I left my sweet camp spot and enjoyed on last time riding at full speed across the Salar. I had filled up my bike with gas from one of my reserves and made my way towards San Juan. A small town where I was told I could find more fuel. When the Salar ended, the road turned to miserable deep sand. from riding 120 km per hour to 20...
The road was straight forward for the first bit but soon, different roads went in every directions. Passing along several farm land, I had to ask - when I saw someone! - which way to San Juan. I stopped for directions when I saw an elderly lady sitting outside her home . She was sitting next to some dead animal skinning the poor thing to pieces. The old lady approached me, not really knowing what I wanted or where I came from on this bike." San Juan?? San Juan" I said. I understood nothing she said to me.
She spoke in some tribal language and looked at me confused. I snapped a photo and drove off... I was afraid she would hit me with her stick.
Down the road, I asked another farmer for directions, he pointed out the way. Thanked him and drove several hundred meters where 4 different roads all split their own ways. Great...??? which road to take? I took a wild guess and hoped to arrive in San Juan somehow. I arrived in a bigger town where I could finally get proper directions.
San Juan was nothing but a sleepy ghost town. Everything was closed. I asked a lady where I could find gas. She told me to check the corner store. The door was locked. Now I was getting nervous not to find any gas. She then told me to knock at this guy's house. Luckily the man was home. Filled up my tank and reserves. He opened the corner store so I could buy water, cookies and chocolates. Also got a couple can beers.
I asked him for directions to Laguna Colorada, which was my next destination. I was told next time I needed gas I could buy it from the 4x4 tours along that road.
The man drew me a map on the sand with a stick. It was a little confusing to fallow... I set off into the unknown. I knew I had to pass a train track but from there...??? wasn't to sure. I asked a young military officer at a check point which way to Laguna Colorada. He pointed straight ahead. So I drove off and once again the roads split in many ways. I took what seemed to be the most traveled path ( not easy to know which is, with so much sand).
The road was nothing but deep sand. Tough to ride with a motorbike, but still manage to ride safely at good speed. Then the road became worse, then once again 10 different paths... which way to go?? when I noticed a sign on the road from farther distance, when I approached the sign, it was blank!
So again... I needed to guess on which path to take. Even with the best map of Bolivia, Nothing but a GPS would help you, even then... it would only be an extra gadget to carry and probably you wouldn't be able to find maps of the area. Instead I used the sun & mountains that border Chile and little help from a tour map 4 inches by 2 inches that a tour company gave me in Uyuni if ever I wanted to do a tour, it outlined their itinerary. I roughly marked the KMS on it. (my speedometer no longer works on my bike, so I needed a way to find out average distance for gas.)
The road turned wide and looked as if it was well maintained. I was excited to be out of deep sand and could ride again at higher speed. After an hour of riding at good speed. I arrived in another sleepy town of Alota. When I found someone to ask directions to Laguna Colorada, the guy looked at me..." ouff... 4 - 5 hora!! muy largo"
I showed him my map. He pointed out where I was... When I got excited about the fast nicer road, I had gone completely the wrong way, instead of going south, I was going east. I kept on riding once he told me the right way. Luckily I didn't have to back track. I only added a 100 km detour to my planed route. - 100 kms of awefull roads!
Not far off Alota, I saw my first 4x4 tour jeep of the day, they were on their way to Alota for the night. I watched the truck drive through a half meter deep river. There was no way I could make this river. the bottom was deep mud. I would for sure get stuck. So I rode along the river until I found a more shallow spot to cross. Still more then a foot deep. I got soaked and nearly ate it.
Continuing on more deep sand, the road was in bad shape. Another river crossing, wet again and more deep sand.
The sun was now getting low so I needed to find camp. As I past by a house - really in the middle of nowhere! - I asked the man standing outside with his son covered in dust, how far to Laguna Colorada. " ohhhh...mmm - largo, dos horas" he told me. Shit still that far!
It was now getting dark. I was getting exhausted from the tough riding. The man told me I should sleep in his yard, he said it was far to the Laguna and I could get stab or mugged if camping on the road. I didn't really understand why he told me that. Since in my entire day. I saw no one but a tour jeep. " aqui, seguro" he said (safe here)
I took his advice, plus I was tired and was now dark. He offered me a place to sleep inside a nasty looking room. Told him my tent would do. He then pointed out at a spot to put my tent next to his beer cans and plastic bottles." La noche... muy muy frio" he said. No problems, I'm use to the cold. As I set up my tent, his little boy just stood there watching me setting my red home. He'd never seen anything like it. Once I was set in my tent. The little boy would just sit outside the door, peaking inside my little home, curiously. Asking me questions, what's this, what's that, what are you eating, what are you drinking,.. have any money for me??
The night was indeed cold, the coldest night I encountered other then sleeping at 5400 meters while climbing Huayna Potosi with my friend Diego. I was at 4600 meters and my watch read minus 10 celsius. I was up early the next morning, too early thanks to my curious friend that came to see what else I had in my home. I froze my fingers while packing my tent, in less then 15 minutes, I had everything strapped to my bike. It took a few tries to get my bike started. I was lucky it did. The man filled up my thermos with hot water. Thanked him and his son for their hospitality. As I went to turn my bike in their yard in deep sand. My front wheel sank in and lost balance, my bike was too heavy to keep upright. It just went down. Fully loaded I could pick it up. The man and his son came running to help me lift my bike. It was a pretty funny scene. Fingers still frozen, so were my toes. I left my friends without crashing again.
20 minutes later, I was at Laguna Colorada. - 2 hours he told me??? I figured that must be how long it takes him to walk here.
I sat by the lake sipping on hot Mate tea while watching pink flamingos fly around. Warming up in the warm sun. Happy finally be at Laguna Colorada. From now the roads would be more straight forward to Laguna Verde and eventually exit Bolivia into San Pedro de Atacama Chile.
Enough photos of flamingos, I continued the road to Laguna Verde. I met a couple at a high pass, (5000 meters) it was the highest pass I rode. The couple were catching their breath, not yet used to high altitude.
We had a good chat for half hour. They had ridden their pedal bikes from Ushuaia, Southern tip of Argentina. They found the pedaling tough in the deep sand, not to depress them... I told them they only had 400 kms more to go.
One the road were hot springs. I was looking forward to warm up my cold body. The place was empty when I first arrived. But few minutes later, a dozen of 4x4's arrived with tourists on their tour. It was a sock since I hadn't seen any jeeps except a few since Isla de Pescado.
I felt like I was passing interviews, I kept being asked all kinds of questions from travelers about my journey.
Now feeling warm and clean. I bough some fuel from one of the tour guides and continued on to Laguna Verde. This was the most beautiful lake I had seen so far. Sitting at the base of Volcan Licancabur - 6017 meters - bordering Chile and Bolivia. The lake is emerald green. Much like lakes you see in the canadian rockies. The place was extremely peaceful, I was only 15 kms away from the border of Chile. I had plenty of daylight to ride to San Pedro de Atacama Chile. But instead. I decided to camp on last night in the cold Altiplano of Bolivia.
I rode around the lake until I found a perfect spot overlooking the lake and perfect to get the first morning sun rays. (very important when looking for a camp spot at night is to face East, so that way the sun warms you up sooner and dries then tent in the frosty morning).
I camped at 4800 meters. The night was cold, but not as cold as last night at the farmer's place. This time I took the battery out from my bike and set it inside my tent with hand warmer pad around it and clothes. I was alone and not in a place where I could get a boost from another 4x4.
I sat in my tent admiring the views, reflecting back at the long dusty journey through Bolivia. Tomorrow I would say goodbye to another wonderful country and ride to San Pedro de Atacama Chile.
The end of the salar and beginning of bad roads
The old lady skinning the dead animal.
cemetery close to the small town San Juan
one of several river crossings
With signs like this, not easy to find your way
smoky volcano Ollague (5868 meters), borders Chile and Bolivia
This was my campsite, a farmer's backyard.
my curious friend