Switch to Bolivia.
Desolate and windswept, welcome to the country of sandy, corrugated roads. Route outlined to cycle the length of the country through the altiplano, that high altitude desert claiming the west. Solo. No other dirt riders here right now. In La Paz at the Casa de Ciclistas, the nine- nine!– other cyclists plan a parallel path on better roads. Consulting schedules upon leaving, there’s a possibility of all of us converging on the same spot on the same day, but ultimately I’ll be a half day ahead of one group and a half day behind another and will only catch up to some of them in the next town south.
First section following a course laid out by the Pikes, from Sajama down to Sabaya. Other than volcanoes jutting up from the plateau, there’s not much out in these parts other than llama and alpaca herds. And sun, plenty of that beating down. The captain of one of the military bases says the best times for cycling in Bolivia are the months when it’s worst to be in the Peruvian mountains- right now. Over a dinner of llama stew and frybread el capitan speaks proudly of his country and all it has to offer, from the Amazon jungle regions to this barren desert zone, its variety and seeming wealth. And yet the country is indisputably poor.
In this part of the country, towns are either sparsely inhabited or outright ghost towns. That James Bond scene where everyone’s getting onto a bus and abandoning their homes because there’s no more water- that’s actually more or less reality here. Towns are full of houses, brand-new basketball courts or football fields, and no people. When camping in the middle of nowhere, absolute nighttime silence is expected. It’s a little more eery when there’s the same silence camped in the middle of a densely packed town.
Echoes of the New Mexican deserts abound in between towns. And on the sandy roads, constantly thinking about bikes with wider tires. Everything rideable on the 26×2.25 tires with the current setup, but if there’s a country in the Americas made for fatbikes, this is it.
The altiplano: home to llamas, alpacas, guanacos, vicuñas, flamingoes, Incan burial towers- chullpas– and salt, but not much more. It’s bare and bleak and pretty damned neat.