Route Decisions

We’ve got a tough decision ahead of us – how will we get through Bolivia?

Bolivia will be one of the most challenging parts of our journey due to its sheer remoteness – we’ll spend days on end camping out and will have to carry our own water for up to three or four days at a time. Until now, we have been able to find water at least once per day.

We have basically two options – the high altiplano or the Amazon basin. Each route is very remote and we would pass only two or three cities each way. In between, we will be camping out and carrying gallons of water.


  • There is something romantic about the notion of cycling the altiplano. After hearing stories of it for so many years, I really want to see it
  • Beautiful in a lot of ways. We won’t have views of the gorgeous snow-capped mountains like around here, but the grasses swaying in the wind and wide open vistas should be gorgeous.
  • Shorter than the other route by around 600 or 700 km
  • Would stay high and not to have to climb up another massive pass
  • Fairly flat
  • Daytime temps for cycling are perfect
  • It’s tough cycling at 12 – 14 thousand feet!
  • Cold – really cold. At night, the temp would drop down to the low teens or single digits (farenheit, not celsius!). We would need to be snuggled into our sleeping bags by 6 every evening and wouldn’t get out again until 7 the next morning.
  • Have to carry enough water for up to three or four days at a time – that’s a lot of water!
  • Daily mileage would be low – we find we are exhausted after 50 km at this altitude.

Amazon Basin

  • Warmer. It’s winter now, so we aren’t sure what the temps would be – pleasant or scorchingly hot??
  • Easier cycling since we’ll be lower which means more oxygen in the air
  • Varied scenery rather than just high desert grasslands
  • Camping would be more pleasant as it’s not bitterly cold. It could be too hot for comfortable camping though – we aren’t sure.
  • We could comfortably cycle more miles each day.
  • Have to carry less water as there are more villages – only enough for two or three days.
  • Drop down 13,000 feet and then have to climb back up to get to Salta, Argentina.
  • Jungle – we’ve seen jungle in Central America and Ecuador and I have no desire to see it again!
  • Longer by about 600 or 700 km
  • Hillier route – it would be flat once we get down, but there are a lot of hills between here and there

Which way to go? Daryl wants to go down, Davy wants to stay high. Given the differences in daily mileage we should be able to do, we think it will end up taking approximately the same amount of time regardless of the route we choose.

There was a time in my life when I loved the challenge of winter camping – the colder, the better. But now… I dunno, I think I’m getting old and soft. Now the idea of camping out in freezing cold night after night and waking up in a frost-covered tent and having to pack my bike with fingers immobilized by cold doesn’t sound so appealing. But then I come back to the idea of cycling through the beautiful altiplano under crystal clear skies with the warm sun on my face and I think, “It won’t be that bad!”

We’ve got a week or so to decide. Wish us luck…

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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7 Responses to Route Decisions

  1. Grand Canyon Harry July 7, 2010 at 12:50 pm #

    Boy, I wouldn’t want to make that decision. It seems you have thought out all the plusses and minuses. I used to teach (facilitate) the military decision making process and have a few tricks. Assign numbers to your pros and cons then change these numbers to reflect importance to you. Add up both sides and see which one wins. John, being the math guru could help you on this. Do for both options. You can get more sophisticated and assign multipliers. It’s fun to let the number make the decision. Good luck.

  2. nancy July 7, 2010 at 12:54 pm #

    I think we need to do a bit more research and figure out how hot it would be down below. We KNOW how cold it is up here!

  3. Linda Cox July 7, 2010 at 3:56 pm #

    Nancy- thinking back on my world travels and my traveling from Peru down thru Bolivia to Argentina, I remember how cool the scenery was in Bolivia. It is unique. Volcanoes, high mountain deserts and pink flamingos in the lakes. It looked like Salvadore Dali painings. Could you start high and see how it goes and if too difficult drop down to the jungle? It is remote up high, I remember not seeing towns. If you do decide to drop to the jungle, could you stash your bikes and do a tour into the altiplano and then come back and get your bikes and then drop into the jungle?

  4. nancy July 8, 2010 at 10:02 am #

    There are some roads that would drop down, but they are terrible, horrible dirt roads – and that’s what we are trying to avoid. Basically, we have to decide now.

    We will be passing through a few towns either way, so could arrange to stash the bikes for a while, but I don’t know if we will.

    Decision time is coming soon!

  5. Jonathan Evans July 8, 2010 at 7:45 pm #

    I don’t think that it will be very hot in the Amazon basin at this time of year, humid and sticky undoubtedly, but not scorching. I’ve never been at this time of year, but I was there 3 months ago.

    When I was in Bolivia doing the Salar de Uyuni tour last year in May, it dropped down to -20c at night. I honestly have never been so cold in all my life. One other thing which may or may not be a factor in your decision, there are very few paved roads in Southern Bolivia. Roads between the main towns are not paved for long stretches.

    But, it’s a beautiful and amazing country, you’ll have an amazing time, good luck!

  6. Wendy July 10, 2010 at 12:24 pm #

    Just checking in on you guys and see that your work is cut out for you no matter what choice you make. I am too old to enjoy the cold, but I do understand that the heat and humidity might be tuff also. Either route will be eye opening. Best wishes on your choice.

  7. Jim July 11, 2010 at 5:46 pm #

    In your shoes, I would choose the altiplano route. It is shorter, and you are all getting rapidly acclimated to the elevation.

    However, if your sleeping bags are still inadequate, I would suggest finding an alpaca blanket (or two) to add to your “warmth quotient”. My first wife hailed from Peru, and nothing, I mean nothing, is warmer than alpaca blankets (well, maybe Vicuna)…

    OTOH, my ethnic heritage is Danish, so maybe the cold is not as daunting as hot to me.

    Jim Spalding

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