The Endless Fiesta in Bolivia’s Kimsa Cruz
Photos and words by Ryan Wilson
The best part about riding in the Andes of Perú and Bolivia is that finding a great route is about as simple as pointing to a couple of interesting looking spots on the map and connecting the dots. Chances are good that you’ll end up on a rollercoaster of dirt roads through quiet valleys and over dramatic mountain passes.
While it’s fun to follow the tracks of fellow cyclists that have sought out these remote roads and trails previously, if I see a chance to head through an area with little to no info readily available, there’s definitely an extra element of intrigue. Is there water? Anywhere to find food along the way? Is there actually a bridge over that giant river? After all, the mystery of what lies around the next bend or over the next pass is what keeps me wanting to turn those pedals.
That element of intrigue drew me toward the remote roads that hug the south-western slopes of Nevado Illimani and through the rarely visited Cordillera Kimsa Cruz. Of course, one of the reasons that this area of the Kimsa Cruz is often overlooked is the fact that just getting there is a trek on its own, as I would soon find out.
Somehow, over the last few months I’ve consistently found myself along routes where I’m at the bottom of a deep canyon, staring up at a pass that’s 10-14k ft above me. I don’t know if the lack of oxygen is contributing to memory loss, but I always seem to forget how much it truly sucks climbing these for days on end. This route was certainly no different as it bottomed out just above 5,000ft in the barren desert mountains surrounding Rio La Paz, before climbing up to a series of glacial valleys that reach 17,000ft.
Maybe it’s the allure of the dramatic shifts in landscape as you tick off the altitude a few feet at a time that overcome those memories of dead legs and full-body exhaustion. Maybe it’s the satisfaction of being at the top and looking back at what it took to get there, or maybe it’s the funny looks the locals give you when you tell them where you’ve come from and where you’re headed. Either way, I always look back on these endless climbs far more fondly than I think I will when I’m halfway up them.
Luckily, throughout the arduous days of ascending along this route I was greeted by some of the most expansive views in the Andes that I’ve come across, and what seemed to be a fiesta in damn near every village I passed through. Whether it’s bullfighting on the town’s soccer pitch, marching up and down remote roads playing traditional music and waving flags, or a full-blown parade through the streets… Bolivianos LOVE to party.
For a gringo rolling into these places on a bike, that typically means you’re going to have an endless onslaught of plastic cups filled with cerveza offered up by virtually every slurring and stumbling campesino in town. These guys are also probably the most talkative folks in the Andes, and while I can often hack my way through a basic conversation in Spanish, drunken Spanish from a campesino with two teeth left might as well be Chinese, so there’s usually just a lot of smiling, laughing, and nodding going on.
Before you know it, you’re tipsily coming to the realization that you’ve got to climb out of this village to go find a campsite before dark, and the handful of beers in you probably isn’t going to help expedite the process… The next morning comes and the cycle repeats. This time it’s a new village and a fresh set of locals looking to have you sample their finest (ok, cheapest) drink of choice as they take turns squeezing your tires and counting the cogs on your cassette.
With the number of festivals and parades I’ve come across in my time in the Andes, party-hopping my way through the cordillera seemed like a fitting way to say goodbye to the friendly faces and glacial peaks of the high mountains as I head for the wide open spaces of the Bolivian altiplano…My route for this section: https://ridewithgps.com/