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Pura bici

Cycling in the Andes
The smile of the Andes
May 25, 2018
Crossing salar de coipaca by bicycle
Cycling in heaven
June 6, 2018

Wednesday 16th of may - Sucre

'3,000 meters', Olivier shouts at Zoë, 'are you already feeling it?' "No, nothing!" Zoë laughs back. Olivier is gasping on his bike and feels the altitude, though it may be the climb of forty kilometers that takes its toll. On our left we see Sucre, the official capital of Bolivia. Although all administrative and official agencies are located in La Paz, Sucre is still the capital. On the outskirts of the city a small motorcycle is waiting for us, the son of Willy, who is expecting us. "It is only straight and down," Fabricio assures us. We race through the streets, passing buses and cars, then turn right and suddenly find ourselves in a cozy street full of small market stalls. Although Olivier was here three years ago, he doesn't recognise Sucre. On the bicycle we always experience a different view of a city.


Almost all of Willy's family live in the same building. His brother, Taco, lives on the top floor, and he hosts us. He is pleased with our visit and tries to act as the best host. His refrigerator is completely empty because he always eats at the restaurant downstairs, but for this occasion he brings out his best cooking skills. For two days he fills us with typical Bolivian food and fresh fruit juices. 'You have to recover well because on the altiplano it is cold' he says. Outside, on the street we don’t know where to look first. The Bolivian women are proud of their traditional costumes that have once come over by the Spaniards. They wear beautiful pleated skirts with a panty underneath or a lace underskirt. The hair is in two long braids, which sometimes has never been cut, with a hat on it. Sometimes a black bowler hat, but in Sucre usually a beige hat with an artistic pattern that breaks the sunlight on the face.

On the back they carry a large colourful blanket, stuffed with their merchandise from the market or a baby, with his head dangling outside. The old men do match the women and are sometimes dressed in true color splendour. In the mouth they often have a big clot of coca leaves, to give energy, to stop the hunger and to keep out the cold. On the market, the cow tails are hanging next to the pig heads. All delicacies according to Taco, but we are glad that he does not prepare it for us. We drink a super smoothie, for the ultimate energy. It has no less than ten ingredients; egg, alcohol-free beer, banana, papaya, potato, carrot, beetroot, apple, milk and honey. Amazingly, it is delicious and we are ready for the Altiplano.

Pura bici

Under motorbike guidance we leave Sucre and cycle in two days to Potosi, one of the most beautiful cities in South America. Potosi was once the center of Spanish wealth. In the big mountain next to the city, the Cerro Rico (rich mountain), silver was discovered in the sixteenth century. The Spaniards removed the trunk and built Potosi full of churches and other stately buildings. Nowadays the Bolivians remove the remaining branches from the mine, with tin as the most important result. It is a life-threatening job with a life expectancy of up to 45 years. At night it cools strongly at 4,000 meters. Heating they do not know in the Bolivian houses so that there are four thick blankets on the beds. It is barely seven degrees in the room and we even miss the heat from Santa Cruz for a moment. In a small, local restaurant everyone sits wherever there is place. Our table companions are surprised when they see two Gringos, and especially about hearing our trip. "Pura bici?" (Only by bike?) he asks with big eyes. It is the most heard statement the past two weeks. People can not believe that we have been cycling around the world for more than a year and a half. "I do not arrive at the corner of the street by bike" his girlfriend jokes. They sponsor our meal, which costs about 90 cents. 'Our contribution to your adventure' they say proudly.

Breaking records

We have three days to go to Uyuni, three days over four thousand meters. Cycling at this height is heavy for the body. Olivier suffers the first day as a beast. The smallest effort ensures that you are out of breath and the lack of oxygen takes all the power out of your legs. When Olivier took this road three years ago, he immediately said one thing "I'll come back someday to cycle this way." The landscape is indescribably beautiful, with an asphalt road of top quality. Left and right are herds of llamas, which pose willingly on the picture. The lamas are the cattle of the farmers on the altiplano and used to people. The wild variety is called Alpaca and is much less enthusiastic for a photo. We break one record after the other. We cycle at 4.223 meters altitude, sleep at 3.800 meters in the tent, descend at 74.9 kilometers per hour (sorry mom!) and climb 1,900 altitude meters in one day. It is 100% joy and 100% suffering at the same time.

Amazing how humans sometimes manage to make natural beauty so ugly.


"Is this it?" Olivier sighs. We climbed the last three kilometers against the wind, through loose sand, on our way to a hot spring. Above is a small stream with steaming water that disappears between four concrete walls. Inside the walls is the hot water bath. Amazing how humans sometimes manage to make natural beauty so ugly. The water pipe for the drinking water is broken so we can not camp at the stream. We have to go five hundred meters to a small settlement. 'You can not stand here, you will disturb the people in the village', the man says, when we ask if we can pitch the tent. We look at each other in astonishing way. For the first time in one and a half years we are not received in a hospitable manner and even chased away. Shrugging shoulders, we fill the bottles of water and cycle a few kilometers further through the sand where we set up the tent. It cools down to -11 degrees that night, the last record at this altitude. The morning sun warms up slowly when we cycle the last kilometers to Uyuni. We cross the last mountain and see for the first time the big white salt flats. We have made it and that pura bici.


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