We had a much needed, but very extended rest in the coastal town of Arica. We hitchhiked a car from Parinacota to Arica, almost a 200km drive. The driver Mario was incredibly friendly, and entertained us along the way with stories of all the cars which crashed on the way down this road. Here a soy truck went over the edge, there a corn truck, there a bus and here a 4×4 forgot to turn (the car was still laying there, a good 1000m lower.) Luckily we were too tired to worry, just looking forward to a rest by the sea. Mario wanted to bring us back up two days later, but we needed more time to find spares and repairs for all the things that had broken in the past month. We had been sleeping on an Alpaca woollen blanket since Titicaca, as Anastasija’s exped mat broke, my water filter was broken since Cusco, my phone got wet and died, and we needed a lot of food if we wanted to continue cycling in the Lauca national park.
In the end we extended our stay to a week with surfing, turtle watching, sleeping and waiting. On monday I got sick, but was better by tuesday, then it was Anastasija’s turn however, meaning she wasn’t in the best shape when we made it back up.
Mario gave us a ride up again (we checked busses, but there’s none) and we started cycling again by Mistune, not too fast as we had to re-adapt to the elevation, and we had a steady headwind. Luckily the weather was a lot better than when we went down. Sure there were still a few thunderstorms a day, but at least those storms were now interchanged with sun, instead of a steady drizzle. The view on the mountains and volcanoes is just amazing!
From Mistune we would cycle to Guillatire, a village named after the active volcano towering over it. From there it is only 40km more to Salar de Surire, a saltlake partially covered with water during the rainy season.
crowded with flamingos and vicuñas
The first village from Mistune, Guallatire is described as an historical center town but seems now to be largely deserted. No shops or food, but there’s water, a beautiful church, police station and a park guard. The guard gave us leaflet with information about the reserve and encouraged us that camping is no problem in the area. Previously, car drivers had warned us that it’s too dangerous with the lightning, but he was not conserned at all. In the park’s register we could see that the previous visitor to the park came about a week ago, definitely low season!
Luckily the wildlife didn’t mind the lack of attention and was present in abundance. We saw two foxes, countless flamingos and vicuñas and even some austrich like running-birds. After all the rain we had here in the mountains, the weather seems to have (temporarily) improved, already two days with only very short showers/hail events, otherwise just sun. What a change!
We did more than ever count on rain at night however. Here villages are further apart and the riverwater tends to be either salty or sulfuric. We needed the rainwater collected at night.And that soon turned out to be problematic. Once we reached the salar, it stopped raining alltogether, even at night. Hoping for a drinkable river, we went to the hotsprings by the salar, described as an ideal camping space. We didn’t find any rivers, but luckily we met a Belgian couple who gave us a full 7l botlle. That meant we could spend the night and lay stargazing in the hot water.
Leaving the hotsprings the day after, we found out that this water was even more necessary than expected. The next four villages I had on the map turned out to be deserted, they were the only ones in a 30km radius around. Luckily, by one such a deserted village, there was a spring so we could stock up. We found the spring by following some plastic tubes to a green spot in the far distance. A long shot, but with succes! It seems the village did not die out from lack of water, judging from the bottles and cans spread around alcoholism seems a more likely case.
From this last deserted village it was just a steady downhill roll through desolate landscape until the Bolivian border. Crossing over to the Salar de Coipasa went again without luggage check. They really don’t care. In the village of Pisiga four hostals can be found, the owners however are so unfriendly that we prefer to camp, close enough to return tomorrow in order to get the necessary food for a few days of salar-cycling. Hopefully the weather stays dry!