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…
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