(September 9 – written by Dave)
What a difference a day makes. We woke today to 4 bicycle tires all full of air. This plus an earlier alarm meant that we were on the road by just before 7AM. The dawn light was fantastic and we took lots of photos. It was cool, but the sun came over the nearby hills just as we were getting started – it was another perfect Bolivian day without a cloud in sky.
Our hotel last night in Hauri was interesting. Sometime during the night, it appeared to run out of water. The shared toilets were bucket flush already so you could always grab a bucket from the rainwater tank but washing your hands or face was a bit of a challenge. The guys running it were really friendly though and it is the only game in town so you have to make do – all part of the travellers’ experience. The beds were comfortable, though we discovered at bedtime last night that there were no sheets, just blankets. Sort of like borrowing your brother’s sleeping bag, but you don’t know who your brother is…
We made really good time in the morning, even with all the photo stops. That is until we came across a large, curious alpaca herd that wanted to cross the road near us. They didn’t seem overly fused by us and were happy to pose for pictures. The only thing that really seemed to bother them was the car coming the other way who sat on his horn, but even with this, they didn’t scatter, they just got off the road.
In addition to the alpaca, I think we saw our first guanaco as well. The guanaco is a close relative to the vicuna but their range is further south in the Andes. They are slightly larger and tend to be live less in big herds. We saw a couple of whatever they were, guanaco or vicuna.
Not long after the manual show, we had the bird show. We came across a small lake that had all sort of water fowl and even a few flamingos. The flamingos were grey, not pink. As I understand it, the pink ones get their colour from eating brine shrimp. If this is true, then either these guys didn’t like shrimp or the lake that they lived on didn’t have any. And speaking of lakes, as we rode around the bottom of Lake Poopo (yesterday’s dry salt lake) we saw some water in the southern end. It is not a completely dry lake as we thought it was.
Other than pictures, we only had two stops today. We had morning tea in Quillacas and lunch somewhere in the middle of nowhere. There was more climbing today but we also had several long stretches of long, never ending straight roads as well. There was almost no traffic going our direction, on the order of 1 car per hour for most of the day. For some reason, more traffic came the other way but it was also minimal.
We made a photo stop at asteroid crater that seemed pretty big to us, just near Jayu Outa. In fact, there were two impact craters fairly close to each other – probably the same asteroid breaking up as it smashed into the Earth’s atmosphere. Surprisingly, we couldn’t find much information on it at the site or later on the net. Perhaps it wasn’t all that big in a global sense.
About 30k before our planned stop in Salinas de Garcia Mendoza we started to see the edge of the Salar de Uyuni. It was very impressive in its nothingness and technically, this is not even the main part where we will be riding tomorrow. It’s hard to believe that we are almost there, after reading so many bicycle blogs of people crossing the Salar.
The last 15k to Salinas de Garcia Mendoza were a bit of a slog, with the afternoon winds having picked up and our tired legs. In the last 4 days, we’ve ridden almost 500k, which is quite a lot fully loaded and considering our advanced ages (or mine at least). The flat roads have of course made this possible – the epic climbs of Peru seem a distant memory at this point.
We pulled into Salinas de Garcia Mendoza at about 2:30 and found the Hotel Camana right off the main plaza. The owner, Roger, was super accommodating and told us that many cyclists stay here. Other than WiFi the hotel has everything we need – even a hot shower, though it took a while for the water to heat up. It is a very small town so you always feel lucky when you get a nice hotel in such a small place. Roger recommended that we try “the blue restaurant, just right off the plaza” for dinner but even with his excellent directions we had to ask someone else on the street. We went in and as per normal, there are no menus. They just tell you what they have and you tell them what you want. The area is known for its llama meat so when I heard they were serving it tonight I had to give it a go. (Given we only saw alpaca and guanaco today riding, it didn’t feel too weird eating llama). And for the record, the llama was spectacular.
So tomorrow we are off to the Salar de Uyuni – at last. We’ll take the required weird perspective photos and some day when we get WiFi again, we’ll share them. But that’s tomorrow, being in the moment, we really had a great day on the bike today and are super happy how we’ve performed riding over the last 4 days – who says that we are getting old?