DAY 2: SAJAMA TO LLICA
The next morning was crisp and clear, and we were able to appreciate the beauty of our surroundings.
, an extinct volcano:
(Notice the rocks holding down the edges of the tin roof, a common sight in the altiplano.)
The twin peaks across from Sajama
Our group, bidding farewell to Sajama
During the morning, we entered the Parque National del Sajama, Chullpas, where we saw our first flamingoes:
We also visited some ancient structures, recently restored. They are funeral rooms built in “adobe”, from earth and straw, and made in the colonial period (after 1592).
The roads were pretty rocky (although not as bad as some later in the trip). Here is Hugo with William, changing one of the three flat tires our group would get today:
Whenever we stopped in one of the towns, a small crowd would gather around us, curious about where we were going:
Along the way, we saw many herds of domesticated llamas, which are highly valued animals; their wool is warm, their dung provides much-needed fuel for fires (there is no wood because trees don’t usually grow at such high altitudes), and the meat is purportedly tasty (I missed our one dinner of llama steaks, as I’ll explain later). Here is a typical village with llamas:
We stopped for a few minutes in a small town next to the Salar de Coipasa (also known as the “Baby Solar”), a large salt flat that covers over 850 square miles and is approximately 35 miles across. (Tomorrow we would be riding on the grand Salar de Uyuni, which covers over 6000 square miles.) Some buildings in the village:
We talked briefly with this woman and her two children. She was kind enough to let us take her picture. (We always asked before photographing someone; many people said “no”.)
Ben and I riding on the Salar de Coipasa:
Our friend, Gérald:
The salt looks very much like snow. However, there is wonderful traction.
Ben took a close-up of the terrain:
Since we were over 12,000 in altitude, the surrounding hills did not have a lot of vegetation. Due to the early rainy season, portions of the Salar had water that reflected the sky and surrounding mountains. The landscape was just stunning.
The early rain also meant that the edges of the Salar were quite muddy. Unfortunately, our chase truck got stuck.
We tried unsuccessfully to free it. Maurice finally led the bikes away, as Rene was digging a hole to bury the spare tire and pull the truck out using the front wench. We continued through a series of jeep trails, over and around hills, with rocks and sand and some water. Fun, fun!
A town we passed by at sunset:
Our destination was a town across a portion of the next Salar; however, Maurice didn’t want to cross the big Salar at night without the truck. On the edge of the big Salar was the town of Llica
. Maurice went into town to see if we could stay there tonight (many towns in the altiplano do not have hotels/hostels); he returned saying that the only accommodations were a few “very basic” rooms. He explained that he did not usually bring groups to stay overnight in Llica because there wasn’t a good place to sleep; this was just an emergency situation because of the chase truck.
As we rode into town, I could hear a band playing with numerous brass instruments and a booming drum. While planning our trip, I had read an article by a traveler in Bolivia who had been kept up until 1:00 in the morning by a band playing outside his hotel window (that band had been practicing for an upcoming festival). The sound of the band got louder and louder as we rode through the town; I had to laugh as we stopped right by the band, which was playing directly in front of where we were staying. I asked Maurice if he knew of any festivals occurring today or sometime soon; he said “no”, and jokingly said they were celebrating our arrival.
Yes, our room was very basic:
The room was so bad that it was funny. We took a peek at the sheets and found that they hadn’t been changed lately, and there was garbage under the beds. We were on the second floor facing the street, with the glass in one window missing; so we had the band’s music in full force in our room. The part that had both Ben and I really laughing, however, was “walking the plank” whenever we had to go to the bathroom (I won’t even talk about the condition of the bathroom). The bathroom was in another area of the building; we could reach it by either (a) going downstairs, crossing a courtyard, and then going up another set of stairs or (b) walking to the end of the rickety balcony outside our door and stepping out onto a plank that was balanced across a wooden post that stuck out of the wall, with the end of the plank resting on one of the stairs that came up from the floor below. Most of the time, we chose the plank, although we had to be careful and step so that the plank (which was not bolted down) didn’t fall off the wall and drop us 8 feet to the cement below. A bad photo of the plank (our camera lens didn’t open properly)—between the end of the wooden walkway and the edge of the plank is an 8 foot drop, with the stairs much further in the distance than they appear:
We had dinner at a small café around the corner—very good rotisserie chicken and rice. It had been a long day. Our expressions in this photo never fail to make me laugh:
The band had disbursed by the time we finished dinner, although one trombone player was still wandering around playing for at least an hour afterwards. We didn’t have our luggage because the chase truck didn’t make it into town that night. Ben and I bought toothbrushes and paste from a small store on the way back from dinner. We then settled in as best as we could, to listen to all of the night sounds of the town, including many dogs and a rooster that started crowing at 3:30 a.m.
DAY 3: LLICA TO VILLA MAR
Ben and I both woke up feeling very ill. Neither of us could keep any food down, and our journeys across the plank were far too many. We also had chills. Despite our protests that we didn’t need a doctor, Maurice brought us a local doctor, who took our blood pressure and prescribed some medicine. The doctor said that different countries naturally have different kinds of bacteria, and our bodies were probably reacting to a type of bacteria that was new to our systems.
I was determined to ride my bike, but by the time I got on my gear and carried my helmet down the street and around the corner to the bikes and the chase truck (which had arrived that morning), I had depleted every last bit of my energy. I reluctantly sagged into the passenger seat of the chase truck; it was not my finest moment.
Ben had more strength than I did, and he rode the first portion of the day before joining me in the truck.
Ben crossing the Salar de Uyuni:
We stopped for a short time at the Isla del Pescado, which is an “island” near the middle of the Salar, covered with large cactus.
We continued south across the rest of the Salar, then through sandy and rocky roads to a wonderful small hotel near the town of Villa
Mar. We arrived at the hotel after dark, but here are two pictures of the landscape along the way.
The hotel was beautifully decorated in a sparse yet artistic style. There was a delicious dinner served, which Ben enjoyed; I had to pass because my stomach was still turning somersaults at the thought of food. Our bed was extremely comfortable, and we had our own bathroom with hot water. We both slept soundly.