Oh the humanity! Sensing an opportunity for immortality, Buff3y unpacks the bike and sets off up the A-135 desert road near the Peruvian border up towards the village of Putre (a 3,700 metre climb). Two days of climbing up this ugly little road and he is down to the last four litres of water and only 1,800 metres of climb with little or no prospect of getting any more water until over 3,000 metres (perhaps) and 50km more climbing. Discretion being the better part of valor, he turns back and resorts to the main highway, the truck heavy 110km route up to the village of Putre. Not a terribly auspicious start to the trip. Climbing is torture on trip-start legs and lungs gasping for air so I stay in Putre for a few days to recover my wits and try to acclimate.
The ‘Ruta Andina‘ starts in far northern Chile at the Peruvian border. It heads southwards skirting along the Chilean side of the border with Bolivia, at the elevation of the aliplano (3,500 metres) towards the Atacama desert. Along the way it takes a keen young adventure cyclist through some magnificent scenery dotted with lines of volcanoes, geysers, hot springs and dirt, lots of dirt.
Buff3y the Hardcore adventure cyclist joins the Ruta Andina at the Lago Chungara and heads south off onto the dirt track writing yet another exciting chapter in the epic that is Buff3y’s cycling adventures.
Churning over the washboards and sinking into the sand that passes for road in these parts of South America, for the first time in a long time. Testing the camping set up in a long abandoned stone mill house replete with the grinding stones, which sits not far off the smoldering volcano Guallatiri. This camp site is just across from a free flowing river so is the perfect camping spot.
The Salar de Surire is nothing in scale compared to its more famous salt plain cousins just over the Bolivia border but it is a pretty place none-the-less. Having the required number of flamingos and alpacas the track takes a wide curve around the salar mostly to avoid the salt extraction works on the western side. A pleasant feature of the area is a wonderful hot spring with rich fragrant sulfuric fumes fresh from the bowels of the earth. This is a national park and at the police check point I’m told that camping is not allowed, yet on arrival at the hot spring (Termas de Polloquere) there are some Dutch motorbike travelers camping so what the hell. Soaking in the piping hot water is just heavenly on tired legs.
Some lovely camping spots along the way and a few huts to set camp near to shelter from the afternoon wind blasts. Similarly Buff3y blasts his way towards the end of this section of the route and a decision as to whether to continue down the Andina on the Chile side towards Atacama and San Pedro de Atacama, or head across into Bolivia and ride the big salt plains (a nostalgic return after ten years). Nostalgia wins the day and it is off to the border to see if I can negotiate the intricacies of Bolivian border control requirements.
The border town of Colchane has the compulsory kilometre long line of trucks waiting to get across and on to La Paz in Bolivia. Buff3y wrestles through the immigration and emerges a couple of hours later stamped and officially in Bolivia once more.
There have been some requests for some Colombian backing music to the video productions to remind us all of the joys of bicycling in the Americas. Enjoy.