Cycling the Bolivia Desert
When you ask someone about places to discover in Bolivia, they tell you about the singular andean city of La Paz, about the impressive Titicaca lake or about the extraterrestrial vibe of the salar de Uyuni.
Not a lot of them advise you on south Lipez, Bolivia though. I didn’t see why ? Because at first sight, it’s a beautiful region with pristine landscapes full of geysers, canyons and rainbow colored lakes.
But, indeed when you look closer, you might feel some hostility : the mountains are active volcanoes, the lakes are full of arsenic, copper or salt and, well.. you’re basically alone …
To give you an idea, the only place with drinkable water, for the first couple of days, is located in the crater of the Licancabur volcano (at 6000 meters a.s.l). Needless to say, you need to stock water beforehand, instead of doing a 2000 meters hike to drink.
There are no roads, only sand, rocks and snow, that’s why it was obviously funnier to go through it with a good ol’ road bicycle !
It took eleven days. And what a ride !
After camping the first night, on the chilean part, in the middle of what turned out to be a land mine field, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization of what was left to conquer.
It was, in all ways, bigger than I was.
Cycling in the sand means falling more or less thirty times per hours. At the end of the day, exhausted, sitting in your tent, your peaceful cocoon in the middle of this cold altiplano, the only thing you think about is a good meal and a good night sleep. So, when you devour this half cooked rice and cheap tomato sauce you’ve been carrying around for days, it tastes like heaven.
it’s a shame, though, that you don’t really have time to enjoy it. You eat it before it’s cold and you’re already falling asleep. The nights there are way too short.
Indeed, the cyclist worst enemy is the wind, which arrives right on time every afternoon and makes it impossible to stand on your bike very long.
So, I chose to deal with the cold instead of the wind : taking off with a frozen beard, in the middle of the night, when the Moon is still way too high in the sky, to travel as many kilometers as possible, through the calm of the desert.
But, there are, obviously, more upside than downside, to this adventure in Bolivia.
You get to see homes entirely made of salt, hordes of flamingos, a James Bond-like hotel hidden in the sand, and some incredibly kind quechua who will give you Llama soup if you do the dishes.
And you get to witness Nature back to its visceral simplicity and its geometrical complexity. As far as you can see, every component of the landscape is left to its natural shape, scent and colors.
So, one piece of advice, make sure to do it with one (or several) partner in crime, to share the effort but most importantly share the honor of crossing this legendary place in Bolivia.