(September 14-15 – written by Dave)
We ended up staying an extra day in Uyuni so that Nancy could rest and get over her stomach issues. Nothing really happened all day. We rested, read, planned and watched CNN. Sometimes you need a nothing day.
With Nancy feeling much better this morning, we hit the road just about 8AM. And boy was it cold. We didn’t wear our super warm riding gloves or rain booties but honestly, we could have. Our bike computers registered all of 5C but it seemed much colder than that. As per normal for this time of year in Bolivia, we were riding in full morning sun but it was almost as if the sun was set on low power.
The only two things of note to happen in the first 70k were several herds of alpaca/vicuna and a solar power station. The former are still fun for us to stop and have a look at, but they are no longer as “wow” as the first herds that we saw further north.
As for the power plant, we were riding in “flat as a pancake, nothing out there” country and I had just commented that this would be an ideal place for a solar farm when we came over a small rise and low and behold, there was a solar power plant. It was very new, nice and shiny – we could hear the hum of power being generated. There appeared to be one guy manning the place, but I’m sure that there were more in the various buildings. The sign said that it was generating 60 Kw. I couldn’t help but think how cool this was as a Bolivian power source. There were no mines, no trucks or pipelines taking fossil fuel to the site. In fact, there was very little anything happening, other than power being generated. Sure, solar produces fewer ongoing jobs than a coal mine or a fossil-fuel driven power plant, but what a great thing to think that for almost nothing (and no pollution), the Bolivian desert is generating power – cool.
As I mentioned, until 70k, it was a nothing day. Flat roads, salt flats, the odd animal herd but otherwise, not much. Then at 70k, we came to the top of what had been a very gradual and our only climb of the day. There was a scenic pull over so we stopped. Stretched out before us was an amazing desert canyon, complete with deepwater courses and hills filled with every imaginable colour dirt. We took some photos and enjoyed the moment – then the fun began.
We’d had a building tailwind all day and now, at the top of the hill, the wind was raging. That, plus the slight downhill and the next 10k were some of the most fun riding that we’ve done all trip. Almost as soon as we started riding, we’d hit 30kph, 40kph, 50kph and sometimes 60kph – all without peddling. It was so fun to ride that we almost didn’t stop at all for photos of the amazing desert that we were flying through.
I think that I might have mentioned the other day that the road in this area is newly sealed. All day today, we had baby’s bum smooth pavement and now, with the addition of the wind and slight downhill, well, we were basically on a Disney ride without having to buy a tickets. The magic carpet ride didn’t quite last all the way to Atocha as we encountered a few uphills in the last 10k. The hills slowed us down, but they did nothing about the smiles on our faces. You don’t get many rides like that on a loaded touring bike – today we were lucky.
We pulled into Atocha a little after 1PM and quickly found our target hotel – Hotel Wilkafer. It is very basic. There are few other options so we’ll make do. Atocha is a small town but we arrived on market day. It was market day two days ago in Uyuni and all the venders there had moved down the highway to here. I’m not sure where they went yesterday but there is clearly a group of sellers who work the small villages in this part of Bolivia.
We wandered the market, then grabbed a cold drink and settled onto a sunny bench in the main plaza. We were just thinking about heading back to the room when who would ride up but Yves and Frederique, the French couple that we saw last on the Isla Incahuasi. They had been in Uyuni the last two days but somehow we missed them. They are staying with a Warmshowers host tonight but we’ll probably see them on the road tomorrow.
Speaking of warm showers, we got one today, sort of. It was not really hot. But we still feel kind of lucky as about an hour later, the power to the entire town went off. We are now sitting in the dark in our hotel room, wondering what we’ll do for dinner and maybe even brekkie. We have lights, food and a stove so it’s not the end of the world but it could be an interesting night.
Tomorrow we head to Tupiza, of Butch Cassidy and Sundance fame. The ride is a little longer than today and there is more climbing but the last part is downhill and tailwinds are again forecast – check back later to see if we have another Disney day finish.