After eleven grueling weeks in the saddle traversing the treacherous freeways of Brazil, battling storms in Uruguay and searing heat in Paraguay, I sit here quite relieved to have popped out the other side of the infamous Chaco region in the heart of South America. The odometer reads a whopping 4525 carbon free kilometers as I write this blog from Santa Cruz de la Sierra in eastern Bolivia.
Rolling out of Asuncion 1300 km’s ago, I knew I was going to be up against one of the toughest challenges of the expedition in its entirety. The extreme heat, long distances between villages and the scarcity of water in the region during the dry season making it one of the most dangerous places on the continent to travel by bike. Tackling it solo and unsupported would be an experience I shall never forget.
The Chaco would consume me on so many levels, the physical demands of getting from watering hole to watering hole in extreme heat transforming the expedition from purely physical to somewhat of a spiritual experience as I rolled through this vast plain that spans Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia.
I reached the village of Mariscal where I would be stamped out of Paraguay. Spending the night camping at the immigration office, waking early to avoid the heat I rolled out of Mariscal heavily stocked with supplies as I ventured into a rather peculiar and unique stretch of the trip.
Officially stamped out of Paraguay with no Bolivian immigration office in site, I cycled into “no man’s land” a 300 km stretch of the Chaco where you are stamped out of one country but not yet into the next. A corridor of this desolate region that would take 3 days to traverse before I stumbled across a military outpost called Infanta Rivarola.
I spent the night at the military base still bemused by the fact that I had not yet been stamped into Bolivia. I would reach a shack in the bush near a village called Ibibobo a good 70 km’s on the Bolivian side of the border before I found an opportunity to get stamped into the country. A two hour affair as I battled with a corrupt border official that scrutinised my documents with a fine tooth comb before I was granted entry.
I was officially in Bolivia country number 4 on this 20 000 km intercontinental bicycle ride. The Bolivian section of the Chaco would rival its Paraguayan neighbour for beauty. The road leading north on route 9 through Villamontes and Camiri before finally rolling into Santa Cruz after 1300 km’s in 13 days in the Chaco. Arriving in this city of 1.5 million completely shattered and somewhat shell shocked going from the remote Chaco into the hustle and bustle of a vibrant Latin American city and once again having to navigate trucks buses and taxis.
The expedition heads west from here into the Andes mountain range towards La Paz at just under 4000 meters above sea level. Going from the Chaco plain to the Andes will require a shift in strategy and snakes and dehydration give way to altitude sickness and loss of breath as my new stumbling blocks.
The official CO2 reading after eleven weeks in the saddle is sitting on a rather scary 677 kg’s!