Cycling days 216 to 219 - San Pedro to El Laco

Trip Start Apr 07, 2010
1
99
120
Trip End Jan 19, 2012


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Flag of Chile  , Antofagasta,
Sunday, October 23, 2011

Back into the high altitude misery and more dirt roads than we expected....


Day 217 (10/21/11): 70km

As we ride from our camp and pass immigration, we see at least 100 people in line – guess we'll take care of our exit stamp later! We go to the plaza and find Matt sitting there with his tire taken apart. He blew a tube, which was difficult to find a replacement for because he has nonstandard 29-inch wheels. He managed to buy two spares yesterday, but both of them just blew out before he added any weight to his bicycle. Poor Matt! Plan B is to go to another town by bus and hope he can find good tubes. Looks like he was meant to wait for Wisconsin Matt to make it to San Pedro de Atacama and join forces again.

Yannick and Shirley sit on a park bench and enjoy a last meal in town – fresh bread, butter and jam – before making our way to Argentina. Exit stamps at immigration go smoothly and we start riding East to Paso Sico. Around lunchtime, we stop for a break in Toconao where we sit under some trees and make sandwiches. We find a water spicket in the park and spend the next few hours washing the bike chains and wheels, doing laundry, and giving our hair a thorough shampooing. After doing a little grocery shopping, we head out of town with a slight tailwind.

We really enjoy Chile’s relaxed atmosphere, friendly people, and courteous drivers (no honking and always slowing down or switching lanes to pass!). At 6:30pm, the wind changes directions and increases in intensity – we have a hard time riding up the mellow hill against the wind, only going about 7kph. We are happy that the temperature is still nice and the wind is warm – makes sense since we are in the Atacama Desert, the driest desert in the world.

Today, we cross below The Tropic of Capricorn…officially out of the tropical zone. We ride until 7pm with plenty of daylight with the one-hour time change and find a sheltered place to set the tent behind a canyon wall. By 8pm, the wind dies down. With zero traffic going by and not even the sound of an insect buzzing, it is amazing how quiet it is out here.

Day 218 (10/22/11): 70km

It’s a warm morning and we happily start cycling without the need for leg warmers. As we get on the road, many tour groups pass by and we also see Chilean couples and families on their weekend excursions. Our struggle uphill is definitely slow going. We make it into Socaire at 11am and thought about eating in a restaurant until we find that an egg with bread costs $3 (1500 pesos) – we were buying that in Peru and Bolivia for about 40 cents! We pass on the restaurant meal and go to a tienda to buy raw ingredients and make our own pan con huevo on a park bench using our stove. We still get sticker shock to see that things here cost more than in the United States; we hope that it is just because we are far our in the desert.

After Socaire, the paved road turns into dirt and our uphill progress is even slower now – we started climbing since the moment we woke up and have been at it for over 40km. Along the way, we pass by a beautiful gorge with a running stream…and see people rock climbing! We stand and watch for a while, admiring the nice rock and make a mental note for the future, if we ever happen to come back to this area.

Soon, we reach a plateau and would be more appreciative of the flat ground if the road conditions didn’t deteriorate. Ugh, washboard and loose sand again. On top of that, it is colder at this higher altitude and the wind is picking up. We feel so drained. At 5:30pm, we start looking for camp, but nothing we see blocks the wind well enough. We keep moving against the wind and by 6:30pm, it’s too cold to push on. We settle for a flat spot in the wing and just hope it calms down after sunset like it did yesterday. Thankfully, it does calm down and we can sleep peacefully.

Day 219 (10/23/11): 47km

The power of the sun is incredible! We are nice and toasty as we have breakfast in the tent, but as soon as we step outside, the wind blows all of our warmth away. Does strong winds this early in the day mean hurricane force winds this afternoon? We sure hope not! As we bump along the washboard road, we admire the picturesque scenery. Soon, we come to Salar Aguas Calientes and are blown away by the beautiful colors. The water looks so green against the hills of red, white, and black. Further down the road, we arrive at Laguna Toyaita with its turquoise waters, making it almost look like we are in the Caribbean. We are amazed that the lagunas in SouthWest Bolivia pale in comparison the brilliant colors of what we’ve seen today.

A quick "lunch" break by the laguna in a windbreak, then we continue riding, still hungry even though we just ate. It is hard to satisfy our hunger when we don’t know how long our food has to last us…we are on rations yet again. The road curves around the mountains and the winds get stronger. We are having a really difficult time on the rotten roads and can’t keep the steering straight when a strong gust blows. The force of the wind becomes so intense that we are reduced to pushing our bicycles on a flat straightaway. We are glad when the road turns and we have the wind at our backs – it helps propel us up the hill to the next pass. When the road turns again though, we are pushed around like ragdolls – at one point, a gust forces Shirley into the sandy shoulder and slams her into the ground. Ugh, time for a little break – a couple cookies and we are ready for another beating.



Up another hill, around another mountain, and we come to El Laco, a mining camp. At first, we start to bypass the campamento, but then realize it would be a good idea to ask if we can fill up our water. Shirley walks over and is greeted by Alexis, who gladly fills up the bladder. He also says it’s no problem for her to buy some food from them and then convinces her it would be better if we just stayed the night because the wind should be calmer in the morning. Shirley returns to Yannick and the bikes, then pitches the idea to him. It doesn’t take much convincing – it’s already 4pm and it would just be another 2 hours (at most) of battling the wind and struggling to find a sheltered camp. Instead of being miserable, we walk the bikes to the camp where Alexis and Oscar welcome indoors, boil some water for us to wash up, invite us to have some coffee with them, and give us a room with beds to sleep in. Ah, we think we made a good choice. This is really nice.





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