I am writing on Sunday, July 11 from the “Extreme Fun Pub” in Uyuni, Bolivia just some twenty kilometres away from the Salar. I started the day a little later than normal with a headache that lasted the whole day. I doubt three beers the night before caused it — dehydration — sinuses. Not quite sure. I am living in a world of dust right now.
I left the hotel I spoke of in my last post dawning heavier weight long johns, neck warmer and having an additional polar fleeze jacket handy. The temperature is starting to drop. It average five to ten degrees having on the exit of Oruro.
Sometimes I never learn. I passed two gas stations on my side of the highway which had no gasoline — only diesel. This should have been a red flag to pull over at the heavily populated gas station in the opposing lane — even if it meant an untimely u-turn. I passed on it figuring that I would find a place in the next while. I did not. I knew that I had just enough to make it to Challapata. Upon arriving to Challapata I saw a gas station…one with covers over the gasoline pump — only diesel. Upon multiple questions and tours around on what may at this point been fumes, I found two other has stations in similar situations. I saw a few business with barrels in front and they were empty as well. I was starting to get worried. I had asked a police office about the gas situation. He had stated that gas would arrive at nine at night — that would be eight hours of waiting in a town without much to offer a traveler.
I am actually quite glad that I only made it to Oruro and not Challapata — while both were represented by similar sized dots on the map the former is far larger and more active than that latter. I did not see even one hotel in Challapata — I’m sure one would have shown up if I looked hard enough but it didn’t look promising. I was starting to get frustrated and wondering what to do next. At one of the gas stations I inquired about the situation. I was told the “auto-vente” had gas. This sounded to me like a car dealership but it didn’t seem fitting that this town had a dealership. It turned out to be a car boot sale area — indeed there were a number of people selling gas out of the boot (trunk) of their cars. No doubt, they had helped created the shortage but I was qutie relieved to purchase 20 litres of gas at (almost any cost). Surely the sturdy KLR will run on water- or urine dilluted gasoline. I also purchased a 10 litre fuel container from vendor I had sighted earlier to avoid future problems — especially in Salar de Uyuni or the route south to Argentina if I decide to take this one.
In Challapata I made the split second decision to head directy to Uyuni rather that Potosi. In the end it was a welcome decision but not without doubt, especially during the earlier sections. Essentially I expected the road from Challapata to Potosi to be asphalt. I knew before I started that the road from Challapata to Uyuni, at least, started as sandy, dusty dirt. It took a little while to orient myself. I had to cross some berms, railroad tracks and so forth and headthrough rows of buildings without much discernation as to whether the road was feasable or not. Actually, it looked pretty bad at first and I had my doubts. There was plenty of loose sand and directions were not straight forward. The map and GPS were of no use at this point. I questioned person by person as to whether it this was the way to Uyuni. It was. In short order some ashpalt showed up. “I showed them”. It wass nice riding but disappeared as quickly as it showed up. The road surface became a truckers route and the surface include stones, moderate to heavy corregation, dry pack, gravel and loose powerdry sand. Corregation is basically as it sounds. If you have ever peeled on side of a paper from a card board box…well. Essentially trucks, buses and other vehicles speed down these dirt roads. Every time they hit a bump, the tires skip shoot a bit of dirt backwards adding to the bump. A good part of this road involved corregation heavy enough that my arms where heavily vibrated,and it turns out, one of my Pelican cases loosened up. Realistically, I was worried that various plastic parts of my bike, such as the windshield, would crack or break off. The route was about 200kms, and while verging on feeling treachorous at times, I would say that for 55% percent of it it was fun in a downright challenging way. There were dips, curves, sand traps, ruts, corregation, a few water crossings, sheep, llamas, and alpacas, trucks and buses and varying scenary.
As time progressed, I got my “off-road legs” back. Riding styles between road and loose surface are completely different. On these surfaces, rather than staying in line with bike, or leaning on the inside of the curves to keep the bike more upright, one has to push the bike on the inside of the turn to actually carve into the dirt. Essentially, as you ride a curve or corner (unless there is a pre-existing significant embankment) you basically create your own as you turn. The bike has a natural tendency to drift outwards and the curve is maintained by the mini-berm you create. I am please as punch that I am riding on the Perelli MT-21 tires. I have been questioned as to whether these are too agressive for the highways I am riding. The bike sounds like a bloody tractor trailer with the tires hummming away — but they grip and cut on dirt like no tire I have had on the KLR. While the Continetal TKC-80s where a create tire for most of the trip, the MT-21s are a better choice for this sort of riding.
As time when on I felt more and more comfortable — never that comfortable with the corregation as this is just slowly destroying the bike — but I found myself flying through sand traps and 70km/hr and taking curves with more speed. Only at one point did I get close to taking a spill. I hit a downill facing curve with sand going to quickly and I believe me rear wheel was locked up for 50 feet while I force the front wheel away from the berm. I doubt I would have been seriously hurt but it left me a little shaken, as well as taking curves a little more carefully. Sometimes you have to exceed reasonable limits to find out where the comfort zone lay I guess. I would say that this ride was one of the (accidental) highlights of the trip.
Eventually traces of earthen salt turn to dry pools and then, in the distance, the Salar proper. I arrived in Uyuni, found a hostel that took bikes, and hit a pizza joint. I was informed by a semi-drunk friend of the owner that I had achieved something great by tackling this road — and arrived at the motorcyclists’ mecca. Tomorrow I affix my pannier, fill my tank, and fill my spare tank and head out for the experience of a lifetime.