Salt road – Salinas de Garcia Mendoza to Isla Incahuasi (87k/20,513k, 170ft)

(September 10 – written by Dave)

Today was all about the Salar de Uyuni.  We had about 25k of riding before formally reaching it.  We chose to go around the volcano on the far left side.  There are three routes, two besides the one we took, one on the right and one on the left that cuts over the shoulder of the volcano.  We chose the far left as there was less climbing and we didn’t fancy climbing sandy tracks.

The track was mostly really good.  There was maybe 3k of sand at the beginning but it we rode all but a few hundred metres if that much. The road was on the edge of the Salar in mud flats and pretty easy riding if you stayed on the correct track.  Somewhere along the way Nancy and I took separate tracks – we were never far away from each other but we are on slightly different tracks.

Volcano 4

Early morning as we head toward the volcano – we’ll go way around to the left eventually

Well, Nancy got the last laugh on that one as my track became wetter and wetter, eventually I ground to a halt.  I was in my lowest gear and could not peddle.  So much mud had built up between my rear tire and the mudguard that the rear wheel would not turn.  I had to get off the bike and try to clean things out.  Nancy was only 50 yards from me, on a nice dry track so she parked her bike and came over to help me.  We tried to push the bike to free the wheel but no luck.  Eventually we had to take the wheel off and scrap all the mud out.  Boy, what a mess.  We finally got things clean enough that I could push the bike over to Nancy’s path and get a lecture about being on the right track – lucky me, why hadn’t I thought of that (Senior Editor’s note- it was not a lecture, just pointing out that we were already on an adventure, no need to make it even more adventurous.).  Anyway, I was able to ride and much happier.

Dave mucking 3

What a mess – so thick and it stuck to everything

Dave mucking 2

That was my path – thanks for getting a photo Nancy while I was de-mucking my bike

From then on, I let Nancy choose the path to take.

Alpaca 1

We had to navigate a pack of alpaca

We eventually rode between a couple hills and to the end of our road.  From here we had nothing but salt to ride on but we still had to make it around the volcano penisula and out onto the salt proper.  We had a lot of stops to check directions as you can’t see the Isla Incahuasi until you clear the peninsula.  Riding too close to the peninsula meant wet salt – rideable but very messy.  Ride too far away and you’re making the day longer and maybe heading off into the never never.

Nancy riding 2

Right behind you Nancy!

Nancy riding 6

End of the road, nothing but salt from here onwards

We eventually made it around the peninsula and found some tracks heading towards the island but even then it was not completely clear that we were going the right direction.  The “dark” tracks from cars were only dark near the shore of the peninsula.  Out where we were, there were tracks going every direction and getting a bearing was hard.

Nancy riding 15

On the right track now – this is still 20k or so from the island

Nancy riding 14

Sun is sinking

A couple 4x4s went by and we sort of followed where they went.  This got us more or less sorted.  Phew.  By now it was getting late and we still had 40k of salt to ride.  It is pretty smooth in this section but it is not fast riding.  We sort of feared not reaching the island before dark.  We were so nervous that we didn’t stop for the funky photos until we knew for sure that we would make it.  We had some fun mucking on the sand, got some fun shots and remounted for the home stretch.

Nancy balancing 5

Nancy balancing on our spare tires

Dave balancing 3

Dave riding a new style

Nancy balancing 1

Careful, don’t tip over

We reached the island about 5PM – long day.  The ranger told us where we could stay in the refugio (for free), after paying the 15 BOB entry fee.  Just as we were about to get stuck into dinner, up rides Andy and Sarah, from the UK and Yve and Frederique, from France.  We’ve seen both couples several times on the trip previously – to bump into them here is quite funny.  All three couples started independently in Alaska some 16 months ago.

We are all in the island refugio now, getting ready to get some sleep.  The refugio is basically a small hut with a couple of rooms, one of which is set up with some cultural presentations.  We have set up our tent in another room and the Brits and the Frenchies have laid out their mats in another room.  Another fellow has also shown up – it sounds like he took a bus here.

There are no services here other than the toilets but the restaurant served pretty good food.  The place was a mob scene of people and 4x4s until about 6PM, just before the sun dropped below the horizon.  Then suddenly it was a ghost town with no one there but a few overnight staff and us in the refugio.

Sunset on the island 2

Cactus on the island

Sunset on the island 9

Sun setting over the Salar

It was pretty cool riding the Salar today as well, certainly different than anything we’ve done before.  Our bikes are filthy but there is no place to clean them here and tomorrow we have another 60k of salt to ride before we reach the dirt and finally a highway – our bikes are really taking one for the team.

We have a long day planned for tomorrow, but navigation should be easier as we had a single track from the island and lots of 4×4 tracks to follow.  Our goal is Uyuni and you’ll know we made if this post gets out.  We’ve been writing the posts daily but we have to reach the WiFi in Uyuni to get them posted.  We’ll take a couple days off there, lots of admin to catch up on.  But before that, more salt must be conquered – and maybe some more goofy photos…

Sunset on the island 1

Dusk on the salar

Sunset on the island 8

Last light…


6 thoughts on “Salt road – Salinas de Garcia Mendoza to Isla Incahuasi (87k/20,513k, 170ft)

  1. I researched the cactus Trichocereus padacana. Apparently long ago the Inca crossing the salt flats used the Incahausi as a refuge. The gigantic cacti grows 1 centimeter per year. Most are 2 meters in height and some are 12 meters. Most are over a thousand years old!

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