Andes by bike | from Nazca to Salta
|Kind of bicycle||mountain bike|
|Type of trail||50% gravel road|
WHEN TO GO
From Peru to Argentina cycling from the scorching heat of the Pacific Coast till the heights of the plateau almost touching the rainforests and the large salt stretches of the boundless Bolivian lakes...
The Andes by bicycle teach you to live and face the most extreme nature and yourself, knowledge, will and determination. The Andes bewitch you and then beat you, because at high altitude, where trees no longer grow, it’s them that take the reins. Among the peaks, the desert moves forward and anything or anyone manages to stop it, and then there is the wind... what can we say of the wind? That invisible but tangible entity when lashes your face and makes you swear, makes you curse the day you chose to deal with a bicycle trip of this kind.
The heat leaves you breathless, the sun burns your skin and leaving the 620 meters of Nazca seems more difficult than expected. The lonely road enters in the mild mountains, bare flat mountains that come in succession one after another and seem to be endless. 1500 meters, 2700 meters, 3200 meters, the heat has dampened in the blue of the sky, but the breath continues to be tiring: each curve is more and more leaning, each straight road longer and longer even if nothing changes in the morphology of the territory. The first plateau is a long sigh of relief that melts among the smiles of the first sightings of flamingos and the first glacial night at 4200 meters.
Meetings, as the one with Ana who lives alone at 4500 meters in the Riserva nacional de Pampa Galeras or the one with the condor, the bird with the largest wingspan in the world; words, as those exchanged with the shepherds on the long road of the Peruvian lagoons, wonder, like the one experienced in front of the Andean nature and like that of the child who lives in Negro Mayo and has never seen two cycling travelers…
To deal with the Andes by bicycle you have to pay an onerous toll made up of liters of sweat, climbs nearly 100 km long, burning days and icy nights under a blanket of stars. From prohibitive quotas you go down to almost reach the rain forest of the Rio Apurimac, one of the ramifications of the Amazon River: colors change, vegetation and fauna transform, humidity reaches unimaginable levels. Machu Picchu and the sacred valley lie in a limbo suspended among high peaks (some of which almost reach 6000 meters) and the tropical climate of the jungle. You go up, again, higher and higher, go pasting Cusco, the Inca capital city, advancing with large strides towards the Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable basin in the world. In Bolivia there’s little to joke about: 4000 meters become faithful companions, sandy dirty roads, salt deserts, passes in the clouds, everyday pitfalls.
Magic Bolivia, maybe my heart is still on the plateau, among the harder Andes by bicycle but also the most unforgettable ones of our trip. We zigzag lost like children, brave like real explorers: the Chilean volcanoes welcome us while steaming, among the striped and colored veining of their steep slopes. Sand, depopulated pueblos, lama and campesinos burnt by the sun that never gives a chance. The rainy season doesn’t want to show up and the soil, arid and dusty, is suffering.
The great snowfields of the volcanoes Parinacota and Sajama melt while we enjoy some rest between the jaws of the earth, sinking in muddy puddles of the hot waters of the natural springs. Coipasa and Uyuni, two huge salares, breakfast in the streets together with the elders of the village, sipping quinoa juice and munching oily pancakes, sheep cheese, salty and tasty, the Atacama desert and Argentina that arrived like a mirage among the tired wheels of our bicycles ...
The great Norte and the last Andean passes among the pitfalls of a pristine territory: we have reached Salta dreaming of an asado and some good red Argentinean wine and the dream has become reality. It is difficult to describe a bike trip on the Andes of 3200 km, 4 countries, 5 borders, 20 nights in the tent, 2 salares … just in a few lines. To understand the true essence of these Andean countries there’s only one thing to do: cycle them!