La Paz to Huancane: The High Road

After a few days milling about in La Paz after the Yungas Tour, I clean up and get ready to head for Peru.

And look who the cat dragged in... None other than young Flavia who decides to actually ride her bike and stop making beaded goods in the plazas of northern Argentina to sell to well feed gringos. We muscle up the diesel fumed Autopista out of La Paz into the chaotic streets of El Alto before we find some quiet ripio taking us in the heart of Batellas for the night and a perch overlooking a slice of Lago Titicaca.  

A rag-tag local militia hones in on my headlamp and is at first not too fond of our campsite. The youngest appears out of the darkness and tells us to put our hands on our heads and gestures with his pocket like he's got a gun.  Two other men and two women arrive a few steps behind and everyone relaxes a bit when they discover just two tired cyclists catching-up over bread and cheese sandwiches.

At a nondescript intersection before Huarina the 'reunion tour' comes to an end.  Flavia opts for the low road via Copacabana, and I head back up into thinner air towards Sorata with a fresh set of GPS tracks from a route Cass and Michael, one of the Dammer brothers, did earlier in the month following the spine of the Cordilleras north.  The gentle climb up from Achacachi brings Nevada Llampu into the forefront.

Rocketing down the back side of the pass, I screech to a halt and turn onto a sandy jeep track barely wide enough for one vehicle.  Two girls waiting at the intersection look at me questioningly as if to say hey man, gringos don't turn here. Cutting through dense overgrowth the road has a Yungas like feel as it drops down deeper and deeper towards a river slicing through the bottom of the valley.

I had asked Cass before I left if much of the route was rideable with some additional gear weight that I had previously left behind in La Paz during the Yungas Tour.  The response.  There will be a few grunts but its mostly rideable.  Day one begins with a healthy grunt out of the valley on an abandoned road 

that morphs into a squiggly track tracing its way along the crumpled Bolivian hills .

Pueblitos cling to the the hills in the distance.

I pass through some and there's complete silence, as locals look on, shocked by the presence of both a gringo and a gringo on a fatbike.  Other's embrace the novelty and pour out from around every corner wanting a closer inspection.

I briefly pass through a series of pre-Incan corridors.  The history in the walls is palpable. 

After twelve hard-fought miles of ups-and-downs, ins-and-outs and a few river crossings, I stretch out with the last rays of light and enjoy the utter silence. A patchwork of hay, corn and bean fields tumble down towards the valley floor below my perch. Hovering between 3500 m and 4000 m, those who tend these fields and walk the sinuous trails blanketing the valley walls are an extremely hearty bunch.

The following morning brings more traversing, some rideable, some a bit too sketchy for my technical skills, while Llampu maintains its prominence from afar throughout the day.

I connect with an abandoned road after some overgrown hike-a-biking and slowly wind up above 4300 m, for the days first pass.

High alpine lakes in various states of grassy infill lend a softened contour to the jagged formations beyond.

A quick descent brings me back down to the base of another creep back up towards 4300 m.

Bolivia is not known for its artisanal bread, but at the bottom of the valley beyond pass number two there's a welcome surprise lurking in the basket of a tienda so small I overlook it as I enter the main square.  Out with my now rock hard pan and in with the good stuff.

As the Cordillera Real begins to slowly transition towards the Cordillera Apolobamba, shadow pocked hills fill in the gap.

Just as I settle into day three's last climb, I round the corner of another pueblo and am greeted by Mario and his wife who are busy culling the best of their bean cache in the middle of the road.  

While the Yungas hills are covered in fruit and coca, the northern edges of the Cordillera Real are covered in beans, corn, potatoes, and hay. She disappears while we're chatting and comes back out with a dish piled high with potatoes and egg. Generosity beyond belief.

Cass and Michael's track continues northward through Reserva Nacional Ulla Ulla wedged up against the border. I, unfortunately, need to duck off the route and drop down towards the sleepy border town of Puerto Acosta.  Outside of Escoma, I press on towards the border and run into Pedro, bringing his thirteen lambs, three cows, two pack mules and dog back to his house.  He invites me to stay the night and sets me up in the shed; deluxe accommodations.

He raps on the door at 6:45 am to let me know a hearty potato and pasta soup is waiting.  Their living space is not much larger than the shed: about six feet by 10 feet with one window; a stove in the corner; a shelf above the bed with various knick knacks and a radio; guinea pigs milling about the dirt floor; one cat; and one light bulb centered above the door. Not any bulb though, a fluorescent bulb, which seems oddly out of place.  I'm given prime seating on the edge of their bed as we enjoy a few bowls of soup together and he draws me a map of the road to the border.

A dusty climb back up over 4200 m takes me to a barely used track cutting across the pampa.  I roll into the far edge of Puerto Acosta and El Jeffe smiles as I show him the high road on my GPS. An exit stamp later, he takes me into the town square to show me the best spot for one last Bolivian almuerzo.

Across the official border, a Peruvian soccer game comes to a near halt as I stop to photography it from afar.  Twenty selfies later and many attempts by 'red' to trade bikes  

I noodle up above Conima for a frosty night.

Down on the low road the following morning, I follow the paved shores of Lago Titicaca and head to Huancane where I leave my bike at a hostal while I take a bus into Puno to get my Peruvian entry stamp.

ROUTE:

La Paz - Batellas - Achacachi- Look for Cass's route info on Bikepacking.com - Escoma - Conima - Moho - Huancane - Bus to Juliaca - Bus to Puno.

Some of the locals in Conima mentioned in the next several months there will be Peruvian immigration in Talia (I think that's the town), so you won't have to go to Puno which will simplify things greatly. If following the Tres Cordilleras Route by Michael and Cass, the ideal situation is to get an exit stamp in La Paz so you can ride to Ananea, leave your bike there, and then get an entry stamp in Peru. 

Thanks to Michael and Cass for giving me the GPS files. I'm looking forward to getting back up on the rest of the route out of Ananea and connecting directly into Ausangate.