(September 12 – written by Dave)
We were pretty slow moving this morning, not leaving our fancy hotel until 10:30 – we could get used those swanky digs. We spent about 2 hours at the brekkie buffet, no rush and no limits to the number of times we could pass though. I’m sure that the staff was talking about how much food those two skinny cyclists ate. We did however, resist the urge to abscond with a serviette full of pastries – we saw a couple guest doing this and thought it quite funny – not that we didn’t give it a thought ourselves.
We had about 5k of dirt to ride to reach Highway 5, our route south. It was bumpy and sandy, but there was thankfully no salt to mess up our clean bikes. The only issue was the number of Toyota Land Cruisers we had to share the road with. They are generally full of a local driver and a stack of punters heading to or from the salt. The guide probably gets paid to maximize the salt time that the punters get. In other words, slowing down for a couple bikes is not in their DNA. It was dusty and a little scary, and we were happy to reach Colchani and the highway.
Just as we pulled into Colchani we spotted what looked like three locals out on bikes. Well, two of them were local, but one was a touring cyclist from Ecuador. The tourist was on a multi-year trip of South America and boy he was full of life – what a great spirit he had. The three of them were heading out to the Salar for the day, before coming back to Uyuni for the night. We didn’t get their names but it is always uplifting to meet such positive folks out doing what we are doing.
At Colchani we stopped and pumped up our tires. We had lowered the air pressure to ride the salt and too little air now in the tires makes the highway riding slower, so more air was required. Highway 30 heading towards Uyuni is a brand new highway with nice wide shoulders. We know people who rode this route 3 years ago and it was a rough washboard goat track. We only rode 27k today and the smooth road, coupled with a ripper tailwind meant we took less than two hours. Three years ago it would have been a 4 hour ride – what a difference pavement makes.
We would have made it even faster had it not been for all the wildlife roaming on the roadside. We saw several herds of guanaco (or maybe vicuna) and some alpaca – and made a couple photos stops. None of the animals seemed overly worried about us and even less worried about all the Toyota Land Cruisers. Several animals ran across the road right in front the speeding motorized beasts. We moved on before we had to witness any carnage.
This morning at the fancy hotel, Nancy looked on the internet at all the hotels in Uyuni. It appeared that rooms were pretty expensive (a tourist town). Being a little nervous we booked a room. Later when reaching Uyuni, we rode to that hotel and checked it out from the outside. The original hotel was quite a walk from town, on dusty roads and we wanted to see what we could find in town. We ended up finding a ridiculously big apartment hotel in town (Hotel Marinet) where we have two rooms, a kitchen and room for four to sleep. All for $1 USD more than the other hotel – so Nancy cancelled the booking and we grabbed the apartment. It is nice to have extra space and we may even cook a meal or two, how exciting.
Uyuni has a very old west feel to it. It is really dusty with a number of dirt streets. A good number of buildings have old colonial facades. Uyuni was founded in 1889 so it is not all that old but its original purpose was a railway hub for the booming mining industry. It is still a rail hub and lots of old train memorabilia are positioned around town. There is also a famous train cemetery here where old trains were abandoned when the mining industry collapsed in the 1940s. We’ll be visiting the cemetery tomorrow and report more about it as we are taking a day off here.
A few days ride from here, we’ll be in Tupiza. That town is interesting because it was where in 1905, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were tracked and killed. We’ve been reading up on their story – which probably put the western town feeling in our heads as we rolled into town. So far we’ve not seen any horses or bandits. Uyuni has a population of 10,000 people but another 60,000 tourists visit here annually, mostly heading for the Salar. There are quite a few gringos wandering around and lots of folks with backpacks. I’m not sure how that adds to the western feeling…
So tomorrow we’ll do a few chores – the big one being rotating our bike tires. We are going to put our skinny spare tires on so that we can save our fatter tires for the rougher roads down in southern Chile. We also need to resupply a few items that we might only find in a gringo town (like peanut butter) – plus the cemetery of course. I’m sure that the day will be over before we know it – as rest days go.