We had just under 200km to make Uyuni from Challapata on the direct road, which sounded much better than the paved, roundabout direction. Turns out the direct road is full of mean washboards and patches of sand that make it a little less enjoyable (especially fully loaded 2 up) than some other dirt riding (including the Yungas). Funny part is we knew that we wanted to get to Uyuni, not really investigating much about the entrance to the salt flats, but we ended up passing the entrance about 20km before Uyuni. So we got to ride that stretch 3 times, but somehow it is much worse heading south. And it was nice to stock up on food and have a pizza in Uyuni before heading out to the Salar. But we shoulda checked in advance. We even saw the sign in Colchani that said "Salar 5 km ->" but figured there was another entrance by Uyuni. There kind of is, but you run the risk of sinking in, and no one wants that). But I'm getting ahead of myself...
(none of our pics do the 164 km of washboard justice, so just take our word for it)
(Radioman wondering why his F800GS got so sleepy all of a sudden. It definitely had something to do with a deep sand patch and a fully loaded bike. He'll have to explain the rest)
(an F800GS taking a nap at the end of some deep sand)
(These fellas stopped to warn us about the deep sand stretches, with broken Spanish, a bit of Quechua, and lots of hand gestures. It was just after Mark's sand mishap, however)
(sho' 'nuff - this whole town exists in a sand box)
(us trying to stay off the washboard, but going slow 'cause it got deep over there in places)
(Radioman's Peruvian mascot's resting place, 140km N of Uyuni)
We don't have any pictures from Uyuni, but it's a fine little city to spend a night. Off the 2 main tourist blocks, it's much like any other small Bolivian town, but the tourist blocks have more hotels, pizza shops (they know what gringos love), artesanal shops, and tour compaines. Mark ended up staying in a nicer hotel with wifi (he does stay much better connected than us). We found a nice little hostel right over the market for 60Bs total. It had a shared bath, but hot water, very clean, and Gustavo the owner was super nice. Parking is in the locked hallway at night, and the market area is safe by day. (GPS S20 deg 27.837 min / W66 deg 49.468 min)
(mounds o' salt - part of the process of salt mining. At the entrance to the Salar)
(heavily traveled tracks form roads in the Salar)
(just about 20km in is a hotel built of salt. You can stay there for US$20/ppn. It actually looked pretty nice)
(inside the salt hotel)
(who's the salty one now?)
(it was a strange experience riding out there in such a foreign environment. It somehow warps your perception of time, distance, and speed)
(Jill making a salt angel)
(this is how Mark stays so current with his ride report)
(taking a break)
And it's fun to play with the strange perspective of the Salar
(Mike in the Transalp hamster wheel)
(Jill about to get rolled over)
(Mark climbing onto the knobbies)
However, when you are playing with perspective and only capture a piece of it, it can look pretty ridiculous:
(Jill taste-testing the salt. "tastes fine")
At first we traveled on stable salt, found on basically any line between the entrance, salt hotel, and the Isla Incahuasi. From that island, Mike really wanted to check out the Galaxia caves and nearby museum. We had the GPS coords for them, and some people who came from there told us that it was worth it and not rough to get to. So we paralleled a "road" for awhile, then made straight for the caves. That turn away from any other tracks was exhilarating. But that feeling wore off, changing more into a worry - soon the salt was softening up substantially. Our tires were sinking in and that soft salt is really grabby, even only with the sidewalls sunk in. We gave up on the caves idea (also not wanting to push our limits of gasoline, as we had already ridden nearly 150km on the Salar), and went back to find a place to camp.
That night we camped next to Isla del Pescado, which is an island without any infrastructure about 10km north of the island that does have infrastructure, Isla Incahuasi (aka Isla del Pescador, which is why these 2 islands are often mixed up). It was a beautiful, surreal place to camp. It was also incredibly hot, with the sun reflecting from all different directions. After even just 45 min - with sunscreen on - Mike's skin wanted to be covered. Another interesting weather pattern hit around 3:52 in the afternoon. All of a sudden, as in immediately, a strong wind picked up, blasting us from the west for a couple of hours. At least by nightfall it had calmed, or else it would have been much colder (and noisier in our tent).
(camp as seen from the rocks above)
(Camp at lower right, with Mark closer to the middle of the frame. The Salar is expansive)
(Cactus on Isla del Pescado)
(Mike on the summit of Isla del Pescado. Sunscreen wasn't enough, so the classy t-shirt bandana combo came out. But it was nice to not turn into a lobster)
(Amazingly, there was some wildlife on the Isla del Pescado. There were a dozen or so (2 pictured here) of these furry critters living the boulders. They made noise like pikas, were the size of marmots, and moved like jackrabbits, but better with rocks. I called them Ja-mar-kas. I think that's what they are.)
(cooking up a pasta dinner in the windbreak of the Isla del Pescado)
(campsite on the Salar)
(strange shoreline features near land)
(more strange shoreline features near land caused by runoff. Here the salt is only a few inches thick. What's staggering is that the average thickness is 110 meters! There's generally 11 stages of about 10 meters each. That's a whole lot of salt.)
(the TA at dusk)
(nice sunset over the Salar)
(playing with headlamp illumination)
(Mike and Mark took a short midnight ride on the salar. The salar sensations of warped distance and speed were amplified. Mike couldn't stop smiling the whole time.)
(dawn on the Salar)
That next morning we broke camp and rode over to the Isla Incahuasi for a cup of coffee. It was 10Bs well spent. Thankfully we didn't have to pay the 30Bs / person entry fee to the island that is usually charged. Although Jill did have to find a spot in the naturaleza to pee because she didn't want to pay the Bathroom Nazi the 30 Bs required to use the bathrooms on the island. Then we rode the 80 km back to Colchani, and washboarded our way into Uyuni.
(llama crossing on the way)
While in Uyuni we had a couple of specific tasks - one was to wash all the salt of our encrusted motorcycle before it began corroding parts away. The other was to email our contacts in Cochabamba to let them know we'd be arriving in a couple of days (basically on schedule). And then we had to fill up on gas and hit the road towards Potosí. There was only 1 station that would fill us (given foreign plates), and that happened to be the only station with gas. The first day (before the Salar) we were told by a nice taxista to get in the shorter line for right hand side fuel door vehicles, then brought to the front by an attendant pumping gas so that we could work in between vehicles, Venezuelan style. The second day I asked the (different) attendant if we could work in like that and he responded with attitude that he didn't even have to give us gas at all. After some ass kissing we eventually got gas and got out of there, after only waiting for ~5 cars. Keep in mind some of these trucks are filling up 500 liters and more.
(long gas line every day in Uyuni)
(this Llama crosses where he's supposed to)
(Beautiful "fast" ride to Potosi that we had to pay for, 5Bs each. Not so fast, however, because the TA couldn't breathe. About 60km/h and she limped along, but we weren't going to make Cochabamba like that...)
Our plan was to make Sucre that day, but given the need to work out a solution for our motorcycle's asthmatic condition, we decided to stop short in Potosi. Thanks to another recommendation from Mark's friend we worked our way into town to a nice little hostel with good bike parking, right in the lobby. Potosi was fine and all, but on our way into town we had another bird flipped our way for absolutely no reason - it seems like we run into personalities in Bolivia that are at either end of the spectrum, less often in the middle. The main thing Potosi is known to tourists for is its mine tours, which let you witness first hand the horrible conditions of the miners. It seems kind of twisted to make money on it without making improvements. None of the 3 of us had any desire to participate in what must be an awkward, difficult to stomach tour. So we just did some moto work and got ready to head to Cochabamba (or Sucre in Mark's case, we parted ways the next day as he was heading south from Sucre).
(here Mike performs surgery on the air filter to take out some clogged paper and replace with filter foam.)
(Mike only had a small sheet of thin, large pore foam, so just made 2 regions of foam to get us through the next 2 days. Test results the next day - SUCCESS! The TA was back!)
There was some more fantastic riding on the way to Sucre:
with surprisingly good roads:
Sadly, in Sucre we said our good byes to Mark. We ended up touring much of Bolivia together and had a great time! But at this point we each had different plans - us to Cochabamba for a month, and him to continue on south to Argentina and Chile after a day or two in Sucre. It was a good time, Mark! Hope to catch you again down the road somewhere...
Heading north from Sucre took us from good pavement, to broken pavement, to some washboard with loose gravel covering (why doesn't the gravel fill in the holes???). There were also a few detours:
(this detour kept us in a riverbed for about 20km. Not sure what happens when the rains come...)
(we unfortunately picked up a huge nail in our new rear tire, coming to a loosey-goosey stop about 10km short of Aiquile. It took 45 min to get that inflexible (tubeless-type) rubber to cooperate and come off the wheel. One previously patchable tube was lost to the process. Thankfully we were only 10km from Aiquile, where we could get some air pressure to seat the tire correctly again, too. The hand pump just doesn't cut it. Pumping alone took about an hour, and only gave us 24psi)
(getting the rear tire round again in Aiquile)
That hold up caused us to stay in Aiquile, rather than push for Cochabamba that afternoon. It was a nice little town, that also happens to be the world headquarters (in that region) of charango. Well, it really is the National Capital of charango
, and starting the day we got there was an annual charango fest. Mostly what we saw was the band members walking around with their sweet matching bowling shirt uni's. And a few shops that custom make the little guitar like charangos. But I guess they were playing music somewhere too. We missed that.
The next day we rolled into Cochabamba on what turned out to be a national holiday, so the streets were empty. It was a bit strange, but we were able to get in touch with our contact at Mano a Mano
and get settled in their building. They are taking care of us - we are staying on the 6th floor of their building in a nice little apartment right in the heart of downtown. It's great! And we are looking forward to lending them a hand with their work while here. More on that later...