Having reached the sanctuary of Santa Cruz in the eastern half of Bolivia, I bid farewell to the infamous Chaco and its searing heat. 1300 km’s in 13 days through this fearsome region in the heart of the Latin American continent. I was now looking forward to escaping temperatures that hovered in the forties and the barrage of terradactyl sized mosquitos that went with it.
Rolling west out of Santa Cruz, I set my sights on the next phase of the expedition. Little can prepare you for tackling the Andes mountain range solo on a bicycle whilst carrying all your worldly possessions. Luckily the road was kind leaving Santa Cruz and I was given 300 km to digest the rather daunting task before hitting the foothills near Villa Tunari. I had tackled a few big climbs in Borneo and Sumatra, what was an extra few thousand meters above sea level?
Leaving Villa Tunari early that morning knowing very well that by lunch time I would be breaking through new pain barriers as the foothills gave way to climbs that exceeded 35 km’s at gradients that permitted a pace no faster than 5-6 km’s an hour. I would be literally dragging myself, Little Ms. Sunshine and our 35 kg’s of survival gear up into mountain country.
By the end of day one in the mountains I had already reached a serious altitude of well over 2000m above sea level. Having battled rain and wind the entire day I welcomed the setting of the sun over a cloud covered mountain peak. I pitched my tent on a small gravel patch next to the road and passed out from sheer exhaustion.
Andean hospitality would be the order of the day as I was woken early the following morning by Eduardo and his wife. Invited into their humble home for a breakfast of potatoes, raw egg with chili topped off with whiskey and coca leaves. Day two in the mountains would be even slower than the first… It turns out whiskey, potatoes and coca leaves are not the optimum ingredients for a meal at 7am before tackling the Andes by bicycle.
The road snaked west through the mountains up to an altitude of 3200m before dropping into a valley which is home to the bustling town of Cochabamba. Once again rolling into town in need of a welder and some spares to alleviate the ever growing list of broken bits and pieces that are taking a real pounding from Latin American roads. It seems I am never more than a couple of days away from solving the next crisis and a broken aluminum rack and a temperamental camera were on the “fix it list” by the time I reached Cochabamba.
From Cochabamba the serious climbing begins, route 4 heads west through the Bolivian Andes reaching an altitude of around 4500m above sea level near la Cumbre. Breathing becoming laborious above 3500m as you gasp for air during the long grueling climbs that never seem to abate. I would get caught in a flash snow storm and forced to take shelter in a vacant classroom in a small school for the night. Sleeping on two desks pushed together to stay off the frozen concrete floor.
Dropping down from 4500m above sea level to the altiplano at about 3800 the last 150 km’s into La Paz were reasonably flat and seeing speeds in double figures on my odometer again helping to lift the spirits. Once again sporting my thermal gear that I had been cursing in the Chaco just weeks before, temperatures at night are seriously cold at this altitude and camping on the altiplano is a task in itself.
I would break the back rim descending onto the altiplano and hobbled into La Paz after 13 weeks in the saddle with a broken back rim and no back brakes. This blog comes to you from La Paz the highest capital city in the world as I battle the clock with my visa ticking away while I try to source spare parts for the bike and get the camera repaired before pushing on towards Peru, easier said than done it seems.
After 13 weeks in the saddle we ( myself and Little Ms. Sunshine my trusty bicycle) are sitting on 5475 carbon free km’s with the official CO2 reading sitting on 818.3 kg’s ( amount of CO2 that would have been emitted had this journey been done in an average sized American sedan). Fast approaching our first ton of carbon emissions saved!!!