White seas with the best Bolivian roads, bicycling in five and a salt hotel
When leaving the carabinieros they give us some “space food”. It weights 3kg but we are happy to have food for 3 days which is heated just by a chemical process and doesn’t need fire. Then a little chaos on the badly marked boarder crossing but after 15minutes we are again officially in Bolivia – this time only with permission for 30 days.
We ask people if it is possible to cross the salar and get different answers – first policeman: “It’s not possible, you have to go 300km on paved road”; random guy on the street: “Of course, there is a road. Just turn off the road in the next village”; man in the shop: “There’s nothing”; soldier: “Straight and then left” … we turn to sandy washboard road and we hope that this “shortcut” will be really shorter and not longer and worse.
The landscape changes – small hills around us are drier, there’s less vegetation and sometimes we cross salty parts. On a crossroad without any signs we choose (according to our map which does have only one road and to our mini-compass) to turn left.
We are entering the Salar de Coipasa and we are riding on salt. A volcano stands in front of us and around is just white plane with many marks from tires. Which one to choose? We still remember the story from the carabinieros how there are part with salty mud and how they lost their dog. We refuse the possibility just to cross directly. We follow the most traveled roads while maintaining the direction. After one hour we see a truck which carries salt they mine here manually. After we catch him (literally – he didn’t understand our gestures and he didn’t even slow down) the three destroyed, sun-burned and toothless workers tell us they don’t know about any road, they just know the road from the village to the mining place. The good thing is they didn’t send us just anywhere and really said they don’t know. The bad thing is that we are too much in the north and still don’t know if any “shortcut” exists here.
We follow more and more disappearing path. Suddenly wo jeeps pass us 50m away and shortly disappear on south horizon. Perfect – there is a road! 🙂 We follow their tire prints and in much better mood we cruise 20km/h fast to south (compared to the last days we feel like jet planes).
After two hours the salt disappears and we don’t know if we should be happy we successfully crossed the salar or cry that our wheels are again in deep sand and we return to our slow 6km/h. The road is terrible, strong cross wind is irritating and the setting sun reminds us that is time to find a camping spot.
We build the tent in an empty place for alpacas surrounded by stone wall. The best corner was obviously used as toilet and the first hour I just remove their shit and level the terrain. We finally get to sleeping bags and the burning feeling on our chicks tells us that the sunscreen works when it’s on skin not just in the bag!
The strong wind gusts shake our tent in the night – maybe this isn’t the best wind protected place – so I just support the wall of our tent with my knee and hope the tent poles will not break. The morning sun shines strongly on our tent and it becomes really hot in our home – good sign that there is no additional hole in there from last night :).
We finish the last water in the morning which we regret in the first village where they are nice and let us fill water from their well but it’s so white that it’s not possible to see through the bottle. Another drink-stop is after 10km of pushing and slowly moving on the sandy road and we successfully kill the thirst with clean water.
Our destination – Llica (the only bigger village in 200km) – is small and little ugly place, hotels are expensive and bad and there is nothing to do here. On the other hand, today a truck with supplies arrived and all shops are full of vegetables and goods. And we also find a nice accommodation in last street and unexpectedly we stay for 4 days … eating, sleeping, resting, writing articles, processing photos, repairing bicycles and resting again :). We eat all data in the next-door internet place when uploading the photos (ups) and the last two articles we upload in the “center”.
Suddenly we hear known voice – Ana from Australia with tho other friends from UK – James and Sara who have been traveling last two years from Alaska to Ushuaia. They arrived two days ago and today they are also continuing further. They tell us story how they pushed the bicycles for 16km on the last salar because they found their own path (we are happy we found the road there) and how James bent his fork when he was crossing a salty bump …
After lunch we all 5 together are cycling towards the largest salt plane in the world – Salar de Uyuni – with diameter of 100km. The loose surface on the beginning is tough and finding the real road it is like discovering the best highway in the world. The salt creates 6-edge figures which make a crispy sound like icy snow when we are crossing them. At the horizon are many hills and islands but there are also parts where the sky and earth connect in one.
We have only one hour before the sun will set and we decide to camp in the middle of nowhere. The shadows are longer every minute, the sky becomes red and the unbelievable silence causes beeping in our heads.
Jan-the cook starts to make dinner and I-architect build our house (this is how we’ve divided our tasks during the traveling). I spend the first hour destroying small salty bumps with pliers and next 10minutes I push the poles in to the tent which became in this low humidity 10cm shorter and then I fight when trying to nail the tent into the salt (this is possible only in the edges in salt figures) … I give up, all my joints in the fingers and hands hurt, all the pins (tent-nails) are a little bit curved and the last strings I attach to bags and bicycles. The tent is really smaller – now just 90cm wide – which is easy to see on the bent mattresses – today we’ll have to love and hug each other even more :).
We stay outside talking till the sky is dark and there are first stars, but the cold hurries us to the sleeping bags. We say goodbyes to everybody because their plan is to get up before the sunrise and we don’t even consider to get out of the warm sleeping bags before the hot sun rays start to touch and warm up our tent.
In the morning we hear them leaving but we just say “Hallo” with the head out through a small hole in the tent. We wake up into a silence and emptiness of this endless white plane and on the close horizon is possible to see just Jan’s morning excrement which will stay here probably for following generations (there are no living species here which would eat it ) :).
There is nobody around is so we run around naked and make photos which cannot be published :D. Around noon we finally sit on the saddles and after the last lesson we use also sunscreen.
Riding on the salar … 2 days of white … nothing … silence … calm … it can look boring but for me it was one of the most present moments on our traveling. The emptiness of the surrounding is good example how our mind should look without thinking … bright and clean.
Every paradise has it’s dark sides – the island Incahuasi full of cacti which is like a small oasis in this space – is one of them. Every Land Cruiser which stops here and every tourist who is walking around take a little from it’s beauty … and they are so many of them.
We fill water and continue south and then make another (publishable) photos and just after the sun set we arrive to a salt hotel at the end of the salar … destroyed, burned and hungry. Our stove refuses to work today (?!) and I have to finish our soup in the kitchen. We eat the dinner sitting on salt chairs at a salt table and under our feet is salt gravel. When we finally get to bed (of course from salt :)) our burned backs, the bottom of nose or the parts under the knees remains us that they were not protected enough or at all…