Isla del Sol, Bolivia to Uyuni, Bolivia
Sep 21, 2014 – Sep 30, 2014
A high altitude encounterAt the Bolivian border we bumped into two lovely and incredibly enthusiastic Chilean ladies doing a speedy 10day 3000km loop on a pair of BMWs. We witnessed Marcia’s and Monica’s enthusiasm quickly morph into fury as it became apparent that the Bolivian aduana was not only an obstructive ass, but also corrupt. He proved to be the only aduana in 15 countries to demand a bribe before he would hand over our paperwork. After we finally made it into Copacabana for an extremely late lunch – thanks to aduana delays – we enjoyed a gorgeous sunset and cheerfully contemplated how we might teach that aduana a lesson if we bumped into him after hours.
Isla del SolThe next day we waved goodbye to the Wolf- and Zebramobile as we boarded a boat bound for “The island of the Sun” in Lake Titicaca. Being on the island is like stepping back in time, there are no cars, motorcycles, or even bicycles. Everyone gets where they are going by foot. An old inca trail follows the island’s ridge and helps the motivated traveller to discover the 80 odd Inca ruins hidden in its nooks. This was also where we had our cheapest stay of the trip at $5 for the both of us. The room was very basic, but it was on the beach and after hiking the Inca trail for 7 hours, we slept very well there. The boat departed the next morning to reunite us with our bikes so we could cross the short Estrecho de Tiquina on a dodgey ferry and ride deeper into Bolivia.
Our Lady of Peace, and the death roadCommonly known as La Paz, the official name of Bolivia’s administrative capital is Nuestra Señora de La Paz (Our Lady of Peace) It did not feel ladylike or peaceful as we rolled through it’s dusty and frenetic outskirts. The city’s altitude varies from 3,200 and 4,200m as it claws its way up the mountains of the altiplano that surround it, so we were somewhat breathless as we climbed flights of stairs to evaluate various hostel conditions. We finally settled in room “69” at the red door hostel. While the Wolf was itching to get his tires onto the infamous “Death Road“. I decided I did not need to ride a “death road” in every single country we visited. Fully satisfied with my adventures on the “Trampolin de la Muerte” in Colombia, I relaxed in the sunny garden while he rushed off to defy the grim reaper once more. He had an amazing time and came back with one of the best photos of the trip, leaving me mildly regretful that I didn’t rally, but I relaxed back in my chair and soon forgot the unpleasant sensation.
Slivers of silverAfter La Paz, we were tempted to aim towards Santa Cruz de la Sierra as we’d been told it was beautiful part of Bolivia and worth a visit. But then we looked at our schedule and the remaining distance to Ushuaia, and realised we’d have to pick up the pace a bit after dillydallying in Colombia for two months. We decided to save Santa Cruz for next time and bombed down to Potosi, spending an incommodious night in Oruro en route. We found a lovely little hostel in Potosi where we were able to do some much needed bike maintenance. We cleaned out the air filters and finally changed out the jets as we knew we’d stay between 3000 and 5000m for the next week or so, and the poor bikes were struggling to breathe. The Cerro Rico dominates the Potosi skyline and we could not resist signing up to go and explore the bowels of the earth with some miners-turned-tourguides. Before going into the mine we stopped by the miners market, where dynamite sticks are sold for around $2. An another interesting novelty were the bags of fresh coca leaves. Skeptical at first we then noticed that most folks around us had hamster cheeks. Scrambling in narrow mineshafts at 4200m is quite taxing we were told and the chemical boost is not a luxury. 50 cents changed hands and minutes later our gums were numb and The Wolf started bouncing around.
The hunt for gasolineLeaving Potosi proved to be much more of a challenge than we could have imagined. In order to leave we needed to buy gas and Bolivia makes this particularly hard for foreigners. Gas prices are subsidised by the government resulting in very low prices. To prevent black market exports, gas stations are required to track sales against a database of national licence plates. Naturally our California plates were not in that database requiring attendants to not only charge us 3 times the official rate but to complete lengthy paperwork. As a result, after checking our plates, we were often told the station had run out of gas and that we should have better luck with the next one. On that particular day in Potosi it took us no less than two and a half hours, 5 gas stations and two 5 gallon water bottles to convince a reluctant woman to sell us the precious combustible that would finally allowed us to get the hell out.
Armed with enough juice to reach Uyuni, we once again hit the road, excited to finally be on our way to the famed salt flats. Given our morning delays we were reluctant to head into the salty nothingness that same day and decided to stay in Uyuni for the night. A bit of exploring lead us behind the railroad to a lovely hostel named Oasisa Blanco. After punishing the doorbell with our insistence, two friendly ladies opened the door and informed us the grand opening of the hotel was scheduled for the following week. We cajoled them into letting us stay in one of their shiny new rooms. Over breakfast the next morning, we learn that our cozy accommodations were, until recently, an illicit casino, and the enterprising new owners had taken it over and turned it into a amiable hotel. We woke well rested, and ready to take on the Salar de Uyuni, and the isolated southern region of Bolivia.