Riding towards Crucero

Sabaya to Turco (Bolivian altiplano part 1)

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I am standing before a question of what road to take next. One option is to go back to Chile and ride nice national parks Volcán Isluga and Lauca with a highlight of Salar de Surire. The other option is sandy Bolivian altiplano. What would you choose?

May 29

In the morning I am mostly against the Chilean ride. There are good reasons for it. First of all, I do not know exactly where are good water sources (andesbybike.com does not cover this route). A beginning is supposedly quite sandy. Moreover, this is a lonely ride with no restocking options for a long time. Given the fact the the prevailing wind is north-west and that there might be snow or rain on the way, my brain tells me against this route while my heart just cries for the good views. Nevertheless, the problem resolves quickly in the morning as I cannot find any bread. It looks like they make it in the evening and it disappears rather quickly from the shops. In other words, Chilean ride is out of question. Actually, my original altiplano route (following Pikes' andesbybike.com) is out of question as well because the small villages on the way have very little to offer in terms of food. Instead, I am forced to go inland, towards Huachacalla.

But before I go I have (almost) king's breakfast -- the german expedition tour guide let's me finish the leftovers of their breakfast which means bread with butter, cheese, ham, honey, etc.

The road from Sabaya to Huachacalla is paved. Cemented to be precise. I expected some heavy traffic but I am delighted to find that there are only few cars passing by. Instead, I am left with a small climb with perfect views backwards.

Paved (cemented) road in Bolivia and without heavy traffic? Wow!
Road passes near the edge of Salar Coipasa
As usual there are Alpacas around
This must be quite an important stone that it has its own jacket
Looking back from a little climb reveals nice landscape

After a quick descent I find myself in Huachacalla in a local comedor. With a full stomach and a bit later a full sack of bread (but no cheese or salami) I am ready to change my plans again. Instead of taking the main paved route I plan to head to the north through small roads.

My plan starts with a steep (8%) 200 meters climb to 4000. During this I have a nice chance to see the flat altiplano. And some interesting rock/mountain. To my surprise, the road I am taking is a proper ripio road and not standard altiplano sandy monstrosity.

The weather is a bit gloomy but sometimes I can see the sun. Even the wind is lazy today which suits me well as I am heading back west for now.

Smooth altiplano to the east
Nice mountain/rock on the right
Top of the climb from Huachacalla

When I descent through a medium-sized village Machacamarca it is surprising to see some people just sitting around the plaza. The are quite talkative and after a quick chat I continue further down.

On the other hand, my next village Irupata seems to be peopleless. Besides a nice church at the plaza there is nothing around. So I decide it won't be a big problem to camp just a bit later after it.

Church at Irupata
A dramatic take on my campsite after Irupata

May 30

Ready to go
Snow-covered mountains towards the Chilean side

Today is a day of sightseeing traditional and now empty Bolivian villages. I am starting with Japon. This village is apparently habitated because I see a single old grandma (and before you ask, she doesn't look like being from Japan).

After Japon I turn off from the good ripio road into a sandy track. And as I go further the track gets sandier. In fact, I am forced to push a few short parts.

Next village on my way is Kente. Apart from a few ruins there is practically nothing here. But the ruins would provide nice wind-shielded camping spot if you happen to be passing by. In any case, at least I can see snow-covered mountains in the distance, including iconic volcano Sajama.

Break at Kente

My lunch stop is in Miraflores. This looks to be another empty village. Or maybe not. I can see one old car parked here but it is hard to say whether it works or not. And afterwards the real "fun" part of the route begins.

Lunch break at Miraflores
Road from Miraflores

First I need cross a river. As it doesn't look very shallow I am going to check it out without a bike. To my relief, it looks like the river is crossable. So I get back to my bike and push it through. Afterwards I am trying to un-freeze my legs. And check panniers -- the water went a bit above my axles and the bottom parts of the panniers were submerged for a while. And while normally I wouldn't bother as these are Ortliebs, they have a few small holes after my nasty fall in Patagonia.

Ford-checking
Sugar-coating melts off quickly once the Sun gets hands on it

The river crossing is just start of troubles though. Immediatelly afterwards I need to deal with wetlands. This is mostly easy but sometimes I need to figure out a good alternative to the road.

After fording a river I need to avoid some wetlands
Looking back at the river

After wetlands a next adventure begins. That is, if you can call pushing bike on a sand into a steep uphill an adventure. Fortunately, the segment is short and then I arrive to a small village of Iruni.

Iruni is another small village that looks peopleless. But there is a public and working water tap so I immediatelly fill my bottles.

Church at Iruni
A good reason to grab the breaks

The road fron Iruni isn't exactly good. There are many too sandy parts that I need to push. This somehow improves in a few kilometers as I near Villa Kkollu, another god-forgotten place in Bolivia.

The next parts is quite scenic. I am passing around a river, there is green grass, lots of birds (even something that looks like an ostrich). Of course, the good road cannot go forever and so I end up again pushing. Bike touring is sometimes about surprises. For example, when you see a lone person to cross the road in a middle of nothing. My guess is that (s)he went to a house I can see in a distance on a hill.

After some hard pushing I am rewarded by nice river looks
This must have been a very wild poop party
This part really made my day

I am finishing the day on a high note. After a particular pushing part which involved some sand dune I end up on a semi-salar. Unlike the salars I visited before, here there isn't a continuous salt cover. It's more like the salt was sprinkled on top. But the road finally gets a decent riding properties.

Because of all the pushing, in the evening I am quite behind my optimistic plan. But that doesn't matter. I just construct my tent on a flat part of this semi-salar.

Nice flat spot without any grass

May 31

The morning sky is totally cloudless. That is to say, the morning temperature is way below zero until the Sun shows itself (and even then). I am in a good mood as there is only about 30 kilometers left of this miserable road and then I should hit the main road which means no more sand.

Morning sky is totally clear
Iconic Sajama volcanoe

The 30 kilometers pass by sooner than I expected as the road is even better than I hoped. Unlike yesterday there aren't many sandy parts. Instead, there are herds of probably Alpacas.

The road is in much better condition than yesterday
Mountains and alpacas
Alpacas grazing

In Crucero, another small village, I find an old man with two boys. The grandpa is hard to understand but in the end I manage to do a business transaction. That is, get water. To my surprise, there isn't a water tap. Instead, we lower a bucket into pozo (water hole) and get back the important life liquid. After having satisfied my water needs I work on satisfying energy needs as well.

Llamas and Sajama? This is a must-have photo!

Afternoon kilometers are quick. As I join the main road I am surprised to see paving. It is apparently new and very smooth. And the fast speed is quite appreciated -- the views aren't the most exciting as I see only a few smaller mountains and flat altiplano. The only exception is some nice rock formations on my left.

Finally on a pavement. The views got worse though.
The road goes around some nice rock formations
I guess these were carved by sand
Zona arqueologica. Are these llamas really so old?
Shadows are lenghtening and I still have some distance before Turco...

In the evening I manage to finish in Turco just in time for the last rays of Sun to disappear. When I am trying to find a hospedaje a proactive old geezer tells me that I can go with him. The "hospedaje" turns out to be just a room in an old house. Not the best place ever (there are lots of old things lying around and a curious boy which just can't comprehend that people sometimes need privacy) but still better than just camping. I finish the evening by a good shopping (for Bolivia) and a usual Bolivian evening meal -- deep fried chicken.

Route

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Download simplified GPX of a route here

Stats by activity:

Activity Distance
(km)
Ascent
(km)
Pedal rotations
(thousands)
bike 166 0.8 41
Stats by day:
Date Distance
(km)
Ascent
(km)
Avg. temp
(moving, C)
May 29, 2017 50.5 0.46 16.0
May 30, 2017 42.6 0.09 13.2
May 31, 2017 73.2 0.22 19.2

Elevation data

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The next table is only for cycling activity.

Grade(%)Ascent (km)Descent(km)
< 2 135.4
< 4 5.9 6.2
< 6 2.1 1.8
< 8 1.3 1.1
< 10 0.7 0.2
≥ 10 0.2 0.1

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