Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Salar de Uyuni - The hard & long way

Hello again,

I met Vincent on a hostel in Tupiza. at first he looked Israeli. but he wasn't. he was a crazy french guy. i offered him to join me for a small ride around the mountains and valleys of Tupiza. in the morning we hit started riding and climbing the mountain, the both of us on the back of poor Chicho. Chicho was not complaining, he was just doing his best... meaning going first gear around 15 k"m per hour. the ride was nice and the views were spectacular. it was enough to turn Vincent on and make him want to make his own motorbike trip around. "if i only had a bike when i was traveling in the Salar of Uyuni, wow it could have been amazing!" he told me after our little one day trip. "well, maybe we can find you a small rented bike here and hit it" i answered him.
and in Bolivia, almost everything is possible, so we found him a nice little 125 c"c bike. a moped to be more precise. well made and constructed by the Chinese brains. the brand name was so ironically, "SuperMotos". we will see about that later. so we have a rented motorbike, we have crazy Vincent who just want to have adventures, we have Chicho and we have a 1000 k"m of dust roads,valleys full of gravel, high altitude peaks (up to 5000 m above sea level) to conquer, too many rivers to cross, boulders and stones and we also have a big big will not to be Aquarium tourists, meaning sitting on a bumpy jeep for hours each day and wait for the next comfort place. we joined our mutual adventurous spirits and decided to do this trip on the long & hard way.
this trip through the lagoons and salt planes of the south western Bolivian deserts should normally take 4 to 5 days on guided 4X4 cars. we calculated to make it on 7 days, with enough time to get lost, have technical problems and have fun.

we were worried a bit about our orientation in this big desert terrain just for the fact that almost 99 % of the people who go through these roads are tour operators with well knowledgeable guides.

we set the day of departure for Saturday, so we took Vincent's motorbike one night before, to get it ready for the ride and also to let Vincent get accustomed to it. on that night i started to have strange feelings and warning from the boss above. i also discovered that Vincent never drove a motorbike before !!! "first time on a motorbike !?!?" "don't know what is a clutch ??, ehhhmm.." i stood amazed in front of Vincent trying to keep it cool and not look worried. but inside i was terrified, and not majorly for the fact that Vincent is going to eat lots of sand in this trip, but for the fact that i planned to go for this dangerous trip with a hard-core fantasist friend, who knows nothing about riding. but not to worry, for the next 30 minutes Vincent received a crash course in riding and handling a bike. mostly it involved shouting him "The clutch is your best friend!!" and "don't flood the engine !!". after this night lesson Vincent told me his ready to go on the next morning. i nodded with a firm expression on my face and went back inside the hostel.

next morning we packed our bags, bought some food and water and with great spirit we headed towards the desert. it took Vincent a few tries to start the engine and then a few more tries to get it moving. he looked more like an old grandmother with Parkinson disease who's trying to steal a bike. it didn't look good. after 10 minutes of wandering in the streets we decided to make this day a training day around Tupiza, and embark on our trip only the next day. it was a smart decision. we rode the bikes around in different terrains and Vincent showed a great progress. after this day he could actually stop the bike without letting the engine stop. i guess he acknowledged that the clutch is his friend. :)

Sunday - leaving Tupiza

we finally started our trip. it was a great sunny day and we left Tupiza a bit late, around 10:30. our destination was a small village called San Antonio de Lipez. we started climbing the mountain in a slow and steady pace. we drove for 2 hours in a rocky road going up and down, but eventually climbing to an altitude of 3500 m, but as we will notice later on, god was playing games with us. first game, let's fix a flat tire. Vincent had his back wheel flat. i took my repair kit out and we started fixing the tire. sun is shining, good spirits, all good.

we managed to fix the tire in 40 minutes, but right after we placed the tire back on the bike, it started to loose air. ohhhh, still with smiles, we took it off again and went through the same procedure again. after 30 minutes now we finished. fixed the tire on the bike and..... same shit, air is coming out. now, with less smiles and more looking on the watch, we fixed it again and now it worked. in total it took us 2 long hours.

now it means less 2 hours of driving. we calculated a long 8 hours drive day. now we had only 5 hours of light and 6 to 7 hours more to go. i told Vincent that in any case, we never drive at night. it is dangerous, specially when my head light has the power of a candle.

we started to ride again, trying to rush and make it into our first destination. the road was beautiful and challenging. we drove non stop, slowing down only on small river crossings. time was 18:00 and the sun was setting. the great desert cold had started to arrive and freeze our asses. we didn't see any sign and didn't have any clue on when we are supposed to arrive. we only knew that if we don't make it, there is another closer village, a couple of hours before San Antonio. as light disappeared i turned on my lights , but i discovered that the Head light was broken by the strong shakes and it was hanging loose on the steering wheel. it was freezing cold and dark and i had to fix the light to keep going. i found this rope that i was carrying for 6 months i my bag, just in case i needed it, so here came the chance. after 5 minutes the light was temporally fixed back to it's place. we continued riding in the dark, something like 15 k"m per hour. we stop again. now, Vincent's spare fuel tank was starting to leak. we lost something like 2 litres out of 5 and lost one jerrycan. we kept going, all frozen, praying for the village to show up. we kept praying for another 2 hours and eventually we arrived to the first village, San Pablo.
we found the only hostel on the village, parked our frozen bikes and had some Coca tea to de-freeze ourselves। we went to bed at 22:00 exhausted from the long day and specially from the night ride.

Monday - trying to reach Quetena Chica

after the long and unlucky day, we woke up and got ready to another long day of riding. now we had the initial 6 hours of riding and another 2 hours we missed from the previous day. so we woe up around 7:00 and it was still freezing, the water in the taps was also frozen. i had bad feeling that day and i was not keen to ride again. Vincent was all excited for the fact that he made the first day, and he was full of good energy. thanks for that. we looked on the map and started riding along a wide river. the road was bumpy as hell and after 1 hour i crashed my bike. it was a stupid crash, in 2 second gear. nothing happened to me or to the bike, but it pissed me off completely. i was already pissed off by the hard road, and i had thoughts of going back, as long as it is was possible. i started to loose my temper. i kicked my helmet and shouted towards Vincent that i was not having fun, and these roads are killing me and the worst roads are still to come. Vincent was not impressed. for him, as long as the bike goes, he is fulfilling his dreams. i agreed to keep going, not before popping some relaxation drops on my tong. after 1 hour we stopped again. the road did not match the one on the map. instead of going south -west we were going north. we agreed that we took the wrong road, and we turned back on our tails for an hour. our next village was San Antonio, the village that we were supposed to reach on the first day. we stopped there and spent the night there. we talked with locals about the road ahead of us. it wasn't getting better.

Tuesday - Trial day

after long day in San Antonio with countless games of dice, we woke up in the morning with good energies and a strange feeling in our chest. we were breathing just like at low altitudes. we didn't pay too much attention to that fact. some local people who saw our small bikes, had told us that we would not make it up the mountain which reaches 5000 m. we looked at each other and agreed that this would be our trial day. if we can make the big climb, we should keep going all the way to the Salar. we started riding towards Quetena Chica, not before Vincent had a big fight to start his bike. his battery was almost dead, so he could only start with his kick starter for the rest of the trip. we already reached an altitude of 4800 m, and the bikes were just on their edge. we were doing the uphill on 1st gear with the engines screaming for help. but, as a gift from god, we reached 5000 meters and the bikes just wouldn't stop. they went up the summit just like heroes who want to prove us something. that day, the hardest of all, the bikes were just like super bikes, going like crazy. at first we didn't know what made them act so strong, but later on, we figured out that we had just experienced a high pressure climate system, and the air was saturated with oxygen. this made the bikes react just like if they were in sea level.
we reached Quetena Chica before schedule and our spirits were high. we taught that the worst is behind us.

Wednesday -first attempt to Laguna Verde

the crown Jewel of this trip was Laguna Verde, the green lagoon. it is full of poisonous minerals and it has a strong green color up until mid day. we were so impressed by the bikes and we started climbing another peak of around 5000 m to reach that lagoon. we started the bikes and immediately we sensed that they are not responding like the day before. they were heavy and choked. the skies were starting to get cloudy, and i tried to remember some geography lessons i had in high school. something that had to do with high/low barometric pressure and clouds and rain. it appeared that the high pressure system had finished and a low pressure was starting to form with the coming clouds. we started climbing but we made it only a quarter of the way. then the bikes stopped in the same place. we looked at each other with a big question mark on our faces. "what now?" do we go back all the way? and who says that we can do what we had done a few days before with the help of the high pressure. the only way was to go back and try another route. we had to skip Laguna Verde and take a short cut to Laguna Colorada which was further north.

driving to Laguna Colorada was a piece of cake. the bikes were responding well, the rough uphill climbs were behind us, and all we had to do is cruise up and down towards that beautiful lagoon. no special problems, just these annoying washboards that again shook our bodies into pieces. so the deals is quite simple. you can have terrible uphill and curvy road with rocks and holes and an average speed of 15 km"h, or you can have a flat straight road were you can speed up, but shake like crazy. there was no easy way. i preferred the uphill.

we reached laguna colorada in time.

Thursday - another attempt to reach laguna verde

now, after relaxing in Laguna Colorada and watching thousands of pink Flamingos fly by, we were ready to drive to Laguna Verde. first stop was an area full of natural bubbling mud pools and hot geysers. then, after a long and speedy drive downhill we reached a warm natural pool that gave us a nice brake from the ride. we bummed and relaxed there for a couple of hours, and started heading again towards laguna verde. it was partly clouded and we could see some more heavy clouds forming on the horizon. at that point there were lots of tour agencies jeeps who stopped for the mineral pools. we asked one of the drivers to sell us some gasoline, as we were almost out of it. he was happy to help us (and himself) , and we filled our tanks and our spare gas bottles. now the road to Laguna verde is mostly straight forward. we were not expecting any trouble, so we started cruising through a flat desert area called "Desierto de Dali", for its surreal stone forms. the sky was getting cloudy and heavier, but we kept going. in the middle of that desert i stopped to take a picture.

i saw a huge cloud blocking the road, it was just there. i had some doubts about going further but they were eliminated by Vincent and his "killer" bike. he just passed by me in full speed (65 km¨h), shouting like crazy.i tried to stop him and consult him about our progress, but it was in vein. he cruised straight into the storm cloud with much enthusiasm.

i quickly got on my bike trying to chase him and stop him, so we both got into the storm। after 20 minutes of riding in the snow, while the visibility was getting poor and snow was starting to pile on the road , i saw Vincent fighting with his bike। we were so lucky that his decided to stop, because otherwise he would have gone all the way into the storm। by the time i reached him he was already cursing like a real french man, "merd, merd, ale ale !!" and kicking his bike with full power, but the bike just wouldn't start. i tried to kick it , he tried to kick it, we both tried, but no good news.

suddenly a tour agency jeep stooped and a french guide jumped out of it and approached us with a serious and worried look. it looked like he's going to help us, but instead he just told us, with his serious look, that we should try to start the bike for another 10 minutes and if we fail, we should leave it on the road and go back to a safe place on my bike. then we heard a shout from the jeep, rushing the guide to get back and continue with his guided trip. he gave us his fake smile and went back to his spoiled tourists. we looked at each other and without further talking we waived bye bye to the jeep with our middle finger. we were even more pissed now. we cursed them for a few minutes and after we were feeling better, we pushed the bike and made it run. we drove as fast as we can back to the natural pools and spent the night there. we finished that day with a long and warm bath in the wide open.

arriving to Laguna Verde - finally!

next day we started riding early happy for the good weather in the pool area. we were riding mostly on a flat area and descended to the Laguna with no special problems.
we had to pass a truck that was stuck on the road due to the snow and was blocking the road. we also had to deal with a high layer of snow that had piled during the storm, that made the road even more spectacular. we rode in good weather and reached the laguna after 2 hours. it was the sweetest arrival and we both took our time alone to appreciate this trip. other travelers had looked at us with envious eyes, which made our trip feel even more special and crazy.

we went to have a brake in a small hostel near the lagoon, and then it started to snow again. we got stuck there for another 2 hours with a group of travelers who were waiting to pass into Chile. when the snowing stooped we started our way back to the pools, to spend another night there, before going back to Laguna Colorada. we made a huge detour and see this lagoon, but it was well worth it.

back to laguna colorada.

we went back on our tails towards Laguna Colorada, passing by the geysers. suddenly i heard a cracking noise from the bottom of my bike. it wasn't that strong, so i kept going. the washboards were feeling even stronger on the way back, and it felt like the bikes are falling into pieces. it wasn't that far from reality. when we reached the Lagoon, i checked my bike and found out the the chassis was broken in 2 different places. i was very close to ride my bike with two different pieces. just like in the cartoons. we couldn't keep going like that. we have been told that there is a welder in the laguna, and he would be able to help us. but he wasn't there. he was away for a job in Quetena Chica, and he should be back in the after noon. he wasn't. we waited in this lonely hostel, without knowing when we could get out of there. at the same time our money was starting to run out, due to the extra nights we had to spend and the gasoline we lost in different occasions. we had to ask for money from other tourist who arrived in the evening. vincent was in charge for the European crowd and i had to deal with the Israelis. obviously, Vincent had the toughest job. he managed to pull out some cash from a french couple and some other tourist, but had very bad luck with a mixed group of Dutch and British people. they just didn't believe our stressed situation. they refused to give us any help, telling us they don't know us and can't trust us. Vincent went mad!! he was cursing again and wished the group some "pleasant" time wherever they go. for me it was easier. i met a group of Israelis, told them our story, and in no time i had 100 Bolivianos (14 us$) in my pocket. again we learened another lesson.

at the morning after i got sick. it was a deadly combination of Altitude sickness and Diareah. i fell into bed for 24 hours of shaking and hallucinations. i guess there are wors things, but at that time i just lost my touch with the real world. when i recovered, i felt completely exhausted. i couldn't eat and my body was weak. there was still no sign of the welder man. we fell into dispair, mostly for not having any idea when can we get out of this place. we waited another day and he eventually arrived. we fixed the bike,in a very temporarly way, and we rushed toward Uyuni, to see the famous Salar.

Riding to Uyuni.

we had to take a different road towards the Salar. the common road was too rough for our bikes, that were falling apart. i had half of my chasis broken, and Vincent's bike was really in a bad state. in front of us were around 250 k"m of washboards. so we took another road that goes through some mines and remote villages. we started riding. after 20 minutes, my bike started to go slow and my tent,which was attached tothe back, was starting to slide down from the back of the bike. i don't really know why, but this made me go mad. i droped the bike on the ground, jumped on it full of angry nerves, shouting like a mad man. Vincent looked at me, with a relaxed face, but he didn't open his mouth. while i was jumping and shouting, my camping mattres got loose and started to roll away with the strong wind. i saw that a bit too late and the matress was a long way from me, rolling constantly down the hill. i stopped jumping and started running like crazy after the mattress. i lost my breath completely. i think i ran a k"m away, till the matress stopped. i picked it up and walked all the way back. by the time i was back, i was completely relaxed and vincent was trying his best not to burst into loud laughs. without a word, i packed my stuff on the bike and we started rolling again.

we reached a moutain area with a very tough road, full of rocks. after 30 minutes on that terrain, Vincent's bike stopped in a very rough way. we looked at it and discovered that the rear brake was completely broken. the chinese engineering had failed again.

now vincent had to ride all the rest of the way with only the front brake. dangerous indeed, but it made vincent even more excited. no danger - no fun. i decided to ride the rest of the way behind him, waiting for his crash. but he didn't fall. he practised a championship riding. i was so proud :))
that day was Vincent's birthday. as a present, he recieved a nice flat road, with no washboards. we were cruising around 85 k"mh, the fastest we ever went. the bikes were doing their best. after an hour of racing with each other, we stopped to have a rest. vincent was flying with joy and happines. it was a joyfull ride.

at a certain point, we arrived to a deep river crossing. looked left, looked right, looked ahead, and without further delay i charged the river like there is no tomorrow. and shit. i was literally got stuck in shit. the river was carying the sewer of the villages nearby, and the bottom of it was a soft and smelly compound. the bike was stuck midway with no way to move.

after no more than 10 minutes, a jeep arrived. at first he didn't want to help us, but i couldn't take no for an answer. i blocked the jeep's way and gave the driver a false promise i would pay him 50 US$. then he found the time to help us. after 10 minutes the bike was out of the shit. the driver asked me for the 50 US$. i told him, without blinking an eye, that he should look for me in Uyuni. i had no regrets for lying to this greedy bastard.
we reached Uyuni with the last light. it was the first normal town after a week time. we found a hostel, took a shower (well, only me. vincent's is living up the french reputation) and went to the most expensive restaurant in town to celebrate Vince's birthday with a good steak and a bottle of wine.

riding on the Salar

this was the goal of all this trip. riding on the worlds biggest salt plane, with our beaten motorbikes. after starting on the wrong foot with a flat tire, we finaly reached the salar. no words to describe the beauty of it and the experience of riding on it. we could ride for long minutes with our eyes closed, and nothing would happen. in the middle of the salar there is a
small island called "Isla del pescado". huge cactus are grown on it and the look of it is amazing and sureal. again, i have no more words. we spent a lazy day on the salar and went back to Uyuni towrds evening, riding again at night, against our will.

back to Tupiza

there are 250 k"m from Uyuni to Tupiza, on a hilly road. it should take us something like 6 to 8 hours of riding. the views and town looked just like a movie from the wild west.
after 120 k"m Vincent's bike stopped for good. that's it, no more. his chinese soul went to heaven, leaving us stuck in the middle of nowhere land, and with only 2 hours of light. we still had 130 k"m to go. we tried to do the best, but nothing worked. we were planning on opening the tent for the first time in this trip, but there came a jeep. we spoke with the driver and he agreed to take the bike on the roof.

i took the rest of the fuel from his bike, loaded the bike on the roof and started riding towards Tupiza. we were really short in time and i raced this part like a crazy man. the jeep was behind, lighting the way for me. Vincent was a bit disapontend for not being able to finish the trip on the bike, but shring beers with the driver had put his soul on rest. we reached Tupiza around 21:30 at night.
after this trip i decided to sell Chicho. i just couldn't think of going with that kind of bike. my body could not take it anymore.
Chicho was sold to the hostel owner, Maurizio, for 900 us$. not too bad for 10,000 k"m of riding. now he will have better life in this tranquile town. no more washboards. no river crossings.i think we are both happy for that.
2 days later we took a 20 hour bus ride to La Paz. after that i decided to buy a new bike.
more to come, soon

click here for a slideshow of the trip

Amor Y Paz

1 comment:

nico el loco del palermo said...

tu viaje es se como haces para contener tantas imagenes adentro tuyo eilon...IN CRE IBLE....sigamosolo disfrutandolo juntos!
tu amigo nico uruguay palermo hostel!
ahhhhh no te vine a vivir al fui de mi depto y ahora aca a full con el laburo que se viene....abrazo amigo!