I ate two lunches, a common occurrence for me in Bolivian towns, filling my void of burned calories. As I finished and got my bike ready, Bolivian mama i had just bought lunch from, threw all the rubbish in the town drainage canal. The wasteland of Tablacha only reaffirmed every other person in this town did the same thing. As I rode my bike to the centre of the town square, twenty pairs of wandering eyes followed me to the bin, where I placed my rubbish. Next to the single empty beer can.
Full, but not content, I grinded some pavement a few kilometres till a short gravel descent. Within moments, I was caught in a serious dust storm. Visibility nothing, my sunglasses flew off the side of a cliff and I almost lost my favourite KOOK hat.
The wind seemed to be wrapping around the mountain from two directions, meeting at my current position. It was eventful, and I was terrified of a passing car or truck appearing through the dust screen. Escaping into the higher altitudes, I followed a small beautiful stream up the valley. Decorated with plastic, drying laundry and livestock, I was eager to find the colder air away from the small communities higher up. Dogs chased me out of every small town, eventually I found some solitude next to a power pole hidden from road sight.
Mornings have still been slow. My solar problems haven’t fixed themselves, I need to wait for an adequate charge to last the days navigation. Strangely, I think this has been one of the greatest things to happen in the past three months. By slowing down, I’m spending more time writing, stretching, and enjoying the morning sunlight. It feels nice to have that connection with paper again.
I crawled up the biggest pass in a while at 5180m. Slowly, snow capped peaks came back into sight. A total relief. Comfort in the cold air. I didn’t find comfort in the numerous trucks and busses though. Often covered in clouds of black smoke and dust, I wondered if I felt sick from water poisoning or fumes. So my gut ached the whole push up the pass, walking due the thin air or inadequate gearing, or both.
While the panoramic view around remained other worldly. I couldn’t help but be let down by the trophies left by passing motorists. Bottles, plastic, and tin cans formed a shrine, such a magnificent mountain deserved better. I passed 3 bins in 5km. The most so far in Bolivia, yet for some people, this is still a hard task, the education just isn’t there.
The snowy mountains only continued and so too did the passes. Traffic free roads soon dominated my route. I found a camp that was too good to be true, for in the distance lay two spectacular views. Snowy mountains, and endless mountains. Ilumani in the distance, I watched the changing light on the horizon and quickly identified the smog from La Paz. As the fading afternoon light dwindled in unison, La Paz held on, fighting the night with its own flickering light.
A very very long downhill lead me from 4900 down to 1700m, over 50km the following day. The air got warmer and dryer. Spiky things appeared everywhere. Got stuck everywhere, boots, tyres, naturally adapted for ultimate seed dispersal, correlates with frustration. Spiky things, sweat, and sticky. Now I had a grand 2400m to climb.
The night was spent atop a beautiful, yet windy ridge. Surprisingly I managed no punctures in the air mat, and slept very well. The morning sun lit Nevado Ilumani, followed by the fine hairs of the surrounding cacti.
Constant climbing all day, through a few small villages, and skirting around the front of the colossal 6400m peak. I called it a day when the view was too good to pass up.
Single track lead the way around the top of the pass, revealing the other side of Ilumani, glaciers, fresh rivers and surprisingly some cattle, all the way up here where the small streams freeze overnight. I encountered a pretty unique spectacle. A frozen waterfall that splayed across the width of the trail.
I was left with two decisions, spend one more day in the mountains, navigating over the 4900m Apacheta Pass, or burn the 40km straight to La Paz. Everything was so dirty, sore and broken, but mentally I wasn’t ready for the city, it could wait another day. Climbing, climbing and eventually hike a biking through a boggy marshy valley at 4700m. The views were spectacular, but the constant bog holes, elevation gain, altitude and large tufts of spinifex made any progress pretty slow.
There was no trail anywhere, but the promise of decent single-track and a 25km downhill all the way into La Paz kept me motivated enough to crest the pass. Sure enough a top the pass, under the setting sun, the mountains fed my daily dose of inspiration, my final pass before a good, well deserved rest.
At 4800m I picked up a camp by a small creek, the gurgling would stop in the early morning as it froze over. Not so far in the distance my destination, lofty La Paz.