We left Potasi after a hearty breakfast of bread and jam and headed for the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flats which sit at 3653 meters above sea level and covers 12000 square km. It was only 200km away which made for a very enjoyable day. The roads were great, well most of them, the last 30km were dirt but great fun to ride. About 15km out-of-town Andre’s chain snapped and left him freewheeling out of control. Luckily mark had a rope and was able to tow him our final destination for the night, the town called Uyuni. It’s another beautiful town with beautifully designed streets and fine architecture. Sorry I’m lying, it’s another fine shithole defiling the surface of our planet. Before you enter town you’re greeted with what I first thought to be the city dump, unfortunately it wasn’t, it was just another few square km full of plastic that was most likely thrown from car windows. There are actually signs on the busses here telling people to throw their rubbish out the window and not to litter on the bus. We spent the night here planning our next adventure, it’s going to be a 3 day ride through deserts, volcanoes and mountains to Chile.
We headed out onto the salt at 5am, a little early for me but well worth it once we were out there. We had to take a 4×4 out there because the salt would wreak the bikes(we met a French type who brought his brand new bike out there. It was completely wreaked after one day. The salt had corroded everything including the wiring). I’d never seen anything quite like it before. Afterwards we headed out-of-town along a dirt road for about 200km before setting up camp in a field surrounded by lama and alpacas. We spent a cold night drinking beer sitting by a lama dung and plant root fire.
The next morning we headed off for a lake Colorado, a two-hour ride on the right road but a six-hour ride on the “road” we took. We ended up riding through the Arbol de Piedra, a Andes desert. I was taking the lead riding through sand, rock, gravel and washboard roads when I noticed one of my camera’s missing. I turned back to look for it, luckily enough about five km back there it was lying in the middle of the track I previously had ridden. Since I hadn’t passed any of the others on my route back I figured they must have gone around the other side of the dunes so I turned around and gave chase. Unbeknown to me Andre had just broken down at the bottom of the dune I had just turned around on; I was now chasing shadows through this high altitude isolated plateau. I rode on alone for hours not knowing where I was or whether I was even going the right direction. My GPS had gone flat again and I couldn’t get it going and my back up GPS(my phone) also shat itself. How do these things always know when to break?
I was now following the deepest tracks, just hoping I was going the right direction. Next thing there’s a hail storm and being above 4000 meters it was fairly cold and miserable up there. I was beginning to get a little concerned for my life to be honest, I had enough water and food to last me 24hours but if I had an accident or ran out of fuel it could be days before I was found. Nevertheless and having no choice I pressed on through the cold. All of a sudden I came across this “stone tree” and a 4×4 with a few Colombians inside. I knew where I was when I saw the tree, I was in the desert riding the track we were told not to take.We had originally wanted to ride this track but were sternly advised against it.
I had a chat with the Colombians and found out I was only about 40km away from a ranger station. I had been on the wrong track all day but at least I had been going the right direction. I made it to the ranger station and enquired about my friends. It had taken me 6 hours to ride 90km through this desert. Luckily I only fell off once and didn’t do any damage , although to be honest I almost fell off a dozen or more times, one time at speed.
About an hour after I had arrived at the range station a 4×4 came in and told me they had passed my friends that two of them had broken down but were now moving again and two more were about an hour back. I headed off back into the abyss once more and about half an hour later I came across a worn out Nick and Ivanka. We decided not to go back any more because we could easily take a wrong turn and miss the other two and end up getting lost again ourselves. Instead we headed back and tried to find accommodation for the night. Soon enough Mark and Andre arrived looking a little worse for wear as well. They had to repair Andre’s bike in the middle of the desert , to repair it they had to dismantle half the bike as well. Andre was lucky not to have to abandon it out there. We then had to cook our own dinner in a “hotel” you wouldn’t sentence a dog too. It was defiantly one of the hardest and most rewarding days riding I’ve ever done. Everyone had taken a tumble throughout the day; we were all glad it was over, nobody was looking forward to the next day when we would have to do it all over again.
The next morning we left Laguna Colorado and its multicoloured flamingo filled lakes and set out through the desert again, this time all staying together. The first thing we came across was a mountain side of geysers. We had great fun throwing a flip-flop into one and watching it shoot 50 feet up into the air. Words of advice don’t dry clean your motorbike pants in a geyser when you’re wearing them, they can get a little hot. There were bubbling mud pits all around as well and believe me when the sign says mind your step you’d better mind your step. I had one hot foot for hours after stepping in some hot mud. Luckily for me I was wearing bike boots.
After this we came across a thermal hot spring beside a Laguna so we had lunch and a wash. It was good to be clean again even for a little while. Next the track headed back into the cold desert where the rains once again came a calling. Before long we came across the border and check point of Bolivia. The border post was the most isolated one I’ve ever came across. It sits all alone in the middle of the bleakest mountains imaginable. The guy stationed here must have butchered some royal family to get this post. Thankfully it was the quickest exit I’ve had out of any country. We were out of the Andes and free of Bolivia once more.
(Bolivia is one of the most spectacular countries I’ve ever visited. It’s full of wonders and natural beauties that will along with the altitude take your breath away. I was really sick of taking pictures on the last few days; every head turn deserves a snap. On the other hand the towns and cities are among the most disgusting I’ve ever seen and frankly the people are quiet miserable as well. While the rest of the world is going “green” Bolivians are throwing rubbish from their car windows. We need to educate these people and get them to reuse and recycle before they destroy the country. No country belongs to any man or group of people, the world belongs to us all and we need to protect it. It’s not the people of Bolivia’s fault, they have little education. Maybe our carbon taxes should be directed to helping these people, to educating them, to get them to put catalytic converters in the vehicles and stop pumping toxic fumes into the atmosphere, to get them to stop burning and recycle, after all; we all breathe the same air. Aren’t there failures ours as well? We will all suffer in the end if it’s not sorted out soon.)
The ride out of Bolivia and out of the Andes was almost straight down, about 5km from the Bolivian border we reached a sealed road and descended into Chile rapidly. As km after km fell the temperature rose dramatically. By the time we had reached the bottom and a town called San Pedro the temperature had risen 25degrees (from 8 to 33). Entering Chile was straight forward although it took about two hours because of the que. We found a campsite, had some dinner and a few beers and called it a night. Another hard day in the saddle over with.
We were now in the Atacama desert of northern Chile. There’s not much here but sand and mining company’s. There are some mines 15km long, they’re literally moving mountains here to get at the shiny bits inside. We’ve camped most nights in Chile so far as there is little else to do besides ride and eat in this part of the world. I’m writing this from inside my tent on a beach about 200km north of Santiago. Tomorrow we enter the capital to get some work done on the bikes; to get them ready for the final assault southward, the journey to Ushuaia.