South America Blog Posts

Week 18 – The long road north to Pando

At the end of my last vlog I arrived in the town of Santa Rosa. I wasn’t looking forward to the next part of this route. Yuri had told me that it was a bad road. Not necessarily because of the road surface, but because it was boring. Knowing this, I tried to get a bus up to the end of the road. Unfortunately, after waiting for more than an hour, I was told that the buses on this road don’t take bicycles. So I tried to stay positive and set off to cycle north.

The Long Road North

The road I was had to take was from Santa Rosa to El Triangulo. This doesn’t actually take me all the way to the Pando region. But the junction that turns to get there. Its 350km of road that is under construction. As I cycled north, each section was in a different stage of construction. Mostly just bare earth. But some were compacted with several layers of earth. Yuri was right. It was boring. Really boring. Even though I was technically in the Amazon, the area near the road had been cleared for farmland. Mostly farmers raising cows and horses. But this meant that there weren’t any trees, so no shade. Some sections were really windy too, as there weren’t any trees to act as a windbreak. Not may people live in this area. So there are long stretches of nothing, then a small village with maybe 5 houses. I ended up camping every night on the way north. But as there weren’t any nice camp spots out on the road, I would ask in each village whether I could camp in front of a shop or restaurant.

My first Amazonian Village

Each day I would wake up and cycle as far north as I could, keeping in mind that I wanted to camp close enough to a shop so that I could buy supplies. My last night on the road before getting to El Triangulo, I arrived in quite a large village. The village was called Los Cayuces. I saw a hostel there on google maps. So I assumed it was quite a big village or small town. But when I arrived, the locals told me there wasn’t a hostel, or a restaurant, or even a local shop. But they said I could camp there and they offered to cook a meal for me. This ended up being one of my favourite places in Bolivia up to that point. It was a real Amazonian village. It reminded me of Africa so much that I felt right at home.

Not Finished Yet…

As I set up my tent, I had an audience. A group of children from the village were stood watching what I was doing. Then the next morning, I flew my drone a little and the children were curious to see that too. I really love these environments. The houses, people, nature and climate just make me feel like I’m back in Africa. But I had to leave and get to a place with mobile phone signal and electricity. So I cycled to El Triangulo. This was supposed to be my final stop for the week and I was ready to take a rest day. But when I got to El Triangulo I realised that this wasn’t a good place to take a rest day. I know that I have compared towns to truck stops before on this trip. But this place is literally a truck stop. But because it is so remote, its expensive. They were asking around 40-60 Bolivianos for a room. Just a bed, no lights, no electricity. I just couldn’t bring myself to pay. So I ended up camping outside a restaurant again. This was my 5th night sleeping on this road, but I needed to keep going before I could rest. I looked at my map and could see that there was a village on the border between the Beni and Pando regions. But it was another 50km. Bringing my weekly total distance up to 400km this week. So I set off the next morning.

On the Border of the Pando Region

The road to the Pando region was pretty bad. A dirt road with a lot of corrugations. But the area surrounding the road was a lot better than I had for the week up to now. The 50km went pretty fast and I found a place to stay. The village is called Peña Amarilla. It’s right next to a bridge over the Beni River, which is also the border between the regions. The village doesn’t have running water, so the hostel had a long drop toilet and I had to go to wash near the bridge. It looked like a storm drain, but everyone in the village collects water there to take to their houses. It was a new experience for me to shower in a place like that, but I just got on with it. This I headed back to my room and settled down ready for a well earned rest.

South America Blog Posts

Week 17 – Doing repairs & riding San Borja to Santa Rosa

After I arrived in San Borja with the French couple, we had planned to separate as they headed to Trinidad and I continued north. After spending so many nights in the tents, we decided to take some rest days before leaving town. In my case, this wasn’t just to rest, but also to take care of some repairs that I needed to address. Riding on the rough road surfaces over the last few weeks had taken it’s toll on the bike. I am guessing the vibrations just worked things loose. So it was mostly just a case of tightening some bolts. But there was one problem that I really didn’t know how to take care of.

A Damaged Tyre

One day on the route to San Borja I noticed a huge lump in the wall of my front tyre. I never experienced anything like that before, so I posted some pictures in Facebook groups to ask for advice. After reading through a lot of comments I spoke to my friend Charlie, who I met while travelling through Africa. He has a lot more knowledge about bicycles than I do and actually owns a chain of bike shops. So I went with his suggestion. I wrapped a bank note around the innertube of the tyre where it aligned with the defect. This worked for a few days, but then it came back. When I took the wheel off again I saw that the bank note had split into several pieces. So I went for a slightly stronger solution. First I lined the inside of the tyre with duct tape. Then I cut a small piece of plastic water bottle to around the size of the bank note. Charlie had warned me that the plastic would puncture the tube. So I followed some more advice from Facebook. I covered the piece of bottle with more duct tape. That seems to have done the trick and its still holding up to now. I also contacted the manufacturer and they said they would replace the tyre. But I won’t be holding my breath.

The Back Road to Santa Rosa

I decided to take the route that I am on, after meeting Yuri in Uyuni. He said that one of the highlights was the road from San Borja to Santa Rosa. This is a back road which doesn’t show up on Google Maps. The road surface isn’t so great, but the road takes you through the countryside. Passing cattle ranches, forest and marshland. The route took a couple of days and I spent the night camping in a small village called Santa Elena. It’s such a beautiful village. There were horses, pigs, chickens, dogs and cats just wandering around free. It was also a great camp spot as there was an outside toilet and a tap with running water. I took a ‘shower’ using the tap before getting some food and heading to bed.

Lots of Wildlife

The second way was amazing. I started to see more wildlife along the roadside. Animals that I had never seen in the wild before. The first was an armadillo. But it ran too fast for me to take any pictures. Then there were Capybaras. Lots of them. Some in the road and they would make a loud noise when they were running away. Something like a dog’s bark, but a lazy old dog with dementia or something. Then I saw a large bird that looked like an emu or ostrich. But maybe the coolest thing was when I got closer to my final destination for this week. I was crossing a bridge when I heard a noise. Something moving in the water. I looked down to see that the river was full of Kaimen. It was a great way to end the route as I got into town. The only issue now is the road north. Yuri told me it was a bad road. Not necessarily the road surface, but just a long boring road, 350km. But that is for next week.

South America Blog Posts

Week 16 – Caranavi to San Borja with some new friends

After I arrived in Caranavi, I took a couple of rest days to sort out a few things I needed to do. Firstly, I needed to fix my gears as they had been playing up since the ‘Death Road’. But I also needed to do my usual weekly blog and vlog posts. Luckily the gears were an easy fix. The front gears were just jammed by a bit of grit in the mechanism. But I actually took the time to watch some YouTube videos and learned how to adjust the gears on the front and back. They aren’t set up perfectly, but they are much better than they were.

Meeting New Friends

I have also been having some problems with my center stand. It keeps coming loose with the vibrations on the rough road surfaces. So I needed to buy a hex key big enough to fit. When I was walking back to my hotel, I noticed two touring bicycles locked up in the lobby of a hotel across the street. I went in and asked if they belonged to some tourists, they did, but they were out in town. So the next time I went out of the hotel, I called in again and asked if they were back. This is how I met the French couple, Lea and Armand. We had breakfast together the next day and it turned out that they were heading the same direction as I was. We agreed that we would share the road for a while.

Some Great Camping

I had hoped that coming down the ‘Death Road’ would take me out of the mountains. While it did bring me down a lot of altitude, there were still a lot of mountains still to cover. We headed out of Caranavi and we realised that we would be passing over a mountain pretty much every day of the next week. We didn’t hit a mountain every day though. We took some rest days along the way. We also had some great camping spots beside rivers and waterfalls. It was really nice to travel with Lea and Armand. It gave me motivation to push over some mountain roads, but also camping with some new people was a lot of fun. There were two camp spots that were particularly good. The first was next to someone’s house in a mountain village. The guy who owned the house was a musician and he played some music for us. Then I played his guitar while he played his local instruments. He taught me a traditional Bolivian rhythm on guitar. It was a lot of fun and completely unexpected. In the morning we also met his 96 year old mother. The second great spot was next to the river in Sapecho. We swam in the river and I took the opportunity to take a bath and wash my clothes in the river.

Clearing the Andes

The road north was sometimes beautiful and sometimes terrible. The road surface was sometimes smooth and good condition, then it would just stop and we would find ourselves going over rocky roads. I think it would have taken me a lot longer to follow this route if I had been alone. Not that I felt rushed, but being with other people can give you that little extra motivation to keep pushing up the hill rather than stop. It took us almost a whole week to finally get out of the Andes and onto the flat plains of the Bolivian Amazon region. It feels so good to be able to cycle so easily on the roads, even if they are in bad condition. As the week came to a close, we arrived in a town called San Borja. This was our last stop together. Lea and Armand would be heading east to Trinidad while I would be heading North towards Cobija and the Brazilian border. But we all decided to stay in town for a few rest days before we separated.

South America Blog Posts

Week 13 – Solo Bikepacking Bolivia. Flamingos on the long road north.

This week I continued my way along the 550km route north towards La Paz. It was really nice to be back on the bike, out on the open road. Even though the road was sometimes difficult or going through the middle of nowhere. The first few days were difficult but I pushed through and managed to do a decent amount of distance each day. I have been using an app called iOverlander to find camping spots as well as cheap accommodation along the way. Some of the camping spots have been in really beautiful spots, while some others left me wondering why anyone would mark it on the map.

Cheap accommodation & desert roads

The accommodation in some of the towns was very basic. The worst was in a town called Sevaruyo. There was just a small bed in an otherwise empty room with a wooden floor. The shared bathroom was a small toilet room with some brown substance on the floor and a bad smell. The door was broken so it had a huge hole in the bottom and didn’t close. But it was only £2.50 per night and I was only staying one night so it wasn’t so bad. From Sevaruyo the road headed through more long stretches of empty desert. Sometimes it’s nice to cycle through these kinds of places. But when it gets hot and you are starting to get tired, its not so fun. It really made me look forward to getting into the Amazon. Although I’m sure it will be difficult to cycle through the heat there, at least there will be some moisture.

An unusual camping spot

Further north, in a town called Poopo. There was only one hotel in town and it was overpriced at £6.30 per night. I asked around to see if there was another place, but when I found it, nobody answered the door. So I used iOverlander to find a camping spot. The spot that people had suggested was on the road to the cemetery. This was ok except that when I got there there I found a load of animal skins drying in the sun. I didn’t really mind that too much, but then a car drove past slowly and the guys inside were looking at me and my bike. So I decided to look around for a more secluded spot. On the other side of the road there was a raised area hidden by piles of dirt. This was perfect, except that it was just outside the walls of the town cemetery. I don’t believe in ghosts or anything like that, so I decided to sleep there.

An alternate route

The road from Poopo to Oruro went around the edge of a lake. But I could see a small road that cut through the middle of a lake, following some train tracks. I decided to take that road. It wasn’t so interesting for the first half. Just dirt tracks through the desert with a couple of train bridges to push my bike across. But then I got to the lake and everything changed. The clouds were reflected on the surface of the water and there were more flamingos that I have ever seen in one place before. I spent ages there taking in the scenery and flying my drone. For a while I even forgot that I had to cycle another hour or so into town. I really hope that I get more experiences like this as I go through the Amazon. But eventually I had to come back to reality and cycle into town. The roads were terrible, but I was still on a high from the lake. I got to my hostel and had a great nights rest.

South America Blog Posts

Week 12 – Solo Bikepacking Bolivia. Leaving Uyuni & a new route through the Amazon

As I mentioned in my blog post last week, Huong and I will be travelling separately from now on. Huong won’t be cycling and instead she will travel north to Peru and volunteer on a farm for a while. This means that I will be cycling through South America alone. To start my new solo journey, I moved into the Casa de Cyclistas in Uyuni. A Casa de Cyclistas is like a hostel, but is especially for cyclists. There are a lot of these places throughout South America, but there is only one in Bolivia. Luckily it’s in Uyuni, the city that I have been staying in. Its a very basic form of accommodation, just a room with no bed, a shared bathroom and kitchen. But there is no set fee for each night. Instead you pay a voluntary donation for your stay. It was an awesome experience and I am looking forward to visiting more of them as I continue north.

The Cycling Community

The best part of staying there was meeting some other bicycle travellers. When I first moved into the Casa de Cyclistas, there was one other cyclist there. His name is Yuri and he was cycling south after starting in Peru, he is collecting footage for a travel documentary. After I had been there a couple of days, a group of French cyclists arrived. They were also heading south but had started in the United States. It was awesome to meet other cyclists, I have been in South America for 12 weeks already and these were the first cyclists I have met. This is probably my own fault for starting in the south of the continent during winter. I am really looking forward to meeting more of the community as I continue north.

New route and bike adjustments

Yuri actually suggested that I take the route that he had just completed. The route was through the edge of the Amazon, in Peru, Brazil and Bolivia. I’ll leave La Paz, taking the road of death down to the edge of the Amazon. Then up through the Bolivian Amazon to the Brazilian border. I’ll only be in Brazil for a short time before crossing the border into the Peruvian Amazon. The route is over 2000km long and looks like it will be really awesome. The only issue is that my bike has narrow road tyres, not fat off-road tyres. So while I was in the Casa de Cyclistas I took the opportunity to change my back tyre, taking one from Huong’s bike before she sold it. I haven’t managed to get a replacement front tyre yet. Hopefully I can find one before I leave La Paz. But first I need to cycle 550km from Uyuni to La Paz to start this route.