We stayed a week in San Pedro, where we were fortunate to find a room at the Casa de los Musicos, an interesting place run by Miguel Angel, possibly the world’s happiest man, and Brigitte, a French philosophy lecturer, author and anarchist song-lyric writer. We spent much of the time gazing at the volcanos off to the east, and the road up to the Bolivian border at Hito Cajon. It’s not often you set off one morning and can see the whole day’s road up ahead, but that was the case when we left San Pedro. 5 hours later we were nearly 1,750m above town, but only 37kms from it, when we decided to stop for the night. The road was reasonably busy, and as we crawled uphill at 4-5kph we were passed by numerous Paraguayan vehicles – either car transporters taking second hand cars to Asuncion, or cars jammed with goods bought in Iquique’s duty free zone.
We reached our turn off for the Bolivian lakes at 4,666m the next morning, and as we said goodbye to tarmac for the next month or so, the wind started to pick up. It remained strong for a further 4 days, which made our cycle to the base of Licancabur, and then our climb of it, more challenging that it would otherwise have been.
After climbing Licancabur we had a tough day cycling/pushing very slowly into the wind and through sand back to the main road and from there on to Polques. On the way we were passed (and coated in dust by) about 50 tourists jeeps, one of whose drivers delighted in telling me that England had lost 4-1 to Germany in the World Cup. I assumed he was joking. We limped into Polques just before dark, and before dinner enjoyed a blissful hour in the termas there, followed by a traumatic exit from the outdoor pools in subzero temperatures and a gale.
That night the wind stopped and we had great weather for the next 6 days to Ollague. As we were by now well acclimatized, getting over the 4,944m Paso Sol de Mañana to Laguna Colorada, and then two further 4,000m passes to Villamar and Avaroa, was easy enough. The roads weren’t in great shape, but we’d been expecting that – it wasn’t until our 8th day of cycling in Bolivia that either of us managed to reach the terrifyingly rapid speed of 25kph.
The disappearance of the wind brought a sharp fall in nighttime temperatures, and our coldest night of the trip so far was at Laguna Colorada where it was -20C at dawn. Fortunately we didn’t feel too cold that night, probably because we pitched our tent in a llama corral and were well insulated from the ground by a nice thick layer of llama shit.
Being back in Bolivia was a joy – lovely polite people, often shy but always super friendly, and the scenery was fantastic. Despite this we decided to make a last sortie to Chile by taking the road to Ollague and spending a few days in town before going and climbing Aucanquilcha, at 6,188m the highest we’ve ever been.
Days getting from San Pedro de Atacama to Ollague – 24
Distance – 422km
Time cycling – 51hr
Cycle days – 14
Rainy cycle days – 0
Maximum speeds – 60.3kph (H) (not sure how she managed this on a dirt road, but she did), 37.7kph (N)
Unpaved roads – 376km
Longest day – 59km
Punctures – 0
Total amount climbed – 7,337m
Maximum altitude reached – 5,130m (High point with bikes on Aucanquilcha)
Most climbed in one day – 1,734m
1000m+ climb days – 1
4,000m passes crossed – 5
Steepest climb – 19%
Number of cycle tourists we met – 1
Accommodation – 11 beds, 4 camps, 9 wild camps
Coldest temperature cycled in: -11C (leaving Polques, Bolivia)
Coldest temperature camped in: -20C (Laguna Colorada, Bolivia)
New Chilean beers drunk – Capital Pale Ale, Szot Pale Ale
Distance hiked – 28km
Days of hiking – 4
Ascent/Descent – 2,910m
Peaks we climbed – Aucanquilcha (6,188m)