the-Rock, the peruvian natinal bird. The last twenty minutes were on boat on a river to reach our lodge where we arrived shortly before nightfall. In the next two days we did several hikes through the rainforest. It's incredible how many interesting species of plants, animals, birds and insects life there. What we saw most often were different kinds of ants, spiders, butterflies, some bugs and birds. Our guide seemed to know everything about everything that lives there. During a nightwalk we even saw the bright orange eyes of alligators reflect the light of our flashlights. We heard rats and monkeys call out but they kept well hidden.

All too soon we had to go back to Cusco. I've changed my hostel and stay now in a place with other cyclists from Holland and Australia. Also Chris, another Swiss cyclist we met in San Pedro de Atacama, is in Cusco right now, so I'm not alone anymore. Martina plans to be back in Cusco by next Thursday and then we will do Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu.

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