Surprisingly you don’t hear of too many bad stories from people traveling South America, especially by bike. Occasionally, things happen but it’s usually pretty minor. Unfortunately I’d heard a horror story about the final stretch into Sorata on Ruta Mama Coca, whereby a few of my friends were confronted by some drunk, and violent men. The men had violent intentions, a whip was involved, and a very stressful afternoon escaping via hike a bike and limited riding.
I had heard of a different route, The Llampu Circuit, a bikepacking route originally chartered by bikepackground.com. A spinoff on the classic trekking trail in the area. It would involve taking a scenic detour through the mountains, over a few extra high altitude passes, including 5180m Paso Calzado, and would eventually lead to gravel downhill for 30km, all the way to Sorata.
I diverged from the altiplano into a new valley full of frozen everything. Streams, ice stalactites, puddles. Nothing unusual for most of Bolivia. A pothole laden downhill lead me towards my climb up to Paso Calzado, a relatively new single lane road skirted its way over scree-fields, boulderfields up to a lofty 5180m. By now I was pretty well acclimated to the higher altitudes, but pushing anything beyond 5000m is always slow going.
I stopped at the top for a quick mountain appreciation moment. Before descending into a thick cloud. Catching only glimpses of one of the most magical valleys I had seen in Bolivia. Out of the altiplano, i was on the eastern side of the Andes. The tease of clouded views it all the more alluring. I felt so far away from everything for the first time in a while.
At the bottom of the hill was a small community, secluded in their remote corner of the mountain. Small houses made of adobe, the locals mostly living frugally of their animals, the land and the small stream ladden with trout. It was obvious they didn’t see people travelling by bike very often, some surprised faces yelled out hola, a donde va? Donde viernes? Others ran away. The rest of the afternoon would be mostly pushing up a 700m pass.
In the middle of the night the stomach started rumbling, from previous experiences, i knew it was trouble. Over the following hour I heaved up everything in my belly, and uncontrollably purged out everything in my intestines and colon. My body became convulsively uncontrollable, gagging vomit and fart poo. I would feel the train coming and desperately, needed to adapt accordingly. Just when I thought I had expelled all there was to expel, blue-green bile would heave its way out from the dark depths of my stomach, leaving me short of air, as my straining, desperate eyes welled up.
Laying looking at the dark night sky, feeling incredibly light and delirious out the front of my tent. I wondered how much longer. The cold on my face made me feel a little more alive, as my head lay beside an ever growing pile of vomit.
I tried drinking excessive amounts of hydration salts the following day, but could only manage 50ml at a time. Nothing would stay down. I heard one car pass, but I didn’t have the energy to leave my tent, or pack up my campsite, so I tried to pass the hours sleeping and reading.
I stayed for two days mostly incapacitated, but managed a 100 metre walk to get water, and clean my pants that I soiled. The following day i was still weak. I tried hitching over the pass without any luck, so a two hour climb, stretched out to four hours pushing, with intermittent toilet stops.
I was on what I had anticipated as my last day before Sorata, when the mind games started. Furiously sweating, and becoming light headed again, i had minimal food, couldn’t eat anything and wondered what the point of all of this really was. Could I possibly manage one more pass?
I lay slumped over my bike when I heard an engine roaring nearby. I stood in the middle of the road and waved the car down. I tried to explain my sickness, malo agua (bad water), enfermo (sick). Sorata para descansar (Sorata for rest) pharmacia. Bike on the back of the truck, 6km to the top of the pass the end was in sight. I spent the time talking about the journey with my new friends in limited Spanish and charades, before a lengthy town for a few days rest in Sorata.