DAY SIXTY SIX
Rest day in Uyuni
A unexpected rest day after spending all morning trying to prepare for our next adventure - to cross the Salar de Uyuni! We spent all morning searching for gas, unfortunately with no luck. The one store which apparently stock gas was shut all day so when 3 o’clock came we decided we wouldn’t make it to the salt flats before the sun went down so decided to head off in the morning, preferring to be fully prepared for the crossing.
As a bonus though we were able to visit the famous train graveyard that sits a few miles outside of Uyuni, dozens of steam engines abandoned after the mining industry collapsed in the 1940s.
Despite the graffiti the old relics were hugely impressive, an eerie reminder of yonder year and the perfect place to enjoy the sunset with Yerba in our hands. The perfect place to contemplate the exciting few days ahead.
DAY SIXTY SEVEN
Uyuni to Salt flats camp spot!
Distance: 27.5 miles
Av speed: 9 miles
Moving time: 3 hours
Door to door: 6 hours 50
After speaking to various people in Uyuni about crossing the salt flats on a bike the general consensus was that it was still too early in the year to do so. The salt flats become a lake during December to March and as its early April it seemed not enough water had drained off evaporated. We were even warned against it by an English speaking tour guide who told us a story of two cyclists dying in April a few years back!
We decided at the very least to at least try, and if the going got too tough we could always turn back. To cross the salt flats by bike was such a once in a lifetime opportunity we couldn’t say no, plus we were pretty sure our trusty Rä bikes would handle the surface much better than other cyclists who had tried this year already.
Not sure what to expect then we donned our waterproof socks, loaded up the bikes with enough water and food for two days, leaving Uyuni after a breakfast of chicken and rice (the only food they seem to eat!) for the village of Colchani that sits on the eastern edge of the Salar.
Passing the hundreds of tourist jeeps that had stopped in the village we rode out into the unknown, just praying that everyone we had spoken to were mistaken and it had dried and faster than expected. Our hopes were crushed pretty much straight away however as it was clear the Salar was covered in water when we reached its edge. Jeeps laboured slowly through the bumpy tracks and in places you couldn’t see the bottom so it was impossible to gauge any idea of depth.
Tentatively we followed the jeep tracks, struggling through the underwater rutted road, made much harder by the fact our bikes were so much heavier than normal. After about an hour, a few near capsizes and lots of pushing we weren’t sure if there was much point in carrying on. After two hours however our efforts were finally rewarded as the water subsided and our wheels touched solid salt!
It was the best feeling in the world. White as far as the eye could see and it was if we had been transported to a different planet. After thinking we weren’t even going to be able to cycle onto the salt flats we were over the moon and leaving the tourist jeeps behind us set off for the Volcan Tunupa, 80 miles away and the only landmark we could see in a sea of white.
Conscious that as soon as the sun set it would be freezing on the salt flats we set up camp early, playing a game of cricket as the sun set. With the horizon stretching for miles and miles it was a sunset like no other as it just kept on going. Words can’t do it justice but hopefully the pictures can!
An incredible incredible day and one we will remember for the rest of our lives.
DAY SIXTY EIGHT
Salar camping to Jirira
Average speed: 8.5mph
Moving time: 5h02
Door to door: 8h45
We were a little disappointed when we woke up early to watch the sun rise but it was cloudy! Roo kept very optimistic saying “it will get sunny in the afternoon, it will get sunny in the afternoon.” After such a grey morning it didn’t look like this would be the case.
To our amazement Roo was right! As we kept pedalling over the damp salt heading towards the volcano, which didn’t seem to be getting any bigger, the clouds did part and the blue sky appeared! It became the most beautiful afternoon, perfect for us to get some pictures with our Biscuteers Jolly Ginger. After playing around for an hour or so with some photos we had to get moving as it was now too wet to put up the tent and it was going to get dark quickly. The final 15k of the salt flats were amazing. Almost like biking on a lake. As the water got deeper and deeper the reflections of the clouds and mountains were breathtaking. The cycling wasn’t easy but to be honest our minds were so distracted but just how incredible the past few days had been we didn’t mind. As we reached the end of the salt flats, both us and our bikes completely covered in salt we stopped and just realised how awesome that had been. So many people said it was impossible to do at the time of year on bikes but we had done it! This is something which we know will stay with us forever, an amazing achievement we are both so proud to say we completed.
DAY SIXTY NINE
Rest day in Jirira
As pretty much everything we owned was covered in salt we were forced to take the day off at the lovely hostel we were staying in.
Although it took the whole day the sun was shining and the family cooked us breakfast, lunch and dinner - all based around quinoa - and so we couldn’t complain.
Batteries recharged for our next stint to La Paz.
Jirira to Quinsuyo
Distance: 57 miles
Av speed: 11.4 mph
Moving time: 4 hours 57
Door to door: 7 hours 30
Having waved goodbye to the lovely family who had looked after us so well we were then treated to some of the most epic scenery of the trip so far.
In order to reach paved road again we had to cycle around the base of the hugely impressive Volcan Tunupa which stands at 5800 m, all the while with the slat flats shining to our right. Leaving Tunupa behind us we were then treated to more volcanoes in front of us, as well as huge meteor crators from thousands of years ago. 30 miles on hilly and stormy ripio took a lot longer than we had expected, so once we reached paved road again we had a lot of ground to make up.
We pushed and pushed to make the village of Quinsuyo before dark in order to fill up our water for cooking, as Throughout our trip there have been taps in village squares where we normally fill up from. However when we arrived we were told a la manana manana. Tomorrow morning - as the village only has water in the morning, a reminder of how poor some parts of Bolivia are. To make matters worse it was quinoa harvest so apart from two sheep farmers the whole village was like a ghost town. We set up camp near by and returned once everyone was back from the fields, finding a nice family who very kindly gave us some water.
Quinsuyo to Pazna
Distance: 80 miles
Average speed: 13.6mph
Moving time: 5h54
Door to door: 9h46
An incredibly cold start, up there with the coldest yet. So cold that all of our water was frozen, making it so much harder to get out of the warmth that is our thermarest sleeping bags. We waited for the sun to shine on the tent to at least make it a little easier to get up!
The first ten miles today flew by as we were accompanied by countless lamas and alpacas! Seems like we can never get board of these fluffy long necked sheep lookalikes!
We were told by some locals that there is a place called Panza with some really nice thermal springs, being 60 more miles away we set this as our target for today.
After long flat day listening to lots of Harry Potter we made it to the thermal springs as the sun was going down. The springs were not quite as we had imagined. Incredibly grubby and really kind of gross, we didn’t think many people would wish to bath in these. Thankfully you were able to shower after.
Even though the springs were not as imagined the family who owned the place were so kind and let us camp in the entrance to the building as they said it was way too cold to sleep outside at the time of year!
Pazna to camp spot 10km north of Caracollo
Av speed: 12.8 mph
Moving time: 6 hours 19
Door to door: 10 hours 38
After the generosity of the previous evening we woke up warm with breakfast being cooked in the restaurant feet from our tent.
We were on the road early and enjoying every second of the beautiful scenery on offer.
We arrived in Oruro for lunch, and much like the rest of Bolivia we had been warned it was a ‘bit of a hole’. Much like the rest of Bolivian towns the outskirts were half built/falling down with stray dogs everywhere. But once in the centre we couldn’t understand other people’s opinions, with the old cobbled streets bustling with Sunday activity and not a car in sight. We then found out we had timed our visit to perfection, and this was the one day of the year where cars were banned in the city. This made such a difference, as kids rode around on bicycles and the usual city Hun was just human voices and birds!
We arrived in the town of Caracollo as it got dark, loaded up on some chicken and rice before setting up camp a bit further up the road.
Campspot 10k north of Caracollo La Paz
Average speed: 12.6mph
Moving time: 8h44
Door to door: 14h16
After setting ourselves the unenviable task to cycle 120 miles in a day we were on the road early. By lunch time we were on track to be in La Paz by 10ish.
All was running smoothly until we hit mile 73 and Jim had a puncture. Usually fixing a puncture takes us around 20 minutes but this time the pump decided to fail on us meaning it took around 40 minutes alone just to pump the fresh inner tube up again. By the time we were back ready to go it was dark already and we still had 45 miles left. Nevertheless there were no complaints, we wacked on our jackets, hats, gloves and lights and continued determined to make it to La Paz tonight.
Itching closer to the light from the city ahead of us we were intruded by some unwanted guests. Out of the darkness, next to our bikes multiple dogs came charging barking scaring the living daylight out of us thinking it a fun game trying to nip either our legs or our tires. We have now realised to quickly stop pedalling and look scary, seems to do the trick.
As we entered the outskirts of La Paz we were bombarded by hectic cars beeping, endless rubbish on the side of the roads and dogs all over the place. As we passed through the chaos and got closer to the centre we were suddenly struck by how steep the roads were. So steep we were contemplating walking down the hill with our bikes! With both of our phones out of battery we somehow managed to stumble across The English Pub which was perfect for a beer, actual English food and a place to get some battery so we could find our hostel. We finally rolled into our hostel at around 12.45 both exhausted.