Thursday 3 September 2009

CHILE (North)Lake Chungara-Colchane (Aug 20-27)

We cycled out of Sajama and towards the Chilean frontier at Tambo Quemado. It was a good sealed road and a gradual climb but the strong westerly winds from Chile blew into our faces. It was punishing at this altitude (4200-4700m)- you couldn´t hear a thing, just this ceaseless blast in the face.

Eventually over the border at Tambo Quemado. Phew! Welcome to Chile, and it was really bloody chilly at 4680m.

Flamingoes on a frozen lake near the border.

A Chilean flamingo about to touch down on the icy runway. It was funny watching the flamingoes, Andean coots and ducks tring to stay upright as they skated over the lake.

Flamingo feeding in Lake Chungara

Vicuñas grazing in the cold waters of Lake Chungara at 4650m, one of the highest bodies of water in the world.

Vicuñas resting. They show their camel instincts when sitting and feeding.

Vicuñas and Volcan Parinacota

Volcan Parinacota

The imposing volcano Sajama popping out from Bolivia overlooking Lake Chungara.

Lake Cocotani, a messy jumble of lakes, moraines and black lava fields.

On the descent down to Parinacota Judy felt her Rohloff cable go stiff and could only get 4 gears. In the village I examined the cables and found that they were both worn badly and needed changing. Bugger! I had 3 spare cables but no cable cutter.
We left our bikes at a small refugio and caught a lift to Putre on a tour bus 50kms away. It was a small town but remarkably a shabby little hardware shop had a pair of cable cutters (and only cost $2!).

Chile is far more expensive than Bolivia (perhaps 3X) so we only spent one night in town (Putre). A good chance to quaff some nice Chilean wine, have a hot shower, and stock up on food. We bought 5 days supply (we had brought a lot of food over the border from Bolivia too).

We hitched a lift back to Parinacota with Ivan, a Chilean engineer. He was on his way to Arica on the coast but took us 40kms out of his way. There´s an 17th century colonial church here. I´m here with Ivan the Terrible outside the church.

Back to Jude´s gearless bike. As I had thrown out one torn cable I had problems getting the right length. On my final cable I managed to get 8 gears (instead of 14) but luckily they were the low gears and as it happened over the next 9 days we didn´t need the top 7 gears. (as a postscript, I bought cheap cables in Uyuni and cut them at the right length). Now Judy is riding high and low.

We stayed at a basic refugio run by an Aymaran couple, Gregorio and Albertina. They made us a delicious dinner and we drank the last of our summer wine. A freezing wind blew around the village all night.

We left Parinacota on a very cold morning and headed back to the border via Lake Chungara. We had an online mud map drawn up by 2 Dutch cyclists (irisentorepreiss) taking a wild route through 2 national parks (Lauca and Isluga) and 2 other reserves. This was one of the highlights of the trip so far. 5 days, 3 hot springs, 250kms of beautiful altiplano scenery all above 4000m. Great stuff!

Day 1. Only 32 kms as we found this delightful hot spring. It was very hot (over 40 degrees Celsius) but was a welcome respite from the biting cold wind. We had to leave our water in the spring to stop it freezing solid overnight. Our camp beside the spring source. The cold stream froze overnight.

Day 2. We rode over a few frozen streams, some holding our weight but sometimes cracking the ice.

11kms later we met a graded road with a lot of trucks carrying borax from the salt lake (salar de Surire). A better road surface but quite dusty and noisy.

The active Volcan Guallatire 6063m, and the small settlement of Guallatire below.

We found a camp beside a stream. It was an idyllic campsite with an active volcano Guallatire in the background.

It was our coldest night... around -20 degrees C and overnight the river had frozen over.

Inside the tent we had ice crystal condensation. We had plenty of firewood about so next morning lit a fire before the sun poked its warming beams over the volcanoes.

Day 3. Take Away Menu. I found this dead bird beside the road early next morning. I poked its tummy and it felt warm and soft. Perfect roadkill feast (a trick I learned from Rob Cooper, a cyclist mate who often ate roadkill in the Australian outback). The poor thing must have been hit by a borax truck. I carried it like this all day - strapped to my front panniers. It lost a few feathers on the way but arrived at camp intact. Made a soup and grilled the breasts. Very rich and gamey.
It is called a perdiz or pisaca in Chile, or Puna tinamou, like an altiplano grouse.

A fat and furry viscacha warming itself in the afternoon sun.

We climbed to small pass overlooking the vast salt lake, Salar de Surire (which is being dug up for borax extraction). Hardy cuchion plants dot the north-facing slopes.

Andean flamingoes in flight across the salar.

A vicuña backing one out on the salar. They are creatures of habit and the herd all shit in the same spot, like a cameloid litter.

A bird in the hand..... just before the plucking and cooking.

Las Termas de Polloquere. On the edge of the salar is this amazing hot spring emitting thick steam and sulphur vapor over the altiplano. There´s a small campground protected by a wall of volcanic rock with a picnic table and all. No visitors- we had it all to ourselves.

Ahhh! Perfect bliss. Natsukashii! It reminds me of the warm rotemburos (outdoor hot springs)of Japan. But this was really something else - at 4200m, surrounded by multi-coloured mountains and spread out on a salty white landscape.

Flamingoes and other birds were soaking up the warm and mineral-rich waters of the springs. When I arrived a lone Chilean flamingo was taking a dip in the turquoise water. It flew off before I could get my camera out.
They are very wary of intruders and quickly fly away when approached. Some flamingoes flying away across this magical landscape.

Day 4
A steep climb out of the salar (perhaps the steepest road of the trip). 2 people needed to push both bikes up the rocky and sandy hill towards the Bolivian border.
(only a short stay in Bolivia 2kms and back into Chile)

No customs, no immigration, just a border marker, landmines and lots of sand.

At the remote border we had to circumnavigate around a minefield. Many of these borders have landmines laid. We saw no other vehicles all day on this route as there is an alternative road.

We camped at a warm water river 3kms away from the main road. Brilliant green algae and reeds thrive in the thermal waters and create amazing patterns in the stream adding a new soft colour to the harsh volcanic and saline background.

Our campsite in a llama corrall. Actually it was a llama dip where the animals are herded into the warm waters.

Even alpacas need sweaters at this altitude.

Cactus flowers

Black puna ibis

Bird (plover family)- Larus serranus

1 comment:

andrewhovey said...

Hi there, great write up. How was finding water along this route?