After visiting the boring archeological museum of San Pedro de Atacama, we set out of town.
On the way out we bought headache pills and passed the lively market and spent all our Chilean money we had left on garlic. It seems to be possible for cyclists coming to San Pedro from the east to avoid having their food thrown away at the customs at the border, by going into town 300 m before the customs. If you want to do so, you need to prepare all your illegal food in one package, and throw it away right after the customs people loose your sight. Then you can go back there and tell them you lost your way.
The way up to Bolivia climbs 2,000 m in just 28 km. This means there is an average slope of about 7%. Even though the road was well paved all the way up, the ride on this steep slope combined with the altitude of up to 4,800 m above sea level was very tiring for us, and so we stopped every half a km to get our breath back. All the way up we saw small houses by the road, so maybe we could have avoided carrying a lot of water by filling our bottles there. It took us 2 days and a pill against headaches to get to the top.
From there it was mainly getting down on a dust road to the border and after that to the entrance to the national park. In the border it is possible to change money from either USD or Chilean Pesos, with an interest of about 15%. There is a fox that often comes to the border to beg for food from tourists.
On the way to the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, we rode down on snow!
The entrance is expensive (150 Bs), and they can´t even give you a map. 3 times we got a recommendation to take a road that doesn´t appear on any of our maps going from Laguna Colorada to Villamar.
In the Refugio (40 Bs) in front of the park rangers there is electricity for only 2 hours in the evening and after the lights are off, everybody goes to sleep. To flush the toilet you use buckets. We felt really bad as a result of the height, so we decided to spend another night there. In this place we learned about the 4 days ORV (off-road vehicle) tours from Uyuni to the park during which they stop in fixed places to eat their pre-cooked meals from food that would not risk the tourists delicate stomach. If you stay long enough next to the drivers you might get some interesting leftovers. We got pasta tricolor with a sauce consisting of 4 different kinds of canned vegetables.
We ignored the warnings from all the tourists we talked to, and drank the local water which is much better than what we had in northern Chile and back home in Haifa. During the two days we spent in this Refugio, we met Bruno, a Swiss cyclist who is completing the cross America trip from Alaska to Ushuaia. He enjoyed especially riding in Colombia, where the weather is always nice, the roads are paved and the people smile. He enjoyed less the past week he spent riding on awful and remote road in order to get to the border. His bad luck didn´t end there, as he had to go down to Chilean border in San Pedro, just to stamp his passport twice, and then go back up towards Argentina.
There we also met Antoine, a 22-year old French with a master in mechanical engineering who came to Valparaiso, Chile as an exchange student. He spends most of his time traveling around South America. At 3 AM he got up in order to climb the Licancabur volcano (5,900 m) guided by the Refugio´s owner (100 USD).
When we started eating breakfast, he was already back. In the afternoon we went with him for a walk around the frozen Laguna Blanca.