The desert makes me sleep easier than usual, deeper than anywhere else and better on a whole. In fact, I go as tired to bed now as when I was cycling, which puzzles me. I hit the air mattress extremely satisfied, and it are especially those moments, when I lay down, that are the best of the day. Only rivaling with the moment of waking up. As I am equally eager to start exploring the surroundings of where my tent is.
We ride a low mileage of around 80 kilometer daily, we stop early enough so I can enjoy a fire, decently cooking and setting up my tent in daylight. We usually start riding at 11.00 in the morning. Though I lack, and miss, exercise, my knee which was hurting a bit back in Spain, is having no issues: all semi-older-age symptoms are gone.
The road surfaces can become loose, like fine beach sand, it makes us ride less. Eventually, the beauty is so stunning that it slows us further down. But first, the ‘Ruta del Desierto’ is well enough, until we make a turn towards a hot spring.
Our bags have found a steady place to be tied, they’re all in the right balance, place and function properly. So, all is fine on the motorbike-front.
We are moving towards the three areas I have pointed out to Geo with Reserva Nacional Las Vicuñas the one I have high expectations of.
When we enter Chile it is cold, dreaful, rainy. Yet, nothing better than a hot soup at such an entry. It is the best soup I ever had! We are in Colchane, where it reeks of piss and looks like overall hopelessness. With rain I can not make any food, since my only fuel, wood, is wet. We seek shelter in the only alojamiento available.
Needless to say, it’s drab. Though the border crossing went well. We received preferred treatment, were able to not wait in line. Filling in of temporary import-papers for the motorbike took only 30 minutes by a lady who was new in her job.
Geo starts to get tired of the altitude, where he sees mostly nothingness and lack of colors. Having diarrhea all the time and his chest grasping for air. The lack of physical strength. Bad night sleeps and cracked lips. The weakness of the vehicle, going up painstakingly slow and than down again. Losing all the precious gained meters in altitude for nothing. We are continuously worried that the Kenton gives up, any moment. But so far, it doesn’t. Miraculously so!
I love the altitude. I want to stay much longer. I think the beauty of altitude is the natural enthrallment. It’s certainly not our dripping noses. Geo has to point me often to a drop of clear snot dangling down my nose. We can not kiss, since our lips are hard, cracked and bleeding. Our tents are full of sand. We hardly have decent food, there are not many veggies yet there’s never a lack of pricey eggs and white flour. But despite all this, I do not want to move down. Down is for the common crowd.
Up is for the hard people, although altitude sicknesss can happen to the most fit ones. The ones with marbled hands, like us now. Up is for the one who does not avoid hardship, for the alpaca shepherds. Up is where life is felt.
Our Kenton can barely haul us over 4500 meter altitude. I prefer to get off and walk. Joseph, a Swiss man we meet at Baños Puchuldiza, is there with his fancy, immaculate, new and fashionable BMW motorbike. His clothes are BMW and his sunglasses must cost at least €500. He only has waterproof Orltieb’s. And he has the ability to make me jealous! I never knew I could be harboring such feelings towards a thing. But here I go…
I can’t resist asking which tent he carries. ‘Oh, uh… I don’t know?’ Joseph answers. I need to know, so I ask him which brand he has. ‘Oh, so… a Hilleberg!’ Geo and I sigh. Mine is at home, safely stowed away in a box.
Hotspring Puchuldiza is located in a stunning nature, unfortunately, the bath itself was cold as the narrow channel with boiling water had cooled down by the time it reached the bath. Geo and I are disappointed, we could have used a rinse.
People who do these routes, research it. We not. We are both not interested in sticking to previous plans (would we make them). We dislike plans. So, at a junction we decide. But it is difficult to decipher where gas stations are, or whether they exist at all. At this altitude one needs to know where food and gasoline is to be found. We were never planning to go to Chile in the first place. Can we ride the Reserva Nacional Las Vicuñas in December’s rainy and windy weather?
We are improvising daily with the Kenton which was never bought nor even manufactured for this sort of trip in the first place. We are improvising due to the harsh elements with our mediocre tents. We are improvising with the only fuel for cooking – wood.
I let Geo decide. Since he is the driver and never been here while I was in all these positions before. Besides, our love for each other is the driving force, not so much what we do or where we are. Well, to an extent, of course…
We are on it! On the ruta through Reserva Nacional Las Vicuñas. I am elated! This route I wanted to cycle but couldn’t; not with 30 kilograms of luggage and food. And here we are!
It goes way too fast for my liking!
Maybe the Kenton can break down here? I do not wish for it, since wishes can come true.
We stop in Mauque to get food. Very fresh eggs and tap water is all we can get from the only family still living there.
A police plies the route to check on ladrones who steal llamas and alpacas. We meet the police while we buy the 6 fresh eggs. The police are super friendly, shaking our hands, hugging and is behaving more like family members to the only family in town.
The officers inform us that Bolivians still use animals such as llamas and alpacas for cruel religious ritual
We are presented with unspoiled nature.
We are presented with unparalleled beauty.
And we are presented with steep uphills, loose sand where I get off and Geo has to push the Kenton motorbike while the motor runs. I feel sorry for him. Geo is weakened by the lack of oxygen and now has to run besides a motorbike, over loose earth. I see him hastily trying to keep up, occasionally stumbling over low, stiff vegetation. I follow in a slow pace by foot, panting and gulping in the surrounding.
At times we can not decipher the route, needing Maps.me and Google Maps and still get lost. Plus we end up on tracks which are incredible hard for a 150 cc motorbike at this altitude.
The high altitude is dreamlike. Is enchanting. Is buzzing with lightness in your head. Wants you to be there but in exchange you need to give back some oxygen. The high altitude is addictive, clarity befalls. Thoughts cease as the immaculate perfection soothes. The high altitude is barren, laden with colors and one does it for the very small things, to have gotten there, to pee in a starlite night with Milky Way overhead. Purity and simplicity mixed with hardship.
The stretch between the border of Chile to Arica took us only 5 days but due to the extreme beauty and therefor the load of photographs, I had to split post in two parts.
November 2019. Colchane, Baños Puchuldiza, Mauque, Reserva Nacional Las Vicuñas, Parque Nacional Volcán Isluga, Latarana, Salar de Surire.