To the Lagunas Route! You might be wondering what this is all about, so I will fill you in. The Lagunas route is a series of very small roads (and sometimes no road at all) that only four wheel drive vehicles and motorcycles such as ours (ones that can handle off road conditions) take. It travels through the high desert and mountains of southern Bolivia and passes a series of salt lakes along the way. I hear there are pink flamingos on these lakes! For the second half of the journey you travel through a national reserve called Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve. At the end of the reserve you cross into Chile and head out of the mountains towards San Pedro de Atacama to get stamped in to Chile. It is said to take about three days depending on how quickly you move and what the road conditions are and you definitely need to make sure you have reliable maps and maybe even a compass (!). Rich and Drew had been reading up on the route for a while and were really excited to do it and even more excited to have Sam, Linus and me join. It took a bit of convincing for me to agree as I was still pretty nervous about riding small dirt roads, but deep down I knew I didn’t really have a choice as Linus really wanted to do the route and I would probably greatly regret it if I chickened out. SO, we woke up early, packed up all our gear and extra food and water, and made our way to the start of the route. Which ended up taking all day…
We did about 50 miles on the road that headed southwest out of Uyuni, which was a mix of paved road and some dirt. We then got on a smaller but very stable gravel road that took us to a small town called San Juan. We had a snack and were able to buy some gas from a lady who sold it out of her back yard in jerry cans. At this point I was informed to let some air out of my tires as the road was about to get even smaller. Woo hoo, here we go! We set out of San Juan on a sandy road that led us to a big salt flat. Pretty quickly, Rich led the group to the right across the flat and away from the main tracks. I was last in the group and had a question in my mind as to why he was heading away from the tracks, so I stopped. Linus rode around me and motioned for me to follow, but I hesitated. And, boy, am I glad that I did! Pretty soon I was watching a comical show from afar as all the guys attempted to ride through really thick and slippery mud. One by one they all either got stuck or dropped their bikes. Linus and Drew made it back pretty quickly and I have never seen so much sticky mud in my life! It made springtime in Richmond look like a walk in the park! You couldn’t even make out the tread on their tires.
As Linus and Drew set to work trying to remove the slaty mud from the important parts (making all the cleaning from the previous day seem pointless) I watched Sam and Rich continue to struggle. They had driven out further and had more mud to fight in order to get back to a stable path. It was hard not to giggle as one would fall down, struggle with the bike, get it back up right and then repeat the whole process again. Adventure indeed! And we weren’t even to the proper start of the route yet!
Once everyone got out of the mud and sort of cleaned up (it was mostly in vain) we headed out of the flat and towards what looked like a road that would bypass the salt flat. I am pretty sure it wasn’t a bypass, but the actual main road. Rich is proving to have a track record of trying to take smaller roads/short cuts and finding some good fun, or trouble, depending on how you look at it. As we continued around the salt flat the scenery got unbelievably beautiful. Colorful mountains with snow covered peaks on the horizon and big blue skies. The air was dry and crisp and the wind brisk. When we checked we saw that we were above 4500 meters or approaching 15,000 feet! Around 2:00 Linus smartly suggested that we stop amongst the beauty and cook some noodles for lunch before it got too late. We found a great lunch spot and pulled out our stoves.
Further on down the road, Rich suggested another short cut that would get us on a main road that was supposed to take us to the cut off for the start of the Lagunas Route. I was hesitant, but had no room to argue as my map wasn’t updated so I just followed the group. I guess it’s good for me to relinquish some control once in a while! The road was mostly just a sandy track with some rocks here and there, but not too bad. Pretty quickly we did get to a main road that if taken one west would lead to one of the Chilean border crossings and if taken east would eventually take you back to Uyuni. We took it east, but very quickly cut off onto a TINY road. Again I hesitated a little, and as I did I watched as Sam went down up ahead. This time Linus was with me and said “hmmm, I’ll ride up there and take a look”. It turned out the road was really deep with sand. Rich had gone up further to see what was what. By now it was getting late and Sam and Drew were pretty much done for the day. I think Sam was pretty frustrated from falling so much. No one was hurt, though! I was feeling ready to camp as well. As I waited for the verdict, I looked to my right and once again saw what looked like a more principle road. I was reminded of hiking with my brother. He is an avid climber and I trust him implicitly, but sometimes he picks routes that are more difficult than they have to be because his ability is so high. He simply doesn’t notice that it is more difficult than the route five feet to his right. As was this road that I pointed out to Linus. He went over to check it and it was a lot better. He met Rich on the road who communicated to Linus and Drew that this was indeed the start of the Lagunas Route and it was steep, full of big rocks and lots of sand and pretty challenging. Hmm, sounded like a discussion for the morning. Where Linus and Rich had met there was a perfect flat spot with big boulders and a mountainside that offered great protection for a camping spot. We agreed that we had done enough for the day and dinner and sleeping were in order.
I couldn’t believe how amazing the scenery had already been, and we weren’t even on the route yet. Also Linus and I were pretty excited to be camping at this elevation, a first for both of us. We set up camp and as the sun lowered to the horizon and the wind picked up, it got COLD!! Linus and Rich hiked up to the top of the rocky hill above the camp site and I wandered around below shooting pictures. We made dinner and tea and as soon as the sun was down we all cuddled into our sleeping bags for much earned sleep and warmth.