Bolivia is not exactly known for being the best cycling country in the world. Or you cycle on the endless sleep-inducing Altiplano, or you cycle on really really bad dirt roads. None of this is very appealing to us, still we had big plans. But they already changed 10 km after crossing the border.
– stunning lagunas and volcanoes when you enter Bolivia –
The south west of Bolivia is extremely pretty: the National Park Eduardo Avorao has some of the most out-of-this world landscape, with snowy volcanoes and lagunas in the most bizarre colours. You can see wild flamingos and you exit it via the famous Salar de Uyuni. There’s a notorious cycle route going through the park, called the Ruta de Lagunas. This ruta is pretty challenging, due to extreme bad road conditions, the high altitude, the strong headwind and freezing nights, and the lack of inhabitants (read, no shops and hardly any places to stay for about a week). Still, after 8 months on the bike, we tought we were as trained as ever possible to make this beautiful expedition a success. Albeit with some doubts whether it was not too demanding and slightly out of our reach: a rough route is one thing, but not being able to recover at night in a warm bed or be secured of enough water and food, is another.
But OK, we decided to go. And so we entered Bolivia via the National Park. And then I got a lumbago. And the next day (after a night in an ice cold refugio) I got a sore and infected throat. And then it started hailing.
Maybe our worries upfront were not that exagerated. And the body was giving signs that the mind maybe didn’t want to listen to.
After a rest day in the ice cold refugio, it was still hailing. And the back and throat weren’t improving. The guts started protesting too. And homesickness found its way to my mind. No way we’d start our expedition like this. It was hard to accept, as we were at the start of one stunning ride. But it was time to listen to the body, rest and take a break from the bike. Somewhat longer than the regular day off.
A long day’s ride in a jeep with the bikes on the roof and we were in Uyuni city, checked into a hotel and stayed for a few days of recovering.
– seeing nothing but 4WD cars in the National Park confirmed our feeling. This is one remote and rough ride –
Still the Salar de Uyuni was lurking. We definitely want to cycle that one. The salt flat is over 100km wide and the biggest in the world. You can cross it completely. Or you can cycle 10km into it, and have the feeling of having the world for your own too. So that’s what we did, put up our tent, and enjoyed a very special night.
– Camping on the magical Salar de Uyuni. For sure we weren’t the only ones around, still there was enough space to have the feeling. –
The next day, while cycling back, we were chased by a dog (the daily struggle of every cyclist) and Dave fell. Some serious abrasions meant another hick-up in our cycling life. His knee suffered worst, and so we were forced once again into some more rest. After a busride to La Paz, we checked into a cute little campspot and hung out there for a week. Taking Spanish lessons, discovering the crazy city of La Paz, and just being lazy.
It did both of us very very well.
Being off the bike did well. Doing something else or not too much at all did well. No daily planning on where to cycle, sleep or eat did well. Being around the same people for a few days did well. Doing an organised tour to the Amazon did well.
– the Amazon is definitely worth a visit too. So different from the South America we’ve seen so far –
All in all we did not cycle for over 3 weeks (with exception of the 50 kms on and off the Salar de Uyuni). And I believe we accidentally picked out the best country for this break. Maybe some cyclist like cycling here. But it just isn’t my cup of tea. It’s too strenuous. Still I have the highest admiration for those cyclist crossing the National Park.
Even after all these months, I’m still a Sunday cyclist just looking for some smooth roads and lots of sunny terraces to go for a drink. And that’s just fine. Dave on the other side still gets a kick from strengtening his leg muscles and endurance. He’s getting more and more addicted to feeling fit. And that’s fine too.
And when it comes to homesickness, we’re a little bit different too. I’ve had numerous moments of these feelings over the last year, while I’ve never suffered from it before. Meanwhile Dave hasn’t had it at all. Chances are he’ll have ‘travelsickness’ when we get home in August.
So maybe one day Dave will be back in Bolivia with another bike set-up and other cycle partners to cross the National Park. In the meanwhile I’ll be enjoying our sunny terrace. Did I already mention you really get to know yourself better during a gap year?