After luxuriating in San Pedro de Atacama, Nico and I climb 2300m back up towards Bolivia’s Altiplano with all eyes on the fabled Lagunas Route.
This route in particular has long been in the back of my mind, marveling at the pictures and descriptions from Mike and Cass that made the rounds on my office desktop nearly a year ago.
I drop a load of gringo cash onto the immigration table and Nico and I offer up BOLIVIA cheers to the smiles of the Bolivian jeep tour guides as we take the first crank turns on new soil.
As we enter Eduardo Avarao National Park, Laguna Verde and Laguna Blanco greet us immediately with their turquoise waters under nearly perfectly clear skies.
Whisked up and over the first pass with the help of a stout tailwind and epic scenery,
we are deposited at Laguna Chalviri where the local restaurant offers us a spot on the floor protected from the dropping temps and a soak in their thermal pool across the way. Not bad Bolivia, not bad at all.
The following day offers no such luxuries as we climb up into the rarified air of Sol de Mañana (4950m), buffeted by freezing winds.
There’s a quote in The Emerald Mile about finding the perfect seam of water when running the Grand Canyon. A seam that will wisk you through the rapids and deliever you unscatched onto the other side until the next set. With jeep tracks from 4x4 tours creating a ridiculous amount of washboard, the Lagunas Route is all about finding the seam.
We roll along the edge of Laguna Colorado as light begins to fade. Salty pinks, rudy sands and whites swirl together as one.
The first round of Bolvian fatbike hour brings out the whole refugio crew before we shut it down for the day.
If there's one truth to the Lagunas Route it's that fatbikes don’t push. Other than one handlebar smashing, Nico’s perseverance is admirable, to say the least, as we sluice through sandy washboard as far as the eye can see.
We spend the night at 4600m as temps drop quickly. The morning opens with near frost bite temperatures, but feet warm quickly as we pick the wrong jeep track and hike-a-bike up and over some sandy arroyos to get back on route. The afternoon stretch of hardpack towards Laguna Honda comes as a welcome relief.
Even in “it will be just ok” lighting conditions, Laguna Honda is magical.
Let's throw in a few flamingos to make it even more spectacular – Laguna Hedionda.
The day also marks Pops Mulder's 80th or 30-50: the soul of a 30 year old with the body of a 50 year old. Nice work Pops. Celebrations will continue for sure once the wheels come to a stop.
The following day brings us up and over the last two passes as we leave the Lagunas proper
and drop onto a salar and pick up a set of tracks into Chiguana.
As we hit the edge of the “town” it’s a bit surreal. An old cemetery marks the front door, followed quickly by a stretch of abandoned buildings moaning in the wind that are slowly being engulfed with windswept soils. At the far end stands a military base and the only sign of life in the entire expanse. They are gracious enough to give us a spot out of the bone chilling winds in one of the camouflaged domes for the night.
Out on the salar the following morning, the riding feels criminally easy and meditative.
We make a brief stop in the fruit-less, pan-less, and queso-less pueblo of San Juan, pick up a Coke and a Snickers and make quick time over to Rio Grande
where we straight shot it out along the rails.
Our abandoned castle for the night.
More rail riding brings us, sadly, to the Cemeterio del Tren on the leading edge of Uyuni. Sadly, not because of the rusting steel carcasses of times gone by, but because it marks the end of one of the most insanely beautiful highlights of the trip thus far. The Lagunas Route is, in a word, Justice!
Hats-off to Nico for grinding it out on his 1.75” wide tired Zenith. Enjoy the warmer temps and easier cruising on the other side of the border. Gracias por todos, Amigo!