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We left San Juan on Christmas Eve after stocking up on food for a week, so no Turkeys, crackers thankfully – a cunning way to have the most isolated, peaceful day possible!  The downside – a complete inability to communicate with our families and friends, and hoping that they’d forgive us.  The route is to take us through some high and wild country to Chile and hopefully New Year.  We share it with the circuit of 4WD tours from Uyuni and San Pedro de Atacama.

On past San Juan and a bit of soft sand, the road opens up on hard salt/mud. Fast for a while - enjoy it while we can

Lines in flatness from 4WD tourist carriers, carved in sand or hard salt/mud.  On hitting sand,  judging ride-ability and no option but to drop gears and keep balance.  Best to keep moving, but not too fast.  Concentration.  Swirling skies bring tailwinds to help.

The flats only last until lunch, and even this is gulped hurriedly with light wafts of hail. Sarah ponders the shape of things to come

It wasn't like this the night before! A wall of white storm hits us as we approach a rocky band just before the International road (to Chile in the west).

For Christmas we were given a beautiful bit of sunshine to dry our tent and kit from the overnight storm. We also got rain, hail, washboard and lots and lots of flamingoes

Laguna Cañapa - the first in a succession. The locals ignore the lunching 4WD tourists, the weather and us with practiced ease

The wide expanses of sand provide unwelcomely thought-provoking riding. But we can and do ride all of it - maybe given a help by the wet weather and fat mountain bike tyres

No escape from the late afternoon storm

Glorious camping - clear dawn light on our snug warmness and a sunlit boxing day breakfast

Not all wide open sand - approaching the narrows

Pleasantly though-provoking rocky pass-bed.

Even rain firmed the sand track riding exhausts. To change to a better line? Harder to change than to persist? As likely as not when a decision is reached, the original will be perceived better than the new....

Shelter isn't frequent - a rocky ridge 20km before the Arbol de Piedra offers a good lunch spot or more if it were eveningtime

We arrived at the Arbol de Piedra rock formation to a round of applause from the 4WD tourists who'd arrived the easier way. The unexpected celebratory status resulted in photos of us with multiple groups who'd passed us earlier in the afternoon. Very strange indeed

The elusive road on from Laguna Colorada. After waking to ongoing rain, a blessedly sheltered but late breakfast at the refugio, we managed to add over 6km to our already shortened day missing the more direct road to this.

Unexpected clear sky, though with gathering thunder-heads. Looking back down a hill we found harder than we'd liked - altitude or more than 10 days without a rest?!

Thunder sounds – look to see where – looking up to see which way the clouds are moving.  Dancing with the storms, consequences of a collision considered – clothing combinations constantly juggled.  Look left – a wispy draped shroud easily seen through brings hail.  Stop, open front wheel pack, waterproof and gloves.  Not trousers yet – take too much time.  We’re high enough, and it’s cold enough that the hail bounces and shortly a windless stillness follows.  Undulate onwards with all layers on now.

Signposts!

After a boulder-sheltered camp on the ridge above the Sol de Mañana geyser field we make a cold and overcast start downwards (wonderfully).  Sarah, ahead, missed the emergence of two Ozzie blokes on bikes.  Welcome accents after a stumbling ¿De donde eres?  I part too shortly later with an amazing gift – an actual paper map of Chile – we’ve been using photos of other peoples maps for too long – Luxury :-)

The glowering sky soon manifests. A forced halt to fix a puncture. I'm overwarm, so layers come off, but with this I cause a deluge - duh!. Bedraggled and dripping we sit amid 4WD groups in the restaurant at Laguna Chalviri nibbling on our cream crackers and jam. We must look in need - we're given leftover hot meals and bananas!

Shafts of light splay colours on the mountains - rain holds off, though wind doesn't

A final campsite sheltered in abandoned buildings - our tent only just fits. And not only is there no evening rain, no overnight rain, but it is sunny in the morning too!

Coral - left from a bygone age when the lakes were more

Laguna Blanca in reflective mood

Border crossings we have known! Leaving Bolivia - just a shed on a dirt road. The hot desert-bound Chilean tourist mecca of San Pedro de Atacama awaits us.

More photos here

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