Cycling the high Andes

Our trip last year finished in Santiago so this year we found ourselves cycling out of the Santiago airport northbound for Cusco via northern Argentina, northern Chile, Bolivia and southern Peru. It was a challenging, fantastic trip using back roads where possible inspiried by the Andes by BIke website. Enjoy the posts below – displayed as always in reverse order

Machu Picchu – what a place

The biking was finished and it was time to become tourists – one can’t (or shouldn’t) visit Peru without visiting Machu Picchu – the famous Incan city. We opted for one of the cheaper tour options that would fit into 2 days. Day one was a 6hr mini bus drive over a very scenic 4300m pass (with muchas curvas – wouldn’t want a sensitive stomach for this one) and finishing with a very rough 1.5 hrs of unsealed, and hairy road with a driver who was rubbing his eyes and showing serious … Continued

Nailled on the final pass

We had one final pass between the Lago Titicaca watershed and the Cusco region. We spent a couple of days from where we left the lake till we crested the 4300m pass which had been a paved and easy gradient affair from the eastern side. Needless to say we were both pleased to get to the top as we are pretty knackered from not having a proper rest day in weeks – we have been on a tight schedule in order to reach Cusco and make the pilgrimage to Machuu Pichu before … Continued

The mythical Lago Titicaca

On our own again and heading into the last leg of our trip across the Bolivian border to Peru. From El Alto we had a day to reach the mythical Lago Titicaca – renowned for being the highest largest lake in the world. It sits at 3825m and it is big enough that it feels like we are cruising the shores of the sea. In fact sometimes we feel we could be on Banks Peninsula – but there is a huge range of mountains – the Cordillera Real that are in the … Continued

Time with amigos

Now is the dry season in Bolivia but tell the weather gods that! Our rain in the Yungas forced a bus ride up to the paved road that climbs over La Cumbre (4700m) to avoid the sticky wet mud. We got dropped off in Unduavi, a row of eating stalls and no accommodation until the 3 person road rescue team (combo of fire fighter/police and paramedic) took pity on us and let us use their spare room. The bus ride had been quite scary – narrow muddy roads, massiove drop offs, oncoming … Continued

Food glorious food…

Anyone who has cycled will know how important food is and the nice thing about cycle touring (as opposed to tramping) is that you can carry more food and you can (usually) buy more food on route. We have definately eaten well and in Bolivia esp. the food has way exceeded our expectations. A wee insight into our cullinary habits… Breakfast (desayuno) – when camping it is either cereal (but hard to get in Bolivia except in the form of bags of large popped maize (corn – jo´s fav), yoghurt, banana or … Continued

Yunga ing..

We have been in Bolivia for over 3 weeks now and for the first 2 weeks we were at a constant 3700m and our major foe/friend was the wind. To the east Bolivia drops steeply into a landscape not too dissimilar to the Nepalese foothills. There are less people living in the land and there are gravel/dirt roads zig zagging there way up and down the steep hillsides joining the pueblos. The rivers are too gorged to follow so typically the roads dive down 1000m to the river then back up the … Continued

From small town to big city

After finishing the last post in the wee town of Llica we hit the streets in search of food. Alan is rather partial to street food so we ended up partaking in 4 plates of deep fried papas fritas and chorizos lathered in mayo and tomato sauce.  A wee treat while we were joking with the local ladies about dirty but warm clothes (everyone asks how we find the cold)   was the appearance of three brass bands of the town hitting the road with children and adults carrying candle lanterns in … Continued

The incredible Salar de Uyuni

The greatest salar of them all is the Salar de Uyuni. East to west it is 150km and approx the same north to south. It is on everyones hit list on a visit to Bolivia and every cyclist wants to ride the sparkling white pristine flats. All the tourist towns within cooee of the Salar offer 4WD tours of 1-3 days and that is how most people experience the salar. After our rest day in Uyuni we had a short day to the town on the edge of the salt flats.It was … Continued

Flamingos, salars and more trains

Pays not to lose hope as you never know what it around the next corner and with cycle touring each day can be so different in so many ways. We left our train station camp (after a big breakfast in the cocina of course) and finally we had a day with no wind at the start and when we made a major turn to the east – our westerly started a blowing- yes today the wind is our friend not foe. It is all about perspective and what direction you are travelling! As … Continued

Nada de nada – nothing of nothing!

We left the tourist oasis of San Pedro de Atacama rested from 2 days off. It was a 1000m, 40km climb in good conditions before a 60km stretch (1100m descent) to Calama and we were optimistic we could do it in a day. We didn’t count on the westerly that picked up as we reached the pass. 40 gruelling km´s into the wind and the day fast disappearing with the last 20 looking like we would be cycling into the night so we flagged down a small utility and Juan the driver very kindly … Continued

Into Chile in a big rig

The alternative route to Chile was over Paso Jama. The border control boss showed us the shortcut to this paved route which would open before Paso Sico as it was a major border crossing. He assured us the 50km shortcut was undulating, and then it was a futher 50km of paved road to the border town of Pueblo Jama. We quickly got over the disapointment of changing routes and were excited about some tarseal roads. In our usual style we left Catua early (cold but worth it to beat the wind) and … Continued

The Polar blast

The hostel owner at San Antonio (de los slow internet – note have uploaded rest of photos to last post now) mentioned a polar blast but we listened more to his prediction that the weather was improving the next day. Lost in translation was the fact that 3 cold fronts had joined force and were about to hit. Maybe a good thing we didn’t fully understand as we may have not left the hostel. Instead we headed off early wondering if the grey skies meant a little rain later on. The wind … Continued

Highest Pass and no headaches

We were pretty pleased with ourselves to make it over the Abra el Acay with no problems and although tough we had no symptoms of altitude sickness. The pass is the highest road pass in the Americas (tho we hear rumors of possibly a competitor in Peru) From Cachi we had the most amazing ride up the valley to La Poma at 3000m. The river scenery and red adobe houses/farmlets were sublime and more spectacular than we expected. We even had a tail wind for the last stretch into the small pueblo … Continued

Sand,sun but no surf

Well the daily averages had to drop sometime and it is not due to altitude (yet) but sandy and undulating roads. We have worked out how to use the log function on Alans altimeter watch and though the villages we are staying at are 300 or 400m higher than the last, the daily height gains are usually at least double that. We have reached Cachi and tomorrow we will leave the traffic behind and start climbing more seriously to the high pass of Abra Acay at 4900. Because of our rapid ascent  … Continued

The end of the ´easy´ life

We have arrived in Cafayate – a place which for 3 weeks has seemed a looong way away. It is where we head to high ground and leave the paved roads behind. We will need to ´suck´ it in a bit more from here on in. No grand lunches at wineries (has happened once), no comfy chairs and family movies in the middle of the day (once also). We are excited, but in trepidation of 4900m passes and colder weather. So far it seems we are in eternal balmy autumn weather, no … Continued

Clocked our first thousand – Chilecito to Belen

We enjoyed our respite in Chilecito in a nice hostel. Our stay coincided with International Animal Day so struck some large groups of kids and dogs!. Visited the Cristi de Portugeza – impressive for its view over the town, and the landscaping of steps of varying cactii leading up to the top. We learnt never to believe the large lady at the tourism office when asked about how flat the road to the next town was. “planar carreterra” (flat road) was the reply – well obviously she has never biked to Pituil … Continued

Red rocks and a big hill

From Jachal we had a short day thru the Cienaga hills to a sweet, very Aussie like campsite – gums and dry ground. Next morning our early start was rewarded with a great sunrise on the rocks. We had a good descent to the plains and some very looooong straight roads. Neat to pass a posse of guachos who were travelling our way, for a similar distance but going a lot slower. Roads were very quiet – we have dropped from 2000 trucks a day before Mendoza to about 10 up these … Continued

Olivas desde los Dios (olives from the Gods)

Before we left San Juan we invested in a couple of small units of pepper spray – for the dogs – not that we have had any dogs chase us but that is probably one of biggest worries – so we are now armed with pepper spray – complete with invisible dye that shows up under IR when the dogs are brought in for questioning! From San Juan we had a lonely road to an intersection truck stop called Talacasto – the road climbed more than we expected but Talacasto was a … Continued

Avoiding the trucks

Sunday morning at the hostel we were woken before 6 with an  out of control drunk football team singing and banging pots. There are some aspects of Latin America we will never warm to and they usually happen between the hours of 11pm and 6am – when we are  trying to get some sleep! Timing was on our side with leaving Mendoza on a Sunday – this meant Route 40 (which we would be mostly following all the way north in Argentina) would be quiet and hopefully free of the big trucks. … Continued

Descent of the Andes to Mendoza

After a late night and camped at 2700m we both woke a bit seedy and waited for the sun to warm things up. This is not  a place for botanists (few trees) but is a geologist’s dream. The  colours and varieties of rock, scree, penitente and high mountains was stunning and we enjoyed our (mostly) downhill journey to Upsallata, 70km from our camp. Not far from the Frontera was the stunning Natural Bridge of the Incas – luckily in view of the road as we had no guide or even map at … Continued

Escape from Santiago airport and avoiding the prison

Our flight to Santiago was pretty painless and it was the middle of the day when we arrived so we reconstructed our bicis and following the map of a helpful airport worker we headed out into much hotter than unexpected  Chile (prob early 30’s). Escaping the airport confines was not easy and not wanting to go around in circles we lifted our bikes over a barrier and headed off on a tangent finally in the direction of Collina, 40 km to the north and seemed like the place to go for the … Continued

South America – Part 2..

Well it has been just over a year since our Patagonian journey and in two weeks we will be winging our way back to Santiago, Chile, for another 3 months exploring. What will be the same? same team – Alan, Jo and our old trek bikes same length of time – just under 3 months similar length journey – about 3,500km as the crow flies