After three months on the altiplano we were missing trees, so decided to head east and down to the Yungas. First we had to cross Abra Tres Cruces, a magnificently placed pass cutting straight through the snow covered rocky peaks of the Tres Cruces range. From above the snowline we descended through sandy coloured rock, then eucalyptus and pine to Inquisivi. Everywhere around was green, wonderful green.
From Inquisivi we had our first view of a real yungas road: straight down in zigzags to a river, then straight up to a pass on the other side of the valley. This became the pattern for the following days – if we were up we knew we’d soon be heading down, and if we were down we knew we’d be in for a fun climb. Occasionally we’d reach a town perched on a ridge which reminded us of an Indian hillstation – Darjeeling or Mussoorie only with fewer cream teas, less rubbish and usually serving broaster chicken rather than momos.
After 5 days climbing and descending we decided we were ready for a real challenge. Spending the night at La Florida’s disused school at 1,650m we knew La Paz was within a day’s cycle, though the 4,671m pass of La Cumbre stood in the way. Leaving at first light at 06:00 to give ourselves the best chance of making it we climbed virtually non-stop for 55kms, arriving, dead in our saddles, at La Cumbre at 17:00. It was getting cold and dark so we quickly descended to La Paz and celebrated with a pizza. On the walk home Neil nearly fainted in the street. In 4 days we had climbed 8,600m, descended nearly as much, and were pooped, so an invite to Linda and Raul’s Casa de Ciclistas to sleep in a comfy bed, have our first decent shower in months and hear about life in Bolivia was a real treat.
After recovering from the South Yungas we headed into the North Yungas. We expected it to be much the same, but were to be surprised. The North was far more exploited, and though there were still huge areas of pristine forest, there were also large sections that had been cleared to grow bananas or coca, or to graze cattle. It was the burning season before the rains arrived, so every day we cycled past fires or patches of smouldering land, just waiting for some coca to be planted. We later read in a magazine that of the 13m hectares of jungle that will be cleared in the world this year, 700,000 are in Bolivia. It was enough to make any conservationist cry.
Between the towns of Guanay, Mapiri and Consata we were in a hot, bug infested world that neither of us found very appealing. Many of Harriet’s days were spoilt by the torment of biting insects, while many of Neil’s were spoilt by Haz’s resulting foul moods. The locals lived off growing coca and panning for gold in the rivers, and were much less conservative than on the altiplano. Far more comments were directed our way as we sweated past – most of the time it was an encouraging ‘Bravo’, but often it was an annoying ‘Gringo! Gringo!’ while a couple of times we were shocked to be sworn at!
Added to this, for the few days after Guanay the road was one of the toughest we’ve ever cycled. The surface was regularly bad, and the inclines were insane. 20% slopes seemed to come along all too often, and on a number of occasions we climbed for kms at a time at an average of 10%. It was hard work, and little wonder that many of the locals clearly thought we were loco.
We made it to touristy Sorata and from there it wasn’t too hard a crawl back up to the Altiplano and the shores of Titicaca. We felt like we were home again, though our ‘home’ for a few nights in Achacachi turned out to be a hospedaje-cum-funeral parlour!
Days getting from Eucaliptus to Achacachi – 29
Distance – 1,041km
Time cycling – 106hr
Average speed – 9.8kph
Cycle days – 17
Rainy cycle days – 1
Maximum speeds – 59.1kph (H), 58.2kph (N)
Unpaved roads – 801km
Longest day – 92.58km
Punctures – 1H(10), 0N(8)
Total amount climbed – 24,709m
Maximum altitude reached – 4,729m
Most climbed in one day – 3,178m! (nearly killed Neil)
1000m+ climb days – 13 (of which 11 were over 1,500m)
4,000m passes crossed – 4
Steepest climb – 22%
Number of cycle tourists we met – 1 (Michael from Leeds)
Accommodation – 22 beds, 0 camps, 11 wild camps
Hottest temperature cycled in: 38C (climbing 20% hills near Guanay – nearly killed both of us)
New Bolivian beers drunk – none (very poor, I know)