19 October, 2012

Day 106, 281km: Bolivian dirt roads

Sleeping in the middle of the salar, I think the most impressive thing was the silence. Absolute silence. I remember back in Utah talking with a lady ranger in Canyonlands. She said she loved her park because of the silence of it. Well lady I wish I could tell you, come to Uyuni. The silence is so strong that you hear sounds you never heard before. The crumpling of your clothes, the breathing of people near you, the motors of your camera as you're taking a lousy picture of the night sky (see day 105!)

Time to leave and go across the watery salt again
Looking at Julian's map and talking with the hostel's owner the night before, we decided to drive together north to go back to asphalt roads somewhere around Ururo. Estimates gathered here and there varied between two hours to six hours to make it back to big roads. Took us a bit more than that...

Chasing lamas on the salar
Our first way-point was "Salinas de something" north of the Tunupa Volcano. Supposedly 30 minutes away from where we slept.

Took us a bit over an hour to find these guys
They were three. By themselves, mining sand with nothing in sight on the horizon. Track trucks indicated that some other form of life visited these poor souls, sometime. Two men and a child. We asked them if they were ok, they said they had water, pointing at a 5L bottle. They tried giving us directions to the Salinas gas station but it was pretty hard to follow. When people tell you "see that little mountain over there? the one with the blue top next to the tallest one? Drive in that direction until you see another mountain on your left then go straight and you will find the town" it's pretty difficult to understand where exactly you're supposed to go, unless you have lived there all your life.

So naturally we didn't end in any town
But still, we had reached the northern end of the Salar de Uyuni, coming south from Uyuni. The northern part proved much more challenging to drive on. There were big patches of watery salt that we tried to avoid as best we could, some sections where the salt was as hard as rocks and literally eating our tires, sections where a find crust of salt covered an ocean of mud. We made slow progress but eventually reached "land".

I took the photo above as it took me a good 15 minutes to go around that fence, across these big rocks, dropping the bike two or three times. Julian thought I was crazy, went around and found an opening in the fence. Stupid me.

Let's try to find someone and ask for directions. Oops it's abandoned.
We reached a dirt road but didn't really know which way we were supposed to go so we waited for a car to come. Luckily it was people working on road constructions so they were pretty up-to-date on road conditions. Thanks to their information, we headed north towards Santiago de Andamarca.

Pretty cool views along the way
With Julian driving a 300kg monster of a bike on street tires, we took it very slowly and carefully, and stopped at every village along the way to ask for directions. No signs on these roads.

So senor, have you seen a map before?
People in the villages were all kind and trying their best to help. The map we had wasn't exactly up to date, and had roads that didn't exist. New towns and roads that exist now weren't on the map either. That made for more than a couple of confusing exchanges when getting direction. Despite this we progressed north, slowly but surely.

Hey sorry guys, can you share the road with me? I need to go over there.
 We had to keep a close eye on fuel too, having missed the gas station in the middle of the salar. Both of us carried extra fuel, luckily.

It was beautiful being lost over there
The dirt road conditions varied greatly but were mostly on the "shitty" end of the "ride-ableness" scale. Lots of washboard, long stretches of sand and deep gravel. So when the road finally turned to a nice, well packed dirt road, we both accelerated.
Riding in front, I saw a series of big holes filled with sand ahead of me. I was probably doing 80kph at that time and had just enough time to gear down, brake slightly and make it across in one piece. I flashed my brakes after I was over the sand patch to signal Julian to slow down. Looking in my mirrors, I realized that with the cloud of dust I lifted, he had no change to see my signals. After I stopped, I looked in my mirrors again and surely enough, Julian's bike was down.

Luckily there was no damage either to Julian or to his bike. We checked the bike and apart from a few broken plastic pieces, everything was in order. We went back on the road and took it slower, neither of us willing to risk another crash.

We found a (salt) river after a small village (4 houses) and spent an hour cleaning the salt off the bikes
That was also the opportunity to take a good break, have some water and snacks and get ready to go back on the road. Cleaning salt off the bike was tedious and we probably splashed 100L of water on each bike.
Bertha felt much better after the bike cleaning however, as she was borderline overheating before, the radiators, engine and exhaust completely covered with a thick salt crust.

From Santiago de Andamarca to Toledo, we were gifted with 20km of asphalt
It felt really good being on the road above, after having driven 200km of mostly shitty dirt roads. There was a section of road under construction between Santiago de Andamarca to Copacabanita. Rocks and sandwalls blocked the entrance and cars were supposed to use a side road of mixed dirt and sand. Being on bikes we simply went across the roadblocks and onto the asphalt. It was great.

But short. And soon enough we were back in the sand.
From Copacabanita we turned eastward back to Oruro and the road was perhaps the worst we had that day. Deep, long stretches of sand. Julian was on fire and didn't drop his bike a single time.

I however, had a harder time on the sand
After a good 50km of this sand road, we finally reached pavement again. The last 40km to Oruro were glorious, albeit in complete darkness.

Sunset on the sands
 So I was back in Oruro, the city I crossed 3 days ago with other Argentinians friends. We eventually found a hotel with a carpark. Did another cleaning of the bikes there (salt was still everywhere!) and by 10pm we were checked-in and happy to get some rest.

Oruro, Bolivia by night. Oh yeah baby.

That was a great, albeit exhausting day. We crashed early, our heads filled with great memories.


1 comment:

  1. Wow... wonderful places and pics.
    Would like to go there some days.
    Instead, I am struggling with XenApp....