Thirsty (La Paz to Oruro backdoor route)

The night before our departure, I might have had a bit too much to drink. We’d celebrated thanksgiving with some friends in La Paz, and I was a bit overzealous with my wine consumption. Sitting on the saddle, my mind went into autopilot mode as we rode south out of the city.

A short way out we bumped into Rodrigo, a Bolivian cyclist training for an upcoming competition. He invited us into his home for a coffee, and we discussed some good route options. He wasn’t sure if our route existed, and as we had just pieced it together from a few different sources we weren’t either. Still, we decided it was worth a try even if we needed to improvise a bit.

Merging off the asphalt onto a small dirt road, we passed through small towns and relatively lush farmlands. We’d descended almost 2000m in elevation from La Paz. Down here, things were warm and crops were in abundance. The contrasty scenery made for a nice change of pace. Large green expanses with small dusty roads running through, all surrounded by rocky peaks. We made camp in a dry river bed. It was the first time since we could remember where it was possible to sit out and watch the stars without freezing our asses off.

We were caught off guard the following day, we had neglected to pick up water assuming there would be ample along the way. Unfortunately, every river was dry and it was scorching hot. We had about 1800m to climb but we were so dehydrated that all we could do was to slowly push our bikes up and onwards. There was genuine worry in my mind that we were in trouble. Both dehydrated and exhausted we kept pushing and hoping for the best. Hours later, a single car passed and gave us a few liters of water. It felt like a gift from God. I wanted to give them a big hug, but I barely had time to say thanks before they were off.

After that, we were much more careful, although ironically the rest of the time we had no problems finding water sources. By the time we climbed up into the Cordillera Quimsa Cruz, there were lakes and streams around every bend. Even the beautiful dirt track into Caracollo was littered with farmhouses where I’m sure water would be easy to attain.

Bolivia is renowned for it’s Salars and Lagunas, both of which we’re very excited to ride. But it is a shame how cyclists have a tendency to blow through the north on the main highway. There are an astounding number of small dirt roads that can be networked to make an enjoyable ride. There are plenty of roads that I reckon have never seen any touring action.

ROUTE – La Paz – Tahuapalca – Cairoma – Rodeo – Caxata – Caracollo – Oruro

GPX file can be obtained here.

Hostel advise ORURO: Alojamiento Copacabana, Velasco Galvarro No 6352 (near the train starion). Courtyard, wifi, clean rooms (40 pesos pp, for what you get a very reasonable price in the city), even se urity cameras so your bikes are safe, and super nice staff (Rocky, whose uncle is the owner, and his American wife Celia and their kids recently moved here from the States).

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Rodrigo was skeptical that we would be able to get to Oruro from here, time would tell.

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A welcome greeting

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I think he’s figured out the key to a good healthy marriage

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Vote propaganda everywhere. You’d think it was Canada!

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We would see a town on our map, only to rock up and find it completely dead.

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Probably got distracted by Illimani.

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Camping in a river bed. In such a dry time it didn’t seem too risky. Near the low point of 1700m.

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Finally climbing back up, the Cordillera Real a lovely backdrop which lingers endlessly and cannot be outrun.

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Dehydration sets in pretty bad, and without water we look for any form of shade to be found. Unfortunately foliage is scarce so we have to make do with some pretty half assed attempts. Not a very happy camper here.

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Days after passing the base, Illimani still refuses to fade off in the distance.

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Back in a familiar climate. Strong winds push the temperatures down, and we bundle up in all our clothes to cycle over the 5140m pass. It’s the highest we’ve been and actually been able to ride our bikes, and belive me our lungs weren’t very happy with us.

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The downhill was a ripper, passing a couple of beautiful lagunas.

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Small mining town near one of the lagunas. Often it was quite difficult to tell if the towns were inhabited or not.

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2 thoughts on “Thirsty (La Paz to Oruro backdoor route)

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