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rail trail, bolivian style: (or, the best laid plans…)


After almost a week of planning, bike maintenance, shopping and eating in Uyuni, we are ready to set off again.

The plan – a simple one – is to cycle from Uyuni to San Pedro de Atacama in north-west Chile via a route known as Las Lagunas, named for the numerous high altitude lagoons that dot the south-west Bolivian altiplano. Las Lagunas is billed as one of South America’s cycle touring tough ‘classics,’ famous for sandy, washboard roads, relentless winds, and the need to carry food and water for a number of days.

Many people go straight across the Salar de Uyuni from Llica, avoiding Uyuni (the township), completely but since we set out from Uyuni we decide – and again, it is James who has done most of the research here – to pick up the route somewhere around Laguna Hedionda. The first day or two we intend to follow the railway line from Uyuni to San Juan.

Leaving Uyuni we pass the train cemetery,...

... a melancholy monument to the glorious days of steam.

But from there on the views are minimalist...

... and the railway line our only reliable guide.


The train, when it finally passes, is somewhat underwhelming.

A river necessitates...

... a slightly awkward crossing.

We pass the fallen,...

...the abandoned,...

... and the weirdly derelict.

But the decaying railway world provides...

...a much appreciated shady shelter, in which to eat lunch...

... and contemplate the possibilities of life as a train hopper.

We reach San Juan and bed down in a classroom for the night. The text on the school wall reads: "The perfect man should be theoretically profound in his thoughts and practical in his actions."

Striking out away from the railway line means that navigation becomes a little more complicated. A local tries to clarify things for us.

Desperate agriculture: these sandy fields seem quite a quixotic endeavour to me. The crop is quinoa, which is such a valuable grain these days, given its current wonderfood status in the west, that the locals - or a cycle tourist on a tight budget - can't afford to eat it.

Presumably it does, eventually, flourish here, under the watchful gaze of the scarecrows, when the rainy season arrives.

Sadly, the best laid plans often go awry. We have all been somewhat plagued during the course of our various travels by amoebic parasites of one kind or another. A morning and evening chorus of belches and farts are part of the background music of cycle touring, for some at least, it seems. Sarah is stricken down by an intense bout of intestinal distress and she and James decide to beat a retreat to Uyuni rather than facing the travails of the altiplano. The tiny town of San Augustin sees the end of our little group of cycling gourmand coffee fiends and heralds caffeine withdrawals for me. I cycle out of San Augustin alone.

{ 1 } Comments

  1. Cass | December 1, 2013 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful photos. I’m so excited about this part of the ride…

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