On our way to Uyuni by bus and train, we stayed in Puno near Lake Titicaca but really only viewed the lake from the distance. We are on a mission to get to Uyuni and start biking.
Once in Uyuni, we got ready for our first ride through Salar de Uyuni, the Salt Flats. This would be a challenging way to start biking for several reasons. No roads are paved. The Salt Flats environment is flat, stark, and has no shade. So we needed to be completely self-sufficient and have enough food and water to get us through the long ride.
We set off and finally found the dirt highway, full of washboard ruts and potholes....we should have had mountain bikes. We made the best of it and trudged on for two hours, hoping that our bikes or racked would not crumble apart, until we made it to the Salt Flats. At that point, we ate lunch at a memorial site of those that had died in car accidents on the Flats. I cracked open my Bolivian canned tunafish to make a sandwich, and I swear I have never seen tunafish so horrid. It looked like catfood. We tried to eat the sandwiches and cringed in disgust, so I trashed it knowing we now had one less meal. At this point we wondered if eating on a memorial site was bad juju, so we payed our respects and hoped for the best.
We continued on to the Flats and made it to the Salt Hotel, where we bought all of their water and chatted up a German guy who kept looking at my Brooks saddle, so we knew he knew bikes. We planned on camping at the Island Intihuasi that night, and got directions. ¨Follow this road and you´ll find it¨ everyone told us. Seemed easy enough. So we head out and got on the road. As we road on after a few hours we realized the one road split into two, and then two more, which became four, and then the road started to to criss-cross. Uhhhh, where are we? We began to question the directions. Cars stopped passing by and we were alone....completely..... in the middle of nowhere. It was starting to get late, and we were a little worried, so Ryan eventually biked an extreme distance to catch up to a car to ask directions. The guy pointed us to the main drag in Salar to the Island and told us 20 more km to our destination. We thought, no problem, that we could get us there by dark, so we started in on the road. We could see the Island from the distance finally up ahead, but as we rode more and more, the Island never changed sized on the horizon. It was sooooo far away, playing evil tricks on us. Was it a desert mirage? An illusion? After some time, Ryan began to curse the Island.
As the sun began to set, a headwind picked up in full force, and we could not keep going. What a disappointment. We were exhausted and had ridden at this point 92 km that day....way too much for the first ride, in the desert nonetheless. So we somehow got the tent up in this terrible wind and crashed out at 8:30 at night. No dinner, just sleep. Our water supply was low, maybe 2 liters, so we hoped in the morning we could get to that island. One thing was certain....after a ride like we had that day, we were not biking back to Uyuni. We would pay big $$ to the driver that would take us back.
When we awoke, sure enough we got to the island in about an hour. We at a fabulous breakfast, took photos and chatted with other tourists and tour operators and found out that there was a bus that came through to the Island from Chile. Saweet! So in the afternoon, we piled our bikes into the bus and headed out. Salar was a great time, but we were ready to move on.
We got back, got on the train and rode to the Argentinian border. What a great train ride! Beautiful red rock canyons, comfortable, and lots of cribbage. Later, we talked to people who bussed through this section of Bolivia instead, and it sounded really uncomfortable. The train is a much better way to go. I think it was $14 for the 1st class ticket for a 10 hr ride. Highly worth it.
If I had more time, I would have hit up Sucre, Cochabamba and other parts of Bolivia that are supposed to be absolutely amazing. But we just didn't have time since we were on a schedule to get to a festival in Argentina. I don't want to give a bad impression of Bolivia. In our case, it chewed us up a bit. For bikers, it is a rough time. But alas, we pulled through and came out more knowledgable and greatful for pavement.