Leaving La Paz takes a couple of days longer than we’d thought while dropping into the valley that it occupies. Two has crept in to our routine as a ‘proper rest’; and I’d asked for two more to try and work some. Days crept on – rain set in heavily and persistently every afternoon, sometimes earlier. Jobs were done and friendships commenced.
A particularly heavy day of rain together with a brief take-over bid by my gut residents kept us in La Paz for 2 more days than anticipated. Cristian, Luisa and the Chuquiago Bike Café make La Paz even harder to leave
The ever-present prospect of the climb out of La Paz doesn’t help either. Cristian has ideas for cunning dirt tracks further down the valley, but doesn’t know exactly how they connect – volunteers are sought! We slump on the ‘normal’ autopista exit – keen to get to the Salar (de Uyuni) that has been my shining, brilliant goal in Bolivia ever since I saw pictures of the Riding the Spine boys – years ago now.
The autopista from El Alto southwards is busy with wagons and lashed with semi-frozen hail. A lacuna of sunshine and a partially paved additional lane offer us late afternoon respite
More than 100km, and in Sarah's case 8 hours a day on flat tarmac speeds us past Oruro and the last sizeable town in Bolivia. The weather gives a glimpse of its glory - tantalising...
An improvement on the advertised navigation difficulties and soft sand, there is the foundation of a paved road to and beyond Salinas - late afternoon thunderstorms mass daily - the prospect of an impassable and flooded salt flat subdues us. We have agreed to go and look even if we have to circumnavigate
We had been warned to stock up on vegetables and treats in Oruro - a while before the actual Salar. Salinas - half a days ride away turns out to be really quite well stocked. This one of several similarly abundant tiendas
The entry ramp at Tahua - the northern shore of the Salar de Uyuni. The first couple of hundred metres are dirty grey slush - our hope of magnificence fades further
Then blossoms as hard salt tessellations crunch under our tyres
Twenty minutes out - Sarah as speck - we outrun the thunderheads that do not follow
A time for camp - there is no other reference - no feature to pick from. Then comes the challenge of grounding the tent in the face of unimpeded wind. A guy rope to my bike drags it slowly over the salt ridges
The planned stone peg basher forgotten in the moment of shore-departure. A problem solved by drilling peg holes in the salt with our leatherman knife - ice-screws would have done better but calm falls as the lines hold
Tent doors wide to revel in the place - the colours of the sinking glow warm our grins
The next morning Sarah sets off ahead, and is gone before I start. As I catch up, I’m drawn toward (what seems) the only other presence in the midst of nothingness. There’s also a strange reluctance to lose the solitude and profound stillness with the contact. We meet and grin – a reminder, if I needed it why we are we.
Late morning we collide with the world at Isla Incahuasi - the cactus covered outcrop in the middle of the Salar. Even in low-season there are ranks of 4WD - and some of the locals courting, careless of the attention
The purity of the experience somehow muddied – we head on south. The sun comes at us from all directions – burning unexpected skin despite intended prudence. At lunch we tent to gain shade. There is a vulnerability out here – to rain, vastness and thoughts.
Water - a sheen to reflect the glare even more. The world retreats again with time marked by pedal strokes
A moment of repose on a drier patch - the crunch of the night before has smoothed
and finally, as if from somewhere in between places, Sarah comes to shore
Stretching kilometres out towards Uyuni, exit the firm albeit soggy Salar to tracks of soft sand and washboard. Thump!
Congealed concentrated salt solution soaked through and encrusted on everything. Arriving in San Juan and a junction with our final days in Bolivia we award ourselves an early mark and try to clean all
More photos of the Salar de Uyuni here