Off Track (Or on track) – Oruro to Sabaya

Gina and I were ecstatic about what the “altiplano” promised to bring. In our minds, the most difficult stuff was done with. After all, Peru was renowned for its intense climbs, and Bolivia for its “flat” high plains and salars albeit with rough roads. As we poured over our maps, it almost looked too easy. The ride out of Oruro did nothing to dispell this notion. Flat and straight, beginning with good quality asphalt which gradually deteriorated and began to transform into what I then thought was a “rough” dirt road. I remember making hasty remarks to Gina, speculating that maybe people complained about the road quality in Bolivia because they just hadn’t been forced to ride on dirt roads through other countries. While the dirt road to Curahuara never got all that bad, it was our turnoff going towards Sajama where I realized maybe, after all, I would have to swallow my words and admit I’d been a bit cocky.

The turnoff was near Challa. It would have been so easy to pass it if it hadn’t been for the GPS. The map assured us there was a road running directly towards the western flanks of Sajama. We began the ride on big slabs of rock and sand, and after a few hundred meters the distinctive shape of the road began to dissipate. The GPS was still indicating a road ahead, but with only pampa ahead of us we knew we’d been tricked. Still, there are bikes, and then there are fatbikes. We lined ourselves up with the so called “road” and plowed through the pampa. Dark skies set in overhead and the echoes of thunder surrounded us. We eyed the pampa and noticed a few fires burning in the near vicinity. Clearly having been started by lightning strikes, we turned it up a notch and pushed on to Tomarapi for a more protected camp. Our plans to ride around Sajama came to a quick halt as a park guard came by for a chat. Previously, cyclists had been allowed to pass freely through the park (or sometimes asked to pay 30 bolivianos, it’s a bit unclear), but two weeks ago a new law came out. Now every tourist passing through this 30km stretch of road is required to pay 100 bolivianos. Disappointed, we both decided it wasn’t worth paying this for a half day ride and looked for alternatives on our map.

The next morning we rode east, out of the park and towards the main highway. From there we branched off on a small track towards Sacabaya. A Sandy affair but actually quite fun with the oversized rubber we were rocking. But then, the corrugations started. The task of picking between soft sand and jarring corrugations was one which required hawk-eyed concentration. While still relatively enjoyable for us, I didn’t envy anyone riding any lesser of a bike. Now more than ever our relatively light rigs just seemed to make perfect sense. Onwards to Sabaya, we constantly improvised and hopped onto unmapped tracks with a reassuring feeling that no matter if the track continued or not, our tires would keep us afloat.

ROUTE – Oruro – Carahuara – Challa – Ojsani – Tomarapi – Cosapa – Wila Kkolki – Sabacaya – Bella Vista – Khea Kheani – Nekhechiripampa – Sahara

GPX track can be obtained here.

This route was supposed to be based on a route by The Pikes. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how one looks at it) I never bothered to cross reference the two routes… if I had, I would have seen in fact that barely any of our route corresponded with theirs.

If you’re not riding something with big tires this route had a good 150km of sand. And if you are riding a fatbike, just point yourself wherever you want to go and turn those cranks.

Also, mad respect for anyone pushing a heavy bike through these crazy roads. You are crazier than us!

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Rocky from the alojamiento Copacabana in Oruro gifted us with some old military rations he has lying around from his time serving in the US military. A variety of interesting meals to be greatly appreciated down the road. (The hotel is located near the train station and we highly recommend it; clean rooms, big courtyard and fast wifi)

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A boring asphalt road leads us out of oruro. The further we get, the more fragmented it gets and this equates to a more interesting ride.

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We ride through small settlements, each with their own seemingly abandoned and decaying church. Questions fly through my mind: do any of these actually operate?

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As we push on west, we find ourselves playing an endless game of hide and seek with the foul weather. I can’t help but worry that we may have pushed it a bit late to cross the salars.

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Gina’s one pair of shoes have held up to my three. Although, it’s probably near replacement time.

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Dry.

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Onwards to Caruauara, we still hadn’t come across the poor roads Bolivia is renowned for. Nothing much different than your average Peruvian road.

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A secondary road? Clearly the GPS had a very different definition than us. The turnoff near Challa was obviously not the route everyone else was taking.

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A true indicator that we were in a world of our own. But as we were having so much fun there was no reason to retrace our steps. Shortly thereafter we found ourselves on something a little more refined.

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Illusory bricks.

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Reminding us of Cotopaxi, Sajama was timid and refused to show her peak.

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Setting up for camp, still playing games with the weather. Would it f**k off already.

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Finally in the morning Sajama comes out of her shell. The highest point in Bolivia at 6542m. What a beaut.

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We finally got a taste of the legendary Bolivian roads. They were mostly a pleasure to ride on our wide rimmed stallions. Occasionally the corrugations did become a bit much.

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Our route had us cross Rio Sajama. Thankfully the rivers on the altiplano seem to move relatively slowly.

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Low pressures on a fatty provide a huge amount of traction and float. Perfect for our time here.

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Bolivia takes no prisoners. If you’re going to venture out in its remoteness you’d better be well prepared. Maybe he was riding 1.5’s…

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Pampa bashin’

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Our final approach into Sabaya. Desperately praying for hot food. Was I asking too much?

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