To Sajama; via volcanoes, burial chambers and frozen potatoes…

Sabaya – Negrillos – Macaya – Chachacomani – Acotango – Sajama (see Andes by Bike – though we short-cutted their gpx track by delving onto sandier trails).

Skirting the Chilean border, the ride from Sabaya to Sajama meanders its way through a low slung, sandy and speckled landscape, at least until the volcanoes of the Sajama National Park begin to dominate the horizon – a family of white capped, conical peaks standing proud against a hazy sky.

Settlements in this largely overlooked corner of South West Bolivia are few and far between. Most seem only sparsely inhabited or even partly abandoned – in fact, I often count more llamas wandering the dusty, threadbare streets than humans. Perhaps it’s because of the roads. Sandy and rippled with calaminas – the corrugated surface common across the altiplano – they’re perfectly suited to fat bikes, but not much else.

And while the scenery here isn’t quite as distinctive and immediately impressive as the salar and lagunas that have come before, there are definite highlights to the ride. Our night amongst the Chullpas Policromas, a set of monolithic, pre-Incan adobe burial chambers, is one. Pocked, chipped and gnawed by the elements, these mud brick funeral towers stand over four metres high. Set to a backdrop of volcanoes and lakes, atop hills and amongst brush, they provide an atmospheric a campsite as I’ve experienced – even if the wind that whips through the valley flaps our tents relentlessly, like sails in a wild storm.

Our attempt to scale Volcan Acotango, at 6059m, is another such moment. In theory, it’s a straightforward hike that requires acclimatisation rather than any specialist equipment. Unfortunately at this time of year, snow and cornices thwart us from summiting the volcano. Abandoning bikes, we reach a tantalisingly close 5890m: so close, yet so far…

If you would like to keep up with where I am between tardy blog entries, I keep my While Out Riding Facebook page more regularly updated – along with posting extra photos and gear ponderings. You can find it here. Occasionally, I pop some pictures up on my Instagram feed too. 


After weeks of bluebird skies, it seems like the weather is a changin’…


Could be the high desert in New Mexico…


What more could you need from a store? Phone credit, Pepsi, Coke and Beer…


And whoever said food on the altiplano won’t put a smile on your face?


As long as you like Chuño, a traditional speciality: potatoes blackened by several days of freeze-thaw action.


Or llama jerky – ch’arki – perfect for villages were electricity is fleeting, and refrigeration provided by the outdoors.


It’s not all good news though. With fruit a rare commodity, I’ve succumbed to a varied menu of processed sugary fixes.


Cuddle time. Accommodation on the altiplano has proved simple but comfortable. And above all, bike-friendly.


Sweet dreams.


Looming high: 6542m Nevado Sajama.


My kind of road…


Another day… another plastic tablecloth… another chunk of llama…



Prime – if a little windy – camping amongst the Chullpas.


It’s decided that sleeping within their coffin-sized confines might make for bad juju.


Willa Chullpa…


… Jalu Chullpa.


… and the Chullpas Policromas.


Andi and his Pugsley: without doubt, the ideal steed for this terrain.


More sand please (-:





Nevado Sajama, 6542m.


En route to Volcan Acotango.


Abandoning bikes, we continue by foot to admire its cousins: Parinacota, Pomerape and Sajama.


Kryptonite? We must be on another planet…


Yet so close yet so far. Snow and cornices thwart the traverse along the last ridge.


Still, we make it to 5891m – or 19327ft. Not too shabby for a cyclist.



Volcanoes in every direction…


And crumbling churches too.



By the way, have I introduced you to Mr Fusion?



Next up… the final push to La Paz!


13 thoughts on “To Sajama; via volcanoes, burial chambers and frozen potatoes…

  1. Domingo

    You are absolutely nuts. This is some of the most inspiring shit i’ve ever seen. You see some of the most ridiculous parts of this amazing world. I’m sick to the stomach in admiration. Your 70 year old self is going to absolutely LOVE you. all the best brud, Bournio’s mate Domingo

  2. Adam Labe

    Thanks for sharing so much of you journey with us. As noted under the second image in this post, several of your recent images also remind me of the high desert in New Mexico. I live in Las Cruces and in the past year have ventured out into the Uvas mountains and nearby arroyos. My 49 year old self is happy to share in your adventure.

  3. Juan Andrés Nin

    Awesome photos, Cass.
    I went to Peru this april, did a 4-day hiking trip and found the local food to be amazing 🙂

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Peru is indeed a culinary delight! Though I have to admit that Bolivia was far better than I heard… as long as you’re not squeamish about eating llama.

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Sadly, the delights of Cremositas and Sublimes seem in short supply outside of Ayuni. I have readdressed the balance in Peru…

  4. Joe Speaks

    Nothing like a little elevation to go with your dirt roads, aye? Thinking fondly of our time pedaling around Everest. Very excited to see you climbing to even greater heights! Enjoy.

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Great to hear from you Joe! I’m US-bound in a couple of weeks. Will let you know if I make it to San Francisco.

  5. Ed

    I loved reading about Sajama and your pictures, it has to be one of my favourite places on earth, so beautiful but wild still. Did you soak in the hot springs?

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Sajama is indeed an awesome place! I’m ashamed to say that I’m not especially a hot springs fan (shame on me) so didn’t track them down.


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