Flamingo

Peine to San Pedro de Atacama

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This should have been story about me crossing to Argentina via solitary Paso Socompa. However, as the title of the post says I went directly to San Pedro.

May 6

During the night I can't really sleep as I have a bad feeling about my upcoming Socompa ride. Yesterday's forecast promised 4 good days and then 3-4 super-windy days. Plus it looks like it will snow in the passes during the windy craziness. As the ride through Socompa is 5 days and the last day is on the open Salar de Arizaro, I am quite worried. Especially, this could turn into a big disaster if I delay somewhere for some reason. Finally, this would basically hold me down in a small Argentinian village for two-three days.

As the early-morning forecast only slightly worsens, I am making a tactical decision to withdraw. I briefly consider taking a shorter version through Paso Sico and then back through Paso Jama but I would still be grounded in Catua for three days. Given the fact that I have a camera to worry about, it is better to go to San Pedro de Atacama and try to settle things there until the crazy weather passes.

My morning departure just confirms that my decision was correct -- for some reason all the (few) shops that sell bread are just closed. Fortunately, I am coming across Ariel and Maria (the hospedaje owner) and they are willing to give me 2 pieces of bread so that I don't die from hunger.

View from Peine
The road is mostly flat
Bike and Volcán Pular

My plan for the next two days is thus simply go to San Pedro and on a way stop by touristy Laguna Chaxa. On the road I am meeting a bunch of donkeys. Afterwards the vistas get more green with a grass. On the junction to Socaire I eat my two pieces of bread for the lunch. It is only 35 kilometers more on a flat roa to Laguna Chaxa.

Colored hills on the right
Donkeys
Volcanoes on the way to Argentina

At Laguna Chaxa I need to pay an entry fee. Afterwards I can finally see the salty lagoon. But that is not the main attraction -- people are heading here to see Flamingoes feeding on a brine shrimp.

Even more colors
Biking towards Laguna Chaxa
First view of the lagoon

These majestic pink-colored birds are quite unfazed by the observers and just slowly walk through the lagoon picking up their food.

Unfazed flamingoes
They really are pink
A rare moment when the owner doesn't hide like an ostrich
And yes, they sometimes even stand on one foot

Apart from Flamingoes, the laguna hosts other wildlife. There are a few more species of birds. And very lazy and slow lizards/salamanders/whatever it is. I was however quite lucky timing my arrival here. After a few good solitary moments looking at this beauty a big bunch of turists arrive.

Flamingoes aren't the only birds around here
Flamingoes feed on a brine shrimp which apparently likes the very salty waters of this lagoon
Lazy lizard
Salt & sky
This place is really alive with birds

In the evening I setup my camp near the access road to the lagoon. There is a (a bit dusty) machine-leveled place just off the road. I enjoy the last rays of Sun while preparing a dinner and then head off to the world of dreams.

May 7

Today is a really easy day. I only have something over 50 flat kilometers to San Pedro.

Packed and ready to go ...
... just to take more pictures of my bike
The majestic volcanoes

I make a pit stop in a small village of Toconao. From there the views are quite improving. I am passing by a nice oasis. Afterwards the desert turns into vivid yellow grasses.

Volcán Licancabur. And yes, this photo is taken level. I will have a chance to attest this in a few days as the steep road to Paso Jama and Bolivia goes in front of the volcano.
Stream flowing through Toconao
More donkeys

As I have a lot of time, I am deciding on a detour to Laguna Cejar. This however turns out to be a tourist trap. You can enter the lagoon and take a bath in a super-salty water. However, paying ~20 Eur for this is a bit too much. And they don't allow me to just go and take pictures. So I turn back and head for San Pedro. And while I don't have much of a remaning distance, a headwind picks up and I am slowly struggling to finish the job.

Green oasis of Tambillo
The views turn golden before San Pedro
Seriously. This should have been a desert!
Bike, Licancabur and Juriques

May 8

In San Pedro I originally wanted to just laze around. But meeting people from hostel shows me some good sightseeing possibilities. I am planning to do two things -- visit Valle de la Luna and Valle de la Muerte. Both are a short cycling distance from the town and both promise good views.

In the morning I am heading towards Valle de la Muerte. On my way I pass by a Coyote lookout of Valle de la Luna and the views are very nice. I plan to visit the valley itself in the evening.

Views from Coyote lookout down to Valle de la Luna
Erosion makes for wonderful vistas
Salty deposits shine on the Sun
You can't see it on the photo but I am standing on a ridge of a rather deep cliff

Valle de la Muerte is supposedly a paid attraction. But another Slovak, actually Peter too, scouted a way to avoid this. A very good way indeed -- instead of going down to the valley, there is an impressive cliff the top of which you can (mostly) ride. And it has all the views down to the Valle de la Muerte. I even spot Guanaco/Vicuña here.

Valle de la Muerte
The erosion towers are just unforgettable
A silent observer
A bit shy though

On a very steep downhill I am meeting a bunch of people with bikes. They look defeated so I am trying to convince them that the few more meters of pushing are really worth it. And they come through an old tunnel I did not know about and leads back to San Pedro. What a fun morning.

Above valle de la Muerte. Biking with this setup is much much easier than my usual heavy load.
Doing a precise topographic map of this must be a nightmare
Green valley below

Because I still have some time, I am choosing to make a short detour to the church of Saint Isidor. Unfortunately, this turns out to be a red herring -- the road to the church is apparently private. In a decision to see at least something, I quickly scout that there are also some Inca ruins just a bit uphill from the road. They aren't much impressive though and I am actually a bit skeptical about them being built by Incas.

A short detour in the valley
Quick hike towards some ruins
Supposed Inca ruinas

The detour has a fun part two. There is a sizeable river I need to ford. Actually, I need to do it twice because I am returning the same way. It's time to get wet...

Fording a river

In the evening I am going to visit Valle de la Luna. This is together with Peter (the other Slovak guy) and his friend. So we cycle towards the entrance and then few more kilometers to the vista points. I don't exactly know why Valle de la Luna is called like that. Maybe it is because of the salty deposits which make it look quite white. In either case, the views are superb.

My biking companions to Valle de la Luna
A short steep uphill. Without my usual heavy setup I quickly dealt with it
It is a bit surprising to find here a real sand dune
Sugar-coated hills

We visit one vista point, pass by a sand dune and then head for our sunset watching spot.

A quick walk before continuing to our sunset-watching spot
Shadows are slowly lenghtening

There we have a bit of a talk with park ranger which explains to us that the access road to the spot is too dangerous without a light but we pay no heed and climb to the top. There we watch an amazing sunset and a full moon to finish the impression of Valle de la Luna.

Amazing cliff
The steep walk from the parking lot down below was definitely worth it
Catching last rays of the Sun
Valle de la Luna wouldn't really do without seeing Luna

After the sunset we quickly get back to our bikes. The ranger wasn't really having idle talk about about the trail. In the night this would be really dangerous. After descending the steep trail we rejoin our bikes and start returning to San Pedro. The post-sunset views of Valle de la Luna are still good though in a time the blackness envelops us.

And now we need to quickly go back to San Pedro
Although I am slowed down by frequent photographic opportunities

May 9 - May 12

For the next four days I am just lazying around. For one, I need to catch up at least a bit with the blog. I also work hardly on getting a replacement camera. In the end I figured out that my best bet in terms of money and delivery time is buying an used camera body. This I promptly try. Unfortunately the sender doesn't really want to send it with the payment on delivery. As an alternative, I try to pay by a card. From what I heard on the internet, this isn't really working for non-Chilean cards though. So it gets me worried when the payment is blocked in the state of processing. Fortunately, after a day or so they let the payment through and the camera is shipped by an express.

In the meantime, I am scouting bike shops in San Pedro. There are two of them and unfortunately they don't have new tyres of the size I want. As I don't expect seeing any decent bike shop until La Paz which is a good few thousands kilometers away, I definitely need one. Thus on May 11 I am taking a bus to Calama -- a rather big town in the desert. There I am getting all I need with a bonus of some fancy food supplies (yay, no more tuna!). The only problem is returning to San Pedro. I spend a good few hours waiting for a bus which goes that way.

The next day I am finally getting my new camera. After a few quick tests, I am quite happy. Now I just need to see the post office to ship my broken camera home and send a bunch of postcards. Afterwards it is time to change my chain, replace a back tyre and me and my bike is ready for a Bolivian adventure. Which is exactly on time as the storm-force wind from past days should slowly subside tomorrow.

Finally, San Pedro is also a good cycling basecamp. I am meeting here two old aquitances -- -- A Swiss guy who I met in Guanta. He was planning to go up Agua Negra pass. And a Brazilian I met when I was going towards Cristo Redentor pass. Plus, in two days I will meet another old star.

Route

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Download simplified GPX of a route here

Stats by activity:

Activity Distance
(km)
Ascent
(km)
Pedal rotations
(thousands)
bike 267 1.1 46
hike 4 0.1 -
stroll 2 0.0 -
Stats by day:
Date Distance
(km)
Ascent
(km)
Avg. temp
(moving, C)
May 5, 2017 72.2 0.23 26.2
May 6, 2017 67.4 0.05 29.1
May 7, 2017 67.2 0.28 21.9
May 8, 2017 65.0 0.72 20.1

Elevation data

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(drag over a region to zoom in, right-click reset)

The next table is only for cycling activity.

Grade(%)Ascent (km)Descent(km)
< 2 212.9
< 4 11.7 7.5
< 6 2.3 4.5
< 8 2.5 2.3
< 10 0.3 1.5
≥ 10 1.1 2.6

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