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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Salar de Uyuni & Ruta Lagunillas | Bolivia to Chile...

June 22, 2014 - Uyuni / Salar de Uyuni

……  I met Juan (his self professed LatAm name - pronounced ‘Yern’ - not sure where the ‘o’ with two dots is on my keyboard) in Sucre, and we decided to ride south to Uyuni together.  Him and his friend Stephan are from Germany and bought two brand new beautiful BMW 650 Sertao special edition motos in San Diego and have been riding them south for approx 10 months.  Stephan got a stomach bug in Sucre, so it ended up being just Juan and me riding south to Uyuni.  I’m glad we rode and spent time together.  It’s interesting, I don’t think we have much in common.  He loves heavy metal, and I dig jazz from time to time.  He has long hair, I have short.  Etc…  But, we have a shared passion for travel and motorbikes, which was enough to have us laughing together and enjoying each other’s company over cervezas, shite food, and long conversations.  Juan, I wish you the best on the remainder of your journey, and hope that everything works out well with Mita and the job search.  Stay in touch amigo!  Maybe we can scoot around India on Enfields someday.  

The ride from Sucre to Potosi wasn't anything special, but the ride from Potosi to Uyuni is idyllic.  On a side note, if you want to buy dynamite from street vendors, the stop in Potosi is necessary however.  Down to Uyuni had us riding freshly paved roads and groomed dirt (if you choose to partake), along with absolutely stunning scenery in/around the desert, which made for a stellar ride.  We arrived around sundown and pulled the bikes directly into Hotel Avenida.  I’d recommend the place as there is decent wifi (for Bolivian standards), hot showers, and adequate/safe bike parking inside the courtyard.  Private rooms are 40 Bolivianos (~$5.50 USD) w/ shared bath and 60B for private bath.  

After crashing that first night we woke up refreshed and ready for two things.  First, we wanted to ride to and check out the train graveyard, and after that we planned to hit the Salar.  After breakfast we decided to gas up for the day, but quickly realized the entire town was out of petrol (‘no hay gasolina’ - an ugly sentence).  That said, we rode to the train graveyard and spent several hours there.  After that, we rode to the gas station and realized that the estimation that gas would arrive around 12pm was waaaay off (typical Bolivian time foul-up).  We rode back to the hotel, and I quickly realized that we weren’t going to the Salar that day, due to the gas situation, but also because of the huge nail I found in my rear tire.  So, I spent the remainder of the day swapping out the rear tube, spooning on the Pirelli MT21 front that I bought in Sucre, and giving the bike a once over.  

After getting the bike put back together we decided to grab dinner and a few drinks, since it was Juan’s birthday.  We ended up at Extreme Fun Pub w/ two young German girls that I met in Sucre (their names escape me), and essentially drank the place dry.  It was a really fun night, but the next morning I woke up with one of the most epic hangovers in the history of mankind.  That said, there would be no exploration of the Salar that day either.

On day three we were set to explore the Salar.  We headed out around 9am and touched rubber to salt an hour later.  What can I say?  Salar de Uyuni was/is everything it’s cracked up to be.  Absolute beauty and weirdness all wrapped in one.  I’ve wanted to visit for around 10 years, so it was surreal to be there in person, on the bike.  We ended up riding all over the place making the flats our own personal playground.  When we pulled the bikes back into the hotel (after a quick squirt at the car wash) my odo showed that we had clocked over 130 miles for the day.  It’s easy when you’re blasting along the flats at 100mph!  Not much else I can say.  The Salar is a must for anyone passing through.  Watch a short video of our day on the salt HERE.

After all that, I was ready for a big night of sleep, and would start my two day journey to San Pedro de Atacama via Ruta Lagunillas the next morning (note, lights out didn’t happen until after we watched the US sink against Portugal in the final 10 seconds - amazing match, but what a bummer!).  I could hardly sleep as I was nervous about the next few days riding.  My plans were to ride from Uyuni approx 130 miles south to Laguna Colorada (the red lake).  I planned to stay the night there and then continue the journey farther south across the border into Chile, and then ultimately San Pedro.  At night in the Altiplano it can get incredibly windy and well below zero, so I was really nervous that I would have a bike issue, get lost, or have something else happen that would stick me in between lodging.  Staying overnight in those temps without adequate shelter can be painful, if not fatal.  Needless to say, I was nervous and didn’t get the rest that I had planned for…

June 23, 2014 - Ruta Lagunillas

This morning I woke up at 6:30am as planned, and hit the road at 8am.  I wanted to get an early start to ensure I made Laguna Colorada, where I’d heard there are multiple hospedaje options, and even reugios scattered nearby for hikers/bicyclists.  The first hour and 50 miles out of Uyuni were absolutely brutal!  I can’t explain how cold I was.  I’ve run a marathon, hiked some wicked treks, climbed mountains, and made it almost 17k miles so far on this journey, and that first portion had to be one of the toughest things I’ve ever done.  I’m not sure why, it doesn’t even look that cold on paper, but my bike showed 13F for the majority.  I couldn’t feel my fingers and toes, and had to stop three times before San Cristobal just to warm my hands on the exhaust and do some jumping jacks.  

After topping up with fuel in San Cristobal, I began Ruta Lagunillas.  This is a famous route that passes well over 16k feet, and showcases many stunning vistas, multi-colored lakes, steaming geysers, and the best the Altiplano has to offer.  However, it’s infamous for its difficulty.  The entire route is dirt, and the majority is sand, which is a bikers worst enemy.  Not to mention, there are literally hundreds of paths and offshoots, which make the actual route difficult to find and follow.  I used a combo of Google Maps for placement, my Garmin 660 running OSM (which was actually fairly spot on), paper maps, and a handful of stops to ask for directions.  

Once getting into the thick of the route, I had to navigate past several water crossings.  Water is one thing, deep water is another.  Couple that with freezing temps and I couldn’t be bothered to forge my way through.  I wound all through the route finding makeshift bridges.  Some were rock/cobblestone and were hardly wide enough for a person, much less my loaded and heavy GS.  Others were rickety old wooden crossings that I was certain wouldn’t hold up.  Somehow I made it across the seven or eight crossings with no issue (aside from my heart rate bumping due to the adrenaline).  

After the water came the beauty.  I honestly can’t describe some of the scenery.  In my life and on this trip I’ve experienced some amazing things, but some of the scenery out here is more spectacular than anything I’ve ever witnessed.  I couldn’t help but smile and think of how lucky I am to experience it…  on a bike no less!  Finally at around 1:30pm I crested a hill and was heading down towards Laguna Colorada.  Again, I can’t even begin to put the beauty in words.  The juxtaposition of the red lake against the ice covered mountains, bright green vegetation, and wildlife roaming around (llamas, foxes, etc) was unreal.  A quick note about the difficulty of the route…  It isn’t really that difficult.  Sure there is sand in parts, but it’s got some gravel in it, and not as deep as everyone leads on.  I’m really glad that I spooned on the MT21 onto the front as it was cutting, slicing, and forging a perfect path through the sand for me and the rest of the bike to follow.  Not sure it would have been as easy with the Heidenau front.  I’d say it’s sand 30%, packed dirt 30%, rocky path 30%, and blasted smooth rock 10% (rough estimates).

After spending almost 30mins at the ‘red lake’, I decided to track down this hospedaje everyone speaks of.  Well, like everything else in Bolivia, it’s hard to find.  Apparently I missed my turn off and ended up accelerating upwards to 16k+ feet in the middle of freaking nowhere.  I began to backtrack when I saw a tour truck/group off in the distance.  I pinned it across the Altiplano nothingness towards them and caught them off guard.  I must have looked like a spaceman coming towards them, standing on the pegs blasting across the landscape with my obnoxious/loud neon goggles.  When I arrived I asked the tour leader where I could find shelter, a hotel, or hospedaje.  He pointed back towards Colorada, but said there was another up ahead “cerca” (close).  I heard that and went tearing off up the trail…  Big mistake!  

Here is the deal.  If you do this route, track down the hospedaje at Laguna Colorada.  There was nothing between it and Laguna Blanca (at the border), which is where I’m writing this post.  That means I plowed through 200+ miles of sand, dirt, and nothingness.  It was amazingly beautiful, but by the time I made it to my stopping point, I was racing sunset.  Anyway, it was an amazing ride today and I can’t complain about my accommodations.  I just had one of the best meals I’ve consumed in Bolivia, and have a private room for 50B.  A bit on the pricey side in-country, but if you could feel the cold outside, and hear the wind howling, you would be willing to pay anything to get out of the harsh conditions too.  Seriously, it is F’ing freezing out there, and it’s only 7pm!  I’m guessing it will hit close to 0F tonight, with a windchill much lower.  I’m hoping the bike fires up just fine in the morning.  :/  

I’ve noticed/learned two things about myself over the past few weeks, months, and rides.  I’ve been worrying about things going wrong before they happen.  I’m worrying myself silly about bike issues that haven’t occurred, route problems, finding shelter, etc, etc, etc.  Don’t get me wrong, in the middle of the Altiplano one should worry.  However, planning appropriately and worrying yourself silly are two different things.  As I was riding today, experiencing one of the best days of this entire adventure, I made a pact that I’ll try to only worry when an issue presents itself.  I know that will be incredibly hard (for me at least), but I’m going to do my best.  I’m going to remember all the days and rides that I was concerned would go awry… but didn't.  I’ll remember all the bike issues that didn’t happen.  I’ll remember the ones that did, and how I simply worked my way through them.  Trusting that things will simply work out in the end is hard, but something that I’m doing my best to understand and sit with.  If I can do it on this trip, it will be easier to apply to larger concerns moving forward (i.e. future career, where to live, who to be with, etc, etc, etc).  You’d think I would have understood this already…  I never said I was a quick learner!

The second thing I’ve known, but has become painfully obvious recently, is that I SUCK when it comes to communication and staying in touch with others/loved ones.  Janina (my beautiful German girlfriend, who I had plans to visit directly after this trip) has gotten fed up with it and all but written me off.  We’ve agreed to link back up after I emerge from Bolivia and Chile, where connections can be hard to find.  We’ll see where things lead from there.  It’s a tough juggle in situations like this; the ever-present long term travelers struggle.  Spend your time experiencing places, cultures, rides, new friendships that don’t exist elsewhere…  or, pull away to communicate with loved ones, update the blog, update the ride report, post photos/videos, etc???  I guess I’ve found it difficult to fit both in.  Anyway, for those reading this back home.  I’m sorry!  I am absolute shit at staying in touch.  I know it, you know it, and now everyone reading this knows it.  It’s who I am…  I can’t help it.  BUT, I’m going to use this experience and learn from it.  I really need to carve out more time to communicate with loved ones back home, or wherever they reside.  Picking up new experiences and friends along the way is amazing, but at what expense?  Losing existing ones from home??? 

I guess that’s it for now.  I’m wrapping up my third cup of coffee here at the hospedaje.  The sign here in the kitchen says 'Albergue Ecoturistico de Alta Montaña “VC Licancabuc” Q.G.’  I’m guessing that is a combo name of the ecotourism company that operates out of here and the refuge/hotel itself.  Anyway, it’s a nice place nestled near the banks of Laguna Blanca (the white lake - not to be confused with the red or green one!).  The southern exit of Reserva Nactional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa is directly outside, and the frontera (border) into Chile a short ride further.  

Barring any issues, today will put me past 17k miles, and into my 13th country.  I have mixed emotions as this whole thing is coming to an end.  Yesterday as I parked the bike, I realized that Ruta Lagunillas will probably be my last difficult, isolated, multi-day dirt ride (although Jama Pass into Argentina will be interesting).  I know I’ll have some day trips in Atacama, with San Pedro as my base, but it felt like yesterday wrapped up the most difficult riding (Peru/Bolivia) sections of the journey.  On one hand, I’ll be glad to be back into civilization.  On the other hand, I miss it already and yearn for more isolation and challenging riding/navigating/exploring...  "Travel, especially solo travel, is more than the seeing of sights; it's a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living."

So that’s it…  I’m going to brave the incessant wind outside to load the bike.  Then I’m off!  If there is internet in San Pedro, which I’m guessing there will be, I’ll update more from there.  

June 24, 2014 - Chile!!!

Well, the bike started...  Thank God.  The wind was unreal last night.  The cold was even more unrealer (?).  I finally got motivated to load the bike and set off around 9am.  Since I'd made such progress yesterday, I only had 10 miles or so to the Bolivia/Chile border.  I'd missed aduana near Laguna Colorada, so was pleasantly surprised to see an aduana officer who gladly checked the bike out of Bolivia.  I was stamped out of country just as quick and was into Chile before I knew it. 

The route out of the park and onto Chile 27 was uneventful, but cold.  Then the winding route down the highway to San Pedro de Atacama happened so fast I didn't even know I was there.  A short 35 mile day, and next thing I knew I was sitting at the Chile aduana/immigration office in San Pedro.  Immigration was relatively quick, except for the tourist cattle bus that arrived just before me.  Aduana was fairly quick as well, but a nasty police officer threatened to arrest me for the huge knife I carry on my side.  Anyway, I put it away, and he calmed down.  After that he insisted on checking inside every one of my bags, which was a hassle, but I didn't mind.  I complied with his orders and opened up everything.  After a quick search he was satisfied and I was on my way.  Funny, after 12 countries I haven't had anyone care about the knife or check the bags once.  

Anyway, I'm here in San Pedro de Atacama and plan to be here for three or four nights.  I'll take day trips on the bike from here to explore the area, and will then bump over Jama Pass into Argentina.  It's a bit surreal being here, and it hasn't sunk in yet after the crazy week I've just had.  The riding and scenery was absolutely stunning.  In fact in retrospect, I think Lagunillas was probably the best ride I've done on the entire trip, and I've done a TON of notable routes thus far.  

I guess that's it...  I've just showered and shaved, and feel like a new man.  Need to go grab some food, and will check out the town a bit.  Any recommendations for San Pedro and/or rides around the area are much appreciated.  

Buen viaje, buen dia, buen vida…  

~ D





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