Tilali (Peru) to La Paz (Bolivia)
!0th – 11th March
Total Distance – 905km
Titali – Ancoraimes
I was up early still worried as to how I was going to fit everything onto the bike. The load was much heavier than I have ever carried before when cycling unsupported because I had to carry all of the camera and communications equipment, loads of heavy batteries plus the usual – tent, sleeping bag, mat, cooking equipment, stove and fuel, BGAN device…the list goes on. I’ll never know the exact weight but I could not lift the back wheel off the ground. There was always going to be a two-day gap between finishing Peru and reaching La Paz in Bolivia because Javier was not able to take a hire vehicle over the border and Chris and the driver could only start in La Paz, over 200km away.
I always enjoy the freedom of cycling unsupported but I was worried about moving this load for 200km in two days. Javier had an early breakfast before we went our separate ways. He has done such a great job filming and driving. He had to get the vehicle back to Cusco by 6pm that evening (and he managed that easily).
The frame of the bike felt like it was flexing under the weight, but on the level, it rolled incredibly well. It was anything uphill or into the wind that would be the problem. I’d already stamped my passport out in Tilali the night before, so I could make a quick exit.
After passing the Peruvian border control, I followed a paved road upwards. The slope was quite manageable to start with, then it steepened and I was soon moving at snail’s pace in my bottom two gears, back and forth along the hairpins. The consolation prize was the views I was getting over Lake Titicaca on a clear, sunny morning.
Then I hit the Bolivian side. The bitumen ended and I was struggling over loose stones and wash-aways. For a while, I wondered whether I had taken a wrong turn but a couple of cars passed which confirmed to me that I was still on the right path. One part of the road was so steep, I could no longer ride and had to push/lift the bike, passing a small village. Eventually, I reached the summit and I enjoyed a moderate descent for a while.
The finale though was an incredibly steep downhill over a washed-out track with loose stones, sand and a steep drop-off down the mountain slope. My bike wasn’t well-balanced because the weight was high on the handlebars and some of the weight was also high over the back wheel. I switched on my all-wheel-drive system which gave noticeably better traction and took it very steadily. My upper body had had a real workout by the time I rolled into Puerto Acosta. I had done just 15km in almost two hours and hoped that would be the worst I had to deal with.
In Puerto Acosta, I stamped my passport into Bolivia. It was a quiet outpost and the immigration officers were very friendly and intrigued by my bike, trying to work out the AWD system. One officer agreed to change a small amount of money so I had enough Bolivianos to get me to La Paz.
I set off on a beautifully smooth and relatively flat road tracking a river that flowed over the lake’s fertile floodplain. As I passed small hamlets the people seemed very friendly, always smiling and waving, many working in their fields. All was going well until, as I pushed up a small hill, a dog rushed out of nowhere and bit my ankle. Luckily it didn’t draw blood, it was just a scratch through my socks and I don’t seem to be frothing at the mouth, so I’m OK.
I was progressing well until I hit my next steep climb. Being at over 3800m, pushing this load absolutely took my breath away and lactic acid formed in the muscles more quickly. The swirling wind didn’t help either. I took a short break to replenish my water supplies in Escoma (38km), then had to push the bike for a few hundred metres up out of town.
I loved the ride beside the lake, but was challenged twice more, the final 300m climb of the day – to 4170m – took me to beautiful views both over the lake and then in the opposite direction into the hilly countryside.
Exhausted I reached what I considered my minimum distance for the day (so that I had a chance of reaching La Paz the next day) at Ancoraimes. Being a reasonably sized town on the map, I thought it should have some sort of accommodation, but the only hostal in town was closed. A couple of women were sitting in front of the hostal and I tried to communicate my problem. One invited me to stay at her place in a dusty room out the back. It was perfect for the night.
Ancoraimes to La Paz
I awoke early to the sound of steady rain. I knew this was going to be a big day so I packed, ate a few handfuls of almonds as there was no breakfast available anywhere and set off. The road was flat and I maintained a steady speed. The rain phased out after about 15km but the wind chill from the cold lake environment remained high. I stopped in Achacachi after 35km at a small restaurant that served excellent soup. That was the only stop I made all day.
Heading away from the lake I was on a busy highway. Fortunately, it had a decent hard shoulder that I could ride on for much of the way. It was a gradual climb to 4111m. The final 25km, where the built-up area began, was horrific! There didn’t appear to be any road rules. Some cars drove on the wrong side of the road, small taxi busses stopped anywhere, even in the middle of the road to pick up or drop off customers and all vehicles competed to squeeze into the smallest of spaces. It was dusty and dirty.
I was getting pretty tired but had to keep my wits, move steadily, keep concentration and try to go with the flow. I hate to think about how much carbon I inhaled but there was no way of escaping it. Small roadside market stalls often caused extra congestion and sometimes it was faster to hop off my bike and walk it through the traffic.
Seeing the city of La Paz set in a deep valley was awe-inspiring. I paused to enjoy the views but then back to the fun and games. The roads are mostly cobblestone and treacherously steep to manoeuvre a bike with about a 40kg unstable load. I just took it very conservatively and kept checking my Maps.ME route. I didn’t want to have to push my bike back up one of the slopes I’d just descended. For the last sections into the city centre, many of the roads were totally blocked with markets and I just had to walk the bike. The final push to the hotel took about one and a half hours. It was crazy, but I arrived safely and was very pleased to see Chris.
The driver that I had organised to support this next section through Bolivia and northeastern Chile, so I found out two days earlier, had injured himself in a motorbike accident and was in hospital. Maxim, the fixer who helped me find the first driver, had one other option in Bolivia. We connected on the night of the 11th and fortunately, Rolando, who lives in Uyuni, southern Bolivia, is available to join us. So yet again on this expedition, I have been thrown a curveball, but somehow another path has opened.
Over 900km and a quarter of the journey is done!