The Lagoon Route - Bolivia

Please find the photos for this entry here: Google Album - The Lagoon Route - Bolivia

As we prepared to leave San Pedro Chile we all checked and re-checked our supplies. We each had ten days worth of food and two days of water. The crossing into Bolivia and the entrance to the lagoon route lay ahead and above us. We would then spend the next week crossing through the mountain passes before descending and getting to the next small town. This route had been almost a mythical entity to us since we set out. We had heard again and again from cyclists heading south that the Lagoon Route was the hardest part of their trips. Some had said they pushed their bikes and couldn't go more than a crawling pace. Others said that they had wept everyday. All three of us knew that this section would be a challenge, but none of us knew to what extent.

The largest challenge we knew to expect was the elevation. San Pedro de Atacama was at 8,000 ft and the highest point we would reach on the lagoon route would take us to 16,000. The first 30 miles or so of our ride would take us on a non stop climb to 15,000 ft and to the border crossing into Bolivia. We had to break the climb into three days of riding to limit how much altitude we would gain in a day, allowing our bodies to adjust safely. Our first day of climbing met us with the rising full moon (photo 1). The second day of climbing, just 6 km, but about 2,000 feet of elevation, set us up with a roadside camp with a view (photo 2).

After crossing the border, we would have a full week in the wind swept and desolate landscape of snow capped volcanic mountain passes and shallow mineral rich lagoons. An empty land with little life and inhospitable climate. A land stark in its lonely beauty. The dry dusty plains of volcanic destruction spreading bellow. We would find ourselves in a world that looked like it came out of a science fiction novel and we all felt like wandering visitors in this alien world. Our winding roads would be dirt and the winds fierce. This would be a test of how strong we had become and the conditions we had weathered over the past few months on the road (photos 3-6).

The first night in Bolivia was spent aside Laguna Blanca, before we'd continue on to Laguna Verde (photo 7) and to the thermal hot springs (photo 8). We decided to spend a couple nights at the hot springs, continuing to acclimate to our new environment. We'd also met Phil and Tara, a couple from the States also cycling the lagoon route. It was great to find solidarity in the struggles of altitude with Phil and Tara, and though we didn't see them after a couple days into the route, we were thankful to share stories over the daily spaghetti dinners served at a couple of the refugios (modest refuge type hotel on the route) (photo 9).

After resting at the hot springs for a couple of days we continued over the highest point of the lagoon route at around 16,000 ft (photos 10 and 11). The roads were worse than we'd seen yet, but we'd soon have a view of Laguna Colorada (photo 12) and descent that led us to our next night's sleep (thankfully inside, as the temperatures often dipped to around 5 degrees fahrenheit at night). The next morning, we took our time riding the perimeter of Laguna Colorada, making sure to spend a little time with the flamingos (photo 13). We reached the park border that day, and asked for help from the staff of a mining company at the border - again, kindness and generosity greeted us as we were met with a hot meal and beds to sleep in. The following several days took us to Uyuni, Bolivia where we rested for several days before continuing to the famed Salar de Uyuni. 

The biggest take away from the lagoon route was that the altitude hit us like a wave. A force weighing us down and dragging at our every movement. The only way to imagine it is to picture yourself trying to jog in chest high water. Then add a bad hangover with pounding headache and upset stomach. Spice that up with trying to breath through a straw after sprinting. If you feel like really getting it right you might put on some weights and blast a high powered fan in your face. It was a constant struggle just to breath at rest let alone while cycling. We had no choice but to push through the discomfort and venture onward and upward. See our desert bandit costumes to battle the sun and wind in photo 14 :)

Please find the photos for this entry here: Google Album - The Lagoon Route - Bolivia