Week 94. Atocha to Tilcara. Biking in Bolivia and Argentinia.

4th till 10th of August 2019.

Nature’s way.

Nature can be raw, nature can be healing, nature can be unexpectedly beautiful, nature can be brutal.

We are still biking at 3,600 meter, enjoying the brisk, clear altiplano light without any pollution, freezing air even when the sun is up. Leaving the still city of Atocha on an early Sunday morning with a full belly of home cooked oatmeal. So happy we have the new water heater. We start with the aim to bike 100 km.

How have we underestimated the profile of the ride. If looking at a long distances on MapOut you don’t see the nasty 1-2 km climbs with +8% incline. No pushing involved, but very slow progress through an amazing barren landscape. Flat alternated with canyons. Wind is not always in our favor, but we continue pushing forward.

Even lunch with some noodles can not make us move any faster.

The difference between shade and the sunny armpit of the mountain. Snow still there at just above 4,000 meter.

My beast.
Nothing but grass and some cacti in the sunny armpit.

At 15:00 it is crisis management meeting and we agree that we will never reach Tupiza by our own force today. We know we don’t have enough water to camp and Frank is not in favour of camping as we are now biking above 4,000 meters. Plan is to get more water and/or hitchhike, depending on what comes first. The gods are with us as the first car stops and gives us a big bottle of water (the car is too small to take us) and even returns after a few minutes to give us some oranges, they don’t want anything in return. I find myself stupid we have not taken more water with us for emergency camping, there is no natural source in this barren land. And really no houses!

Don’t you love their recycling?

Price to pay.

We don’t wait for the next car as traffic is very spars and we continue going. Within the next half hour a small truck with open loading space passes and is willing to take us to Tupiza. Stuffed in the back with packed bicycles we enjoy the rolling ride over spotless asphalt and bumpy gravel. It takes the speedy truck more than an hour to cover the 50 km, this would have taken us at least one more day. We compensate for the gasoline and he does not waive our offer to pay. Do you offer to pay if you have asked for a ride?

Our shelter for today is located in a historical building from the time of wealthy mine owners, but that rich time has gone. The son of the owner has started his own brewery which is still very artisanal, bottling in cleaned empty bottles of other brands. Showing where he would like to build a bar in a cave across the road, now filled with stuff and tons of waste in front of the entrance. This could be very nice but he first needs to organize and clean-up the space. Great chats with the camper people (iOverlander) who also followed the brewery tour and are staying here.  


I finally admit to Frank that I enjoy the route we are riding. Still longing to have biked or driven the Laguna Route, but promising to myself that I can always return if this will continue spooking around in my head. And if I am really honest to myself is it FOMO to not have biked the Laguna Route? Is it again longing to prove I can also do this? Is it longing to take that awesome shot? Am I not in a way happy that I don’t have to over-push my limits? Have to say that this stretch is way more beautiful, special and tranquil than expected. And Frank knows it will only be a few more days until it will get warmer.

Met him in the middle of nowhere, running 30 km.

In the bush.

We bike over the altiplano with barely any vertical inclination and not too much headwind. Still decide a few kilometers before Mojo to call it a day. We don’t want to camp on the village square and we know 95% for sure there is no hostal. Our wild camp strategy is to camp before a village if there is no need to resupply. We don’t like to resupply just before dark and continue to find a wild camp spot. You never know who will be following you. We find a spot not too far from the road but completely hidden between prickly bushes and goat poo, the only beasts you see walking around here.

The warmth of the sun.

Enjoying the afternoon sun without a down jacket! Cooking dinner and finally drinking the bottle of wine Frank is already carrying for a week. Sunset at 18:30, within 30 minutes the temperature drops below 0. I will never know if Frank agreed to camp to satisfy my wish? The next morning we know it was way colder than expected. It took some time to unfreeze the solidly frozen water bottles before Frank was able to cook breakfast. And yes he was cold again last night, even with thermal underwear, socks and fleece. Need to put some fat on those bones.

As we don’t need to bike too far today we have a kind of lazy morning which is brutally disturbed when Frank discovers he has again a flat tire. He does not change the tire but pump it and see how it will hold.

Running out of water we stop in the tiny village of Mojo where knocking on the tienda (small store) gives us access to sodas in big bottles. Since sodas are as expensive as water, nobody buys water here. Only water which is stored in big black rooftop containers (which we try to avoid), we don’t want to spend time filtering water and decide, for the first time, to buy Fanta.

Chilly ride and when we have our roadside lunch we see a little girl a bit further down the road, carrying bags. She is walking to the next village and gladly accepts an orange and bread. The first one with pate (yes we found pate!) is tucked away in her cardigan. Seems she does not know or even like it so we trade it for one with dulce de leche (manjar blanca). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dulce_de_leche

Frank makes a new shoelace from a piece of our washing line. Youngest of 8 shows that birth control is not yet common in Bolivia. More kids are needed to help at the farm.  

Help fixing a tire.

Leave or stay.

Bit more than 1,200 kilometers, 8,700 vertical meters uphill and 9,400 vertical downhill in 25 days, we already have crossed Bolivia and arrive at the border town of Villazon. Strange to already exit Bolivia, feels like too short, feels like we only scratched the surface. La Paz was a great Western hide-a-way, the Salars a sight to behold, traditional clothing still in daily life. Feeling we have not seen enough, not spoken with enough people, not tasted enough local food, but Ushuaya is calling!

Store front.

One tire change before a very easy border crossing. Checking out of Bolivia and checking into Argentina are very efficiently combined in one office. With a scan of all luggage, which does not happen often.

Here we get reminded that if we take the fastest route we only have to cover 5,100 km to reach Ushuaia.

World of difference.

Already this town feels different, no traditional clothing, more Spanish faces. Houses in different colors. Hostel with spotless room with spotless shared facilities and kitchen. While I see most of the town in my search for food and a working ATM, Frank fixes the inner tubes. We discover that Argentina has different wall sockets and plugs, so the water heater does no longer fit. Trying to adjust the pins, one of them breaks off. Bummer, first we want to throw it away, but decide to see if Frank can find a plug to alter it.

On the way from La Quiaca to Abra Pampa we follow Ruta National 9. As we start with km marker 2000 and are counting down we will have the opportunity to encounter our year of birth on a mile marker.

Bare, flat landscape, some fields of pampa grass. Halfway our day we have lunch on real picnick table at the beginning of the small town called “La Intermedia”. It even looks like a small campground next to the road. When I greet a local biker heading our way in Puesto del Marques, he stops and explains the history of the region, fast, not always easy to understand. There would be even Inca roads nearby. Knowing the cobble stone surfaces, knowing the mileage we still have to cover and enjoying the smooth asphalt with almost no traffic, we kindly decline and continue following the RN9.

Abra Pampa has wide avenues with trees in winter sleep, lanes dotted with rusty old dodges and fords. Dust is blowing in the wind.

We opt for a room with sun and heating, private bathroom as only 3 Euro more expensive. Dinner is empanadas. No other restaurants open around at 7:30 in the evening.

Take out some insurance.

Next morning a real bureaucratic nightmare starts.

This morning (8-8-2019), checking our email, we discover that we are kicked out of health insurance in the Netherlands.

So here we are in Argentina without health insurance. No new SIM card yet as we just have crossed the border and have not found one yet. Frustrating is that you can only reach official organizations with a landline, no WhatsApp calling. Lucky we have a phone booth down-town. One moment landlines work perfectly, next moment nothing works. We arrange a new SIM but even with the new number people can’t reach us as lines are down.

I was thinking to write everything about what has happened in this frustrating story, but as I am writing this blog a few weeks later and dust has settled down we will only report the final outcome. It could have been a nice teaser for a few weeks but I don’t want to scare people too much.

To make a very long story short: due to some automatic check performed after two years outside your country, the Social Security Bank (SVB) had kicked us out following the info we had provided to them a few weeks ago. Due to this the health insurance kicked us out and as a result the travel insurance stopped our insurance.

Frank called and submitted a protest to SVB. With the new info provided SVB has pulled back its verdict and confirmed that we are entitled to Health Insurance after all, which has now been confirmed. The only one not willing to turn back their verdict was Allianz for the travel insurance. We had their insurance for the first part of our trip, started when we were still registered in the Netherlands. This insurance was stopped when we returned for our winter stop. When we closed a new insurance we did not have permanent residence in NL, hence the insurance was invalid they say.

After contacting tons of different travel insurances we finally found one where you only need to confirm to which country you will return for your permanent residency, where you have health insurance. And we found one where it is no problem to be +65. Yes we are covered again after 3 full weeks without any insurance. And let me say it gives a better feeling when you are biking or hiking around than without any! Let me say it gave a lot of negative stress.

Next day, already Friday, we decide there is no use to wait as it still could take some time to get answers on the insurance. Let me say that I experienced the road and traffic in a different way, but after some hours I cool down. The landscape is so breath-taking we can’t think of anything else. Looming over the tiny mining town of Tres Cruzes, colored mountains in the shape of elephant trunks, distract us more than enough.

Getting lower means more cacti. And yes also these only grow 1 cm per year.

We arrive in Humahuaca and already see in the distance more colored mountains. Seems that this area is famous for his colored mountains, drawing many tourists to this town.

We discover why we could not find any open restaurants as it seems that Argentinians only eat after 21:00 and often as late as 23:00. We wait for pizza which was not as good as the one in Uyuni. Great service as he gets a bottle of wine around the corner, seems that they only drink beer and soda with pizza. We prefer a good Malbec!

The colors of these colored mountains that we intended to visit in the morning, only seem to vibrate in the afternoon, so we decide to skip the hike and aim for slow biking. Enjoying all the other different colored mountains we pass.

We decide to bike a shorter distance today and find a good place in Tilcara. Funny that the two first hostals we check are fully booked. What the heck?

I need to buy local phone card credit because biking around town to find a place to stay is wasting our free afternoon. We see backpackers, dreadlocks, aged people in tour buses. What are they doing in this dusty town in the middle of no-where? When we finally have found a place and have the first real, good cappuccino in a very long time (the benefit of a real tourist town), we discover Tilcara being the hub for all tour agencies to discover the region. It probably would have been cheaper to bike to the next, unknown village. Still a real good pasta ends the week where we crossed into our 13th country. What does Argentina have in store for us?

Thanks for following us!

Does this one count for the “same color as background” series?

Frank (65, Dutch) and Jacinta (54, Belgian) together for 30 years. Biking from North to South America.

7 thoughts on “Week 94. Atocha to Tilcara. Biking in Bolivia and Argentinia.

  1. Al een stukje gelezen. Nu zwemles en dan lees ik zo verder.
    En met oksel heb ik me vergist. Dacht dat je het had over een menselijke oksel
    Heb 2x moeten kijken naar de foto😜🤣

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They get really good reviews. But we could not use them as they don’t insure people above 65 :(. Somebody said: if you can’t afford a travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel and I totally agree.


  2. Hoi, jullie 13e land in fietsen is wel wat he! En wat een gedoe met de verzekering, wat zeker niet fijn is, maar gelukkig worden jullie afgeleid door de omgeving waar je doorheen fietst. Weer genoten van jullie reisverslag met wederom mooie foto’s!

    Liked by 1 person

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