Explaining our itinerary to the local people, they said ” Aaah, but you are doing the Dakar by bike, you are totally crazy “. we ignored it at this moment, but we were effectively on the Dakar itinerary.
This journey in Bolivia starts in low altitude. We leave the Pantanal to reach the city of Santa Cruz la Sierra. This region is particular because many mennonites communities are living there. These are descendant from Germanic families which migrated in Latina America a few generations ago. They have decided to conserve an ancestral lifestyle, a little bit similar to the Mormons in the United states. They use horses to move to one place to another and they do not live with electricity. They are little bit weird and not really opened to have a talk. They just stay between themselves. The women have an identical physical aspect and they also have some signs of mongolism due to the fact that consanguineous acts are again practiced in some communities
On the “menonos” road, as people call them in Bolivia. We meet Baltazar, owner of a restaurant in Agua Calientes (hot spring waters). We spend a very great time with him. Before to go away , Baltazar invites us to stay in his office located in the city center of Santa Cruz. 10 fantastic days spent with him, his wife and her daughter, Flavia.
Then, we decide to go towards Vallegrande to celebrate the 49 Years of the Che Guevara death. On the road, we get the surprise to be hosted by an ex Bolivian miss and her mom. Both of them very lovely and friendly. Once arrived in Vallegrande, the birthday is not really impressive. Political speeches from the president Evo Morales and his apostles, inauguration of the new museum and some musical groups for this birthday.
After this ceremony, we get back on the high mountain roads. In Bolivia, the political colors are always displayed on the road sides, the trees, the rocks and even on the houses facades. The big debate is: YES or NOT for the reelection of Evo Morales. The red means NO to the reelection, in regards to the green it is just the opposite. In power since 2006, he is actually in his third mandate until 2019. After having amended the constitution, he could run again in 2019 to try to stay at the presidency until 2025 and maybe more…. we see that the opinions in regards to his reelection are really different depending on the municipality and the region.
In regards to the high mountain roads, the regions crossed are just incredible. The landscapes and the culture is just so authentic. However, this itinerary between Vallegrande and Monteagudo turned to a nightmare. We knew the illness, the hunger, the extremes heats and infernal uphill on broken-down roads. We have called this road : the Russian mountains. Many times we overtake the 3000 meters of altitude. Then, few kilometers later we just go down to the 1200 meters.
After this first Andean journey, we finally arrive in Tarija, where the NGO Nativa welcomes us with the arms opened. They give us a luxurious cabana to rest and furthermore, we coordinate together a video report in regards to the Pilcomayo river. This natural resource is fundamental for the survival of the indigenous communities living in the Bolivian Chaco. Unfortunately, this river knows important drought. On this way, the future of these communities is compromised.
The video report done, we cycle in the direction of Tupiza with the goal to cross the South of Lipez ( Huge extension of desert located between 4000 and 5000 meters of altitude ). On the Tupiza road, we front a crazy uphill of 40 kilometers on a muddy and sandy road. A very tiring day : We cumulated 1800 meters of positive ascent to reach the 4300 meters of altitude.
Once arrived in Tupiza, we get some information about the following roads. The conclusion is : If we stay in Bolivia, we will have to front some russian mountains again. Furthermore, the road is in an extremely bad state, slowing down our progression. Thus, we decide to enter in the desert through Argentina and Chile, condemning us to do an extra turn of 200 kilometers
lagoon in Chile
Arrived in San pedro, We finally go through the South of Lipez, where we enter in the Eduardo Avaroa national park ( Bolivian side). The Laguna blanca amazes the view with its white colour. Not so far from there, it is the laguna verde which is shining at the feet of the volcano Licancabur. This one, culminating at 5920 meters is the symbol of the South of Lipez. An ascension which makes us dream and which pushes us to do it. We set our camp base around the laguna verde, at 4400 meters of altitude. Laurent does not support the altitude and is victim of the famous Soroche. His state does not get better, thus we decide to postpone the climbing to the next day.
It is 2 o’clock in the morning, the alarm is ringing. We just eat an oak bowl, we dress up warmly and start to walk in a cold night. Step by step the sun is rising, warming our frozen bodies. A little bit down, we just saw another group which is also climbing the volcano. Around 10 am, the wind starts to rise, giving an amazing show: the dark blue color of the lagoon changes suddenly in a shining green.
During the climbing, the air starts to miss. Each step involves a real effort to fight against the altitude. Exhausted and full of emotion, we reach the top of the volcano.
The emotion is quickly stopped by the guide which is accompanying the group that we saw before. He starts to give us a lesson of moral explaining that it is totally forbidden to do it without any guide. It is too dangerous. He ends this discussion saying that he will call the park guards to take all our stuffs. Following this situation, we quickly go down in the goal to be as discreet as possible. Once down, we cross the 4×4 which are waiting the tourists. We explain to the drivers our discussion with the guide. They suggest us to go away without that the guide see our base camp. We accelerate and we hide ourselves behind an amount of rocks. Mission succeeded, he does not see us.
The following days in the desert were incredible but really tough :
We leave the thermal waters, the wind is rising quickly, slapping our faces and taking our breath. It is in these conditions that we have to front 26 kilometers of uphill to reach our altitude record by bike, 5000 meters.
The laguna colorada offers us an amazing scenery. The waters, looking from another world, host hundreds of flamingos looking for algae. The 15 kilometers following the lagoon can be resumed in pushing our bike in thick sand. It results impossible to cycle for more than 200 meters. It is almost night, we set our tent near the tree stone, where for the first time, it is freezing inside the tent.
Even in the middle of nowhere, the human is always here to help us. Bolivian drivers and the tourists were so generous and full of compassion. They offered us food, drinks and even one night in a bed.
We leave the south of Lipez by crossing a huge pampa dominated by colorful mountains. Once the pampa crossed, the lagunes Ramaditas, Honda and Hedionda offer us a last show of color. We camp on the border of the last lagoon of our road, the Canapa lagoon, where the shouts of the flamingos rock our sleep.
In Uyuni, we look for a place where to rest for one day. One resting day before to cross the biggest salt desert in the world, the Uyuni Salar. Not so easy to get a free place, a Sunday, in a very touristy city. First, we think to go to the train station. According to local people, it is opened all along the night. Just before, we decide to get a good dinner in a local restaurant, in which we meet two French guys, reporter for a TV show on a French television. Attracted by our bikes, we start to converse, and on this way we spend a very good night to discuss and to exchange ours addresses. the diner ended, we go back to the train station. The guard asks us if we are going to take the train. We tell him the truth and he answers us that it is totally forbidden to sleep here. It is already 11 Pm and we have to find another place. After having been to the church, to the police station and even to the army where we just get some closed doors, we decide to camp out of the city. On the way out, we just see a big building with various guard posts totally empty. One of these has the window broken. Thus, we open the window and go into as discreetly as possible. Mission succeeded, we are now inside. We extend our mattress on the floor and spend a very good night. At 7 am, we see the face of a man just stuck on the window. he knocks the window and says : who gave us the right to sleep here ?” Julien answers ” the window was opened, thus we just go in ” he answers:” I call the police “. Knowing the speed of the police, we know that we have time to pack everything and to go. 5 minutes later, we are on our bikes cycling through the city center and going to the municipality. The municipality opens us the door of the sports center.
After these adventures, we enter on the Salar of Uyuni. We have the surprise to see a brown salt. The strong wind of the season brought a huge quantity of mud, dust and sand. However, the amplitude of the salar is really impressive.
The first part until the Incahuasi Insland is not so exciting. It is just a straight dark line, created by the petrol vapor from the jeep driving the tourists on the salar. Once arrived on Incahuasi island, we enter before the normal entry. On this way, we are totally alone on the middle of these giant cactus exceeding sometimes the 5 meters length. The salar is unique in the world. Despite the hostility of this place, life succeeds to adapt. Birds, insects, viscachas are commons.
Unfortunately, the future of the salar is uncertain. Containing one of the biggest reserve of lithium in the world, it attracts the businesses. We just have to hope that the spirit of conservation will beat the one of exploitation.
The salar of Uyuni crossed, we plan now to cross the salar of Coipasa. After various efforts accross the sand, we finally arrive to the white paradise. This salar has an incomparable splendor. A feeling of amplitude comes trough ours bodies. The salt is so dense that we can cycle where we want without any problem. The landscape without horizon gives you the feeling to cycle on a salty sea.
It is with a lot of memories that we are happy to come back on the paved road. The way until la Paz shows us the consequences of the climate change. Some regions do not have seen the rain since 8 months. The consequence is that there is no more water. Thus, some trucks have to bring it. Animals, principally the lamas and the goats are dying dehydrated. An important economical lost for the Andean populations. The Andes are sensible to the climate change. Localized near the Ecuador line, the temperature changes are stronger. On this way, the eternal snows on several summits are now seasonal snows. The lack of rain as well as the melt of the glaciers are two factors reducing the drinkable water in Bolivia and in other Andean countries.
On the road, in the village of Huachacalla, we have the unique opportunity to participate to a ceremony. Everyone want the return of the rain on the village. At 5 am, the authorities of the village meet at the doors of the church.
The ceremony starts by mentioning the saints from the catholic church. Then, the sacrifice takes place to call the Pachamama ( mother earth). The authorities, in line, spread some coca leaves ( sacred leaved used since the Inca culture) on the goat, ready to be sacrificed. A man takes a knife and kills the animal. Another man takes care to collect the blood in some plates. The sacrifice done, the looks go to the sky, hopping that the rain will come back soon.
We are actually in the city of La Paz, where we will produce two video reports: the first one concerns the impact of the climate change on the Andeans glaciers. The second one will be done in the Yungas and will debate about the bees importance.