We’re in the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve in southern Bolivia. It’s a world I never imagined. The minerals in the mountains paint an incredible scenery…but we will be ready to leave tomorrow.
At its best and calmest moments, the terrain of the Bolivian Altiplano looks like it has been raked by the wind into a giant zen garden at the top of the world. But when the icy wind is ripping at us, so ferocious we can almost hear it growling Geeeet Oooouuuuut!, the scenery takes on a different feel altogether, like an inhospitable wasteland.
We’ve been between 11,000 and 16,000 feet for 17 days. People living up here are cut from a tougher stock. Life here is harsh. Besides the lack of oxygen and all that Mother Nature threw at us, we haven’t seen a fruit or veggie in six days. They seem to survive on coca leaves and llama steaks.
I hesitate to say this is the most difficult terrain we have crossed. That would only invite something even more difficult. Suffice it to say, the last couple of days have been very challenging, physically and mentally.
We have never needed to push our bikes this much. Today, for the first time, I had to push my bike partway down a mountain pass. Not even gravity and a steep descent could pull the bike through this sand.
Bolivia was not only hard on us, but on our gear as well. Today was a sad day for Scott’s SRL camera. The rough riding must have jostled something loose. While he was taking a photo, the front lens element fell out of the housing and landed on the rocky ground below. The lens is essentially destroyed. There is a marked difference in photo quality between the SRL and our other camera, a Canon S100. We’re disappointed we won’t be able to capture our experience in photos as we have been.
Tonight we found shelter at a small outpost at the southern end of the park, very close to the Chilean border. It has a modest hotel. There’s no showers, but for 60 Bolivianos ($9 US), it’s worth it for the walls and roof. The wind is howling outside. I would have paid double just to sleep on the floor. It’s difficult to imagine that by tomorrow we’ll be roasting in the Atacama Desert.