A Squiggly Path to La Paz

With the Salars still fresh in my mind it feels odd to be back on solid ground as I make my way out of Sabaya.  Sandy jeep track along the western edge of Cerro Pumari quickly transitions into an incessant creep of washboard even fat bikes struggle through, reminding me to be grateful for my previous stretch of smooth salty goodness.  

Pueblos of various sizes dot the remote tapestry of roads heading towards Sajama.  USA-1 hasn’t seen much action since the Nixon years.

I enter into some Pueblos wondering if any people are actually living there.  The smaller ones evidence a harsh simplicity but reminder that one only needs shelter, food and water to survive.

What looks like a promising shortcut brings back memories of New Mexico's mud fest. I beat a hasty retreat back to the main track and continue bouncing along.

Dotting the sparse landscape are a series of funeral monuments.  Typically constructed of mud brick with a small band of color ringing the top, these two polychromatic monuments or Chullpas Policromas stand out from the rest with their lavish ornamentation and coloration.

Laguna Macaya and several flocks of flamingos greet me at days end

as I stake out a spot in front of the church.  The irony is not lost as a string of profanities pour from my mouth while struggling to set up my tent in increasing winds and dropping temperatures.

With a full moon illuminating the night, I nod off praying the route's “waterboarding” is a thing of the past.

Out of Macaya, I split off from the main track as luxuriously smooth jeep track beckons me

up along the edge of the valley.  There’s more fresh water running through here than I’ve seen in a while as I pivot around Volcano Sajama in the distance.

I roll into the little pueblo of Chachacomani and the smell of the traditional almuerzo of chairo and aji amarillois are too much to resist.  Ingrid, the restaurant owner's daughter is all stares at a scruffy gringo eating amongst the locals.  She steals a piece of my heart, though, as she quickly gets over the novelty and sends me out of the plaza with about a dozen chaos and wavy little six-year old hands.

Over Abra de Chachacomani, I spy a steady stream of trucks crossing the border from Chile and opt to keep the rubber on ripio as I drop down into another tiny pueblo with its spectacular white-washed church visible from afar.

Who doesn't like bridges...

As I enter into Parque Nacional Sajama proper, Volcan Sajama, at a mere 6542m, comes into full splendor.

Sunday afternoon hoops in Sajama while the distinguished hatted mujeres keep a watchful eye on things.

After debating between entering back into Chile along Andesbybike's route or staying in Bolivia, I opt to give Bolivia its due knowing I'm leaving some spectacular scenery on the table across the border.  Bolivia feels like it's slipping by too quickly.  Oswaldo joins me with his dog Bronco on the way out of Sajama as he rides his Texxan fixie out to the thermals to do his laundry. We talk bikes and his country before he peels off after a hearty handshake.

Volcan Sajama fades into the distance slowly as tranquil ripio pulls me past more tiny pueblos a estancias.

After a small stint of pavement, I take a left outside of Churahuara de Carangas and climb up onto a bluff along jeep track following the edge of a canyon as the long shadows of the day play out below.

Elaine and Patricia greet me in Ulloma the following morning with gap-toothed smiles and hearty laughs as we shoot the breeze in the bright sun.

Pueblo Julla, which doesn't ever register on my GPS is a mini hardworking salar as locals mine it for salt out of sight of its cousins down south.

Francesco Rojos (seated) pulls me aside, wanting to know where the US stands relative to Chile/Bolivia border issues and a host of other world issues.  I Tarzan my way through it and explain that in no certain terms, Trump is an idiot.

The yellow grasses and big puffy skies remind me of Wyoming as I find a quiet spot to call home for the night on the outskirts of Corocoro.

The mining town of Corocoro has a slight Beyond the Thunderdoom vibe to with mining apparati spanning streets below and graffiti coming back into the mix.  It's a hard working town, but the locals welcome me into the main square with an extended fatbike hour.

I’d heard prior to entering into Bolivia that the locals are more reserved and a bit dour.  Slightly more shy than their southern neighbors, but definitely not dour.  The pride in their country and happiness that I'm experiencing it is evident through every gold laced, gap-toothed smile.

I roll through the last of its gritty streets and back out onto quiet back roads on a series of rollers outside of Caquiviri.

One last tiny estancia brings an abrupt transition from a few days of pastoral squiggling

towards the Blade Runner-esque city of La Paz.  

I approach La Paz from Viacha, which is a crazy mash-up of pastoral and urban.  A cement plant marks the end of tiny pueblos and the entry into town.  I follow a straight shot towards La Paz along an open water trench brimming with piles of garbage, kids playing in green stagnant water, and a small herd of sheep eating who knows what. Collective's run three deep as we negotiate bits of pavement and bits of gravelly ripio. Assuming I'm riding into the base of La Paz, I roll through the last of Viacha's last half-built barrios and turn a corner in awe at the TOP of the valley as La Paz proper spreads out below. A sight to behold.

Route: Sabaya to Sajama via Andes by Bike Route – Curahuara de Carangas – Ulloma – Corocoro – Caquiviri – Chama – Viacha – La Paz.