My big ride - A Kiwified Dutchman heading South from LA

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Normlas, Sep 9, 2017.

  1. Normlas

    Normlas Been here awhile

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    We left Oruro pretty early after another basic yogurt and banana breakfast, heading south through the alto plana of central Bolivia, huge flats with pampas grass, a few lamas, the odd little village and little else. Good roads made for good time as we cruise towards Potosi.

    Big sky country

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    And my first pics of some lamas, we've seen loads but I keep forgetting to get a few snaps, here they are just wandering around in big groups, no fences and no shepherds, but strangely, also no dead lamas along the side of the roads, whereas there a quite a few dead dogs and cats along the same road. Maybe they eat the lamas that are hit my trucks and cars?

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    As we get nearer to Potosi, the road becomes a little more interesting with some nice curves as we head back into the hills.

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    Potosi is a UNESCO world heritage city and is full of historic colonial Spanish buildings, it was once the most populated city in all the Americas due to the silver mine in the mountain directly behind the city, reputedly the richest mountain in the world. The Spanish killed an estimated 7 million local indigenous and African slaves in the silver mines here !! A true travesty in their history! So much silver was taken back to Spain that it caused massive deflation there and led to an economic crisis - too much silver, go figure....

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    After we settle into an OK hotel near the town square and go for a wander around we come across the religious parade, with bands and people carrying effigies of one of their saints, the locals on the balconies over the street then threw confetti and glitter over the saint, it was quite a spectacle and cool to see.

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    After a night a sh1tty hotel in Oruro with a terrible bed and a long days' riding my back is killing me, so I spend the next day lying down with some pain meds whilst Steve goes and does a mine tour of the Cerro Rico silver mine - which is now mostly out of silver and mined for tin, copper and lead. The working conditions there are still atrocious with few miners being able to work there for more than 15 years before dying of silicosis or accidental death. Check out @XR Valdeez thread for more details and pics of the mine.

    Today we aim to go and see a famous museum here which also houses the mint where the Spanish minted the silver they stole here into Spanish coins to ship back home, the plan for tomorrow is to head South towards Uyuni and the famous Bolivian salt flats which we have both been looking forward to.
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  2. Normlas

    Normlas Been here awhile

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    Here's the GoPro video of the ride back to La Paz from the end of the Death Road, turns out there was a huge protest in La Paz and the traffic was just mayhem, so some fun was had.....

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  3. Normlas

    Normlas Been here awhile

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    So we did end up going to visit the old Spanish mint museum in Potosi which was very cool.

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    They had a lot of the original machines that were brought over from Spain and used over 400 years ago, given the dry weather and lack of insects these wooden machines (mills and presses) were still in working condition.

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    There were three of these machines being run by 5 mules, which were later replaced by a steam engine which only made 20hp - crazy to think you could run all this on less than half a KLR!

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    This chest has 12 locks on it worked by a single key and was used to ship the ill-gotten gains back to Spain, the mechanism was made of silver.

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    The next day we head off to Uyuni along a beautiful road through the Bolivian alto plano.

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    We stop in a tiny little dusty town for a drink and a break and are instantly the hit of the local kids, fun was had!

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    After another couple of hours of supreme riding we get a huge rush as we get our first look at the world's largest salt flats - and it looks awesome!

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    Then we roll into the township of Uyuni, find a hotel and go for a walk around this dusty little frontier - type town and try and get some info for our travels over the next few days.

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    The rough plan is to head to San Vicente tomorrow, the town where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid fled to and were killed at, we'll try and find a wild camp spot somewhere near there as it's n the middle of nowhere, then spend the next 2 or 3 days exploring the salt flats - we are both super excited to be here and can't wait to explore the area, this has been on the top of both our to-do lists for way to many years!!
  4. Normlas

    Normlas Been here awhile

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    The next day we do end up heading to San Vicente, basically in the middle of nowhere and requiring some pretty gnarly gravel roads through the Bolivian badlands.

    There were three different ways to go and our different mapping apps all chose different routes, we decided to head into San Vicente via Atocha, a longer way but hopefully with some nicer scenery and we were right to pick this route. Our first crack at this route ended with us going up a not-so-dry river bed, with lots of sandy and muddy parts and it just seemed to end, so we backtracked, did a bit more highway and turned into the gravel about 15kms South of Atocha.

    I have some very nice GoPro footage of the ride which (as usual) is taking days to upload, the road was very rural and remote and we passed through a couple of ghost towns in the middle of nowhere, the gravel was changeable from good to washboard, to steep switchbacks and the scenery was phenomenal, here's a few picks along the way.

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    Here's the first ghost town, this is all mining country and probably the mines ran out of whatever minerals the were mining.

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    Some nice switchbacks led to another larger ghost town, this one may have had one or two occupied houses and a few active mines, just small holes in the ground being dug by hand...

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    There were big heaps of yellow looking overburden outside the mines and the whole place smelled strongly of sulphur.

    We took a break by this stream bed, the water tasted very salty and it was hot.

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    After a few hours of gravel and a couple of swing-arm road blocks run by the local mining company we arrive in the town of San Vicente, where Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid fled to and tried to survive, they were eventually hunted down by the Bolivian Army after doing a couple of robberies and gunned down here.

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    The village itself was a bit disappointing basally a small, dirty and dusty little town full of mud-brick shacks and run by a mining company. We were hoping to find some lunch there but had a hard time finding anything, in the end we were pointed down a dirt road and told to go into the only shack with an open door, no signs, nothing,but it turns out it was a little restaurant and we ended up getting yet another "menu typico", fried chicken and rice, what else!

    Our plan was to find a camping spot either on the way in or out and after talking to a couple of Swiss bicyclists who had come in on the other route from Uyuni, we decide to take that road back and find a campsite along it, about 120kms of gravel.

    Another spectacular road, and in much better condition than the road we had taken in, although it had lots of washboard sections and a few sandy bits, and we don't like sand!

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    They were building a new road next to the old one and it was perfect, brand new hard packed clay and smooth like a pool table, but they had it blocked off with mounds of clay to stop people using it - seemed like a pretty good challenge to us and we ended up riding over many of these clay mounds, some were more challenging than others, when we did come across the road workers they were totally happy for us to ride the new road and even showed us the best way to get around a couple of their road blocks. I have some footage of us taking on a big one of these road blocks that may have ended semi-catastrophically for one of us ..... you'll have to wait for the upload!

    We never found a camping spot we were happy with and so decided to grind through and go back to the hotel in Uyuni, it ended up being a very long day with over 200kms of gravel and about 350 kms all together, some 7 hours in the saddle !

    We got back to Uyuni tired, sore, dusty and hot to find our hotel was booked full and so we had to play the "hotel game" once again, not our favourite pastime, but we ended up at an OK one near the centre with good parking and 70 Bolivianos a night for a private room each including breakfast (about $10USD). Tomorrow we hit the Gran Salar !!!
  5. Normlas

    Normlas Been here awhile

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    Today is Gran Salar day !! woohooo, - the biggest salt flat on the planet and something we have both been looking forward to for a long time and for many many miles......

    We ride about 20kms North from Uyuni to the little town of Colchani where we turn onto the salt flats.

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    It is as spectacular as we had hoped it would be, about 4kms onto the salt flats is a big monument to the Dakar race when it ran here a few years back and a famous mound with lots of the world's flags and some compulsory photos....

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    I get to celebrate with both the flag of my birthplace and the flag of my home.

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    Steve is a little upset that the only US flag there is rather small and tatty looking..... :)

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    And of course - one with an ADV salute !

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    The we basically head straight out and on to the salt flat with no plan other than to really experience this wondrous natural monument. And it is everything we had hoped for.

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    There are many potholes through the salt crust and there is water just a few centimetres underneath it, there are also a few trip-ending potholes that we manage to avoid. And just to make sure, I did taste both the white stuff and the water underneath it and can 100% confirm that it is salty as all hell !!

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    And its big.....

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    Salute!

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    Really, really big, and the weather is perfect.

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    We spend a few hours tearing around and having a break to just take it all in, I made the mistake of not putting sunscreen on and am paying for that now :( Again, videos to come as soon as they upload - could be many days away unfortunately.

    When we leave the Gran Salar in the afternoon it's important that we get the salt washed off the bikes, not to mention all the dust from many 100's of kms of dirt roads and desert riding.

    Here are the before and after pics of the moto lavado, just 30 Bolivianos and the boys do a very good job.

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    We head back into Uyuni to the hotel we have booked, which had great rooms and super fast wifi, to find they have double booked us and will not give us a room...... Steve has a minor meltdown at them and in the end we go to another hotel from the same owner, but it has terrible wifi and no parking...... They give us a big discount and apologise but it's still a big PIA !

    It gets worse when the place next door has a big party with a huge speaker system that kicks off at around 9pm and is so loud that the walls are literally shaking, they don't stop till 5:15 AM !!!!!

    So we have a very poor night's sleep and decide to have a chill day today, doing nothing other than hitting the train graveyard, within walking distance of Uyuni.

    Here's small photo dump of the train graveyard, nice but also very hot and dusty.

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    The plan from here is to head towards the border with Chile and we hope to cross into country number 12 in the next couple of days.

    All is good in Bolivia (except for the sunburn).
  6. Normlas

    Normlas Been here awhile

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    Unfortunately, the wifi has been very poor and so the videos of the San Vicente and Gran Salar rides are nowhere near up yet, that'll just have to wait, but in the mean time we have been cruising on and all is good.

    Here's a couple of pics of the sunset over Uyuni from the roof of our "penthouse suite".

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    The next day our plan was t get as close to the border with Chile as we could get and maybe camp along the way, we took route 5 and then the 701, which we knew would involve over 200kms of gravel roads. We negotiated some petrol in Uyuni down to 6bol per litre instead of the normal 8.75bol tourist price and so were able to leave with full tanks.

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    It turned out to be very good gravel roads, wide and hard packed and we averaged around the 70 to 80km/hr and so made good time. The ride was very nice although it is also used by lots of trucks and buses so some passing manoeuvres were required.

    Here we made a short stop at a lake to check it out for a a campsite, beautiful and secluded but also very windy and exposed and cold, we were still at over 4kms of altitude here. It was also still early in the day so we decide to push on towards the border.

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    After Uyuni there was nothing to speak off on the road to Chile in terms of towns or places to eat or get gas, we lucked out and found one small restaurant in the middle of nowhere and had what would be our last "plata typico" of Bolivia.

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    Just before the border I was behind a couple of truck and trailer units waiting to pass and stuck in their dust cloud when out of nowhere the truck in front of me lurches to the left lane for no apparent reason...... turns out there was a very good reason - a huge 15m long hole in the road filled with very soft and deep silt which I went straight into without seeing anything in the dust cloud, doing about 70kms/hr I went in to a full "tank slapper" and had my nearest high speed-off of the whole trip, luckily (apparently) I went into auto-rider mode and made it through upright, but it was one of those moments you don't forget easily......

    Before we knew it we were at the border with Chile - country number 12!

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    Another very easy border crossing, we were out of Bolivia in 5 minutes and after riding through about 2kms of no man's land, we end up at the Chilean border, also very relaxed and quick although we did get our stuff searched more than at any other border we crossed. The aduana guy was super nice and loved the NZ All Blacks, he pulled up a video of them doing the Haka at Eden park and almost brought a tear to my eyes - thinking of home.....aaawe

    Once in Chile, it turns out the hotel we had found on Ioverlander didn't want to give us a room for no apparent reason, saying they were full when they were clearly completely empty and dark?? We never get these things.... the other problem being that it was another 200kms to Calama, the nearest place with petrol and neither of us was going to make that with the fuel we had.....

    So we had to find a dodgy guy selling petrol out of a barrel out the back of the little border town of Ollague, and he charged us through the nose - over $20 USD for just 10 litres, and it was very questionable gas which the KLR clearly didn't like, I lost about 20% in power and the bike lurched and sputtered from there on. We read on Ioverlander that there was an abandoned ghost town just 5kms from the border and as we had already done 5 or so hours in the saddle we decide to check it out as a possible campsite. It used to be the sulphur mining town of Buena Ventura.

    I'll split this into two posts to prevent losing it over the crappy wifi
  7. Normlas

    Normlas Been here awhile

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    The ghost town of Buena Ventura turned out to be a cool place and after scoping around the buildings, we picked one as our campsite and I got some cool pics of the town and our "camp site".

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    Our campsite

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    And wandering around the ruins at sunset ...

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    Once we got settled in we got a fire going inside our building and had a few drinkies to celebrate yet another successful border crossing.

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    I made a little walk-around video of the ghost town and our campsite which I will try to get pasted in below.



    We had a good night although it was very cold in the morning, the altitude was still well over 4kms. The next day we aim our steeds towards the town of Calama. The ride from the border through the mountains was spectacular and with very good sealed roads, we passed a salt pans and lakes, some of which had pink flamingos !

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    Then we ride through a few hours of very desolate desert and slowly descend down to around 2km of altitude and we are back into shorts and T-shirts - yippee!
  8. dano619

    dano619 Been here awhile

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    Nice update!! And nice digs for the nite!!
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  9. powderzone

    powderzone Been here awhile

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    Awesome! Thanks for the photo of the flamingos in the lagunas/salt flat. I rode by that exact spot a month ago...looked over my shoulder and saw 4 vicuña and a bunch of flamingos...wanted to stop for a photo SO BAD but we were rushing to hit the border (going north) before the border dudes took their 2 hour lunch break.

    Now I’m good and can show my buddy your photo so he realizes I’m not crazy after jabbering on about it.
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  10. BarryB

    BarryB Been here awhile

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    What is the fried meat on the “ plata typico” just before you left Bolivia, por favor.
    Have you had any problem with the fuel out of the rusty drums?
    Thanks! Great job on the RR!
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  11. roadcapDen

    roadcapDen Ass, Grass or Gas, no free rides.

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    "Steve happily chewing away at his nuts" :photog:lol2
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  12. Normlas

    Normlas Been here awhile

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    Nice ! We also saw 4 vicuna come down from the hills towards us when we arrived - almost like they were expecting to get fed, might have been the same 4.... was a gorgeous spot !
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  13. Normlas

    Normlas Been here awhile

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    It's chicken, it's pretty much always chicken, we have a running joke about it because easily 80% of all the eateries you see down here specialise in chicken......fried chicken

    As for the fuel, as soon as we got to Calama, I filled up with the highest octane petrol they had and the bike ran good again, I do have an aftermarket in-line fuel filter by my petcock, that may have helped too.
  14. Normlas

    Normlas Been here awhile

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    yep - and they were old stale nuts..... go figure :lol3
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  15. Normlas

    Normlas Been here awhile

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    I finally have the GoPro video of the ride from Uyuni, via Atocha to San Vicente uploaded, it's a spectacular gravel road in the middle of nowhere Bolivia, we even pass through a couple of ghost towns in this mining-rich area. It's split into three part by the GoPro.





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  16. Normlas

    Normlas Been here awhile

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    And here is a short video with us crossing over the last road block on the way back to Uyuni that I mentioned above. We had taken the new road which was under construction and the workmen had left big piles of clay and dirt to stop people using it, there was no getting around this one - just one way through.

  17. Normlas

    Normlas Been here awhile

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    It's good to be back in good wifi country! Here are the two short videos of The Gran Salar in Uyuni.



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  18. Beredon

    Beredon Adventurer

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    Like your stories! What a trip you're doing! Fets still going strong.
    , although she is getting thinner and thinner. Celebrating every day!
    Happy biking,!
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  19. Beredon

    Beredon Adventurer

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    Rudy and Nel coming to us for a week! We love it!,
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  20. Normlas

    Normlas Been here awhile

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    Yeah, I heard that, great news, you guys will have a blast!