Brrrrlivia

July 30, 2011

After a welcome break in Copacabana, it was time to hit the road again. We left as we had arrived with Rene and we headed to Tiquini, where we had to share a bus with a boat to get across the lake one last time. While doing this we were interviewed by the BBC World Service about pollution in the lake, so keep your ears peeled for that!

After that, it took 2 days to get to El Alto, the outskirts of La Paz. We decided not to go into La Paz, for both time and hassle reasons. From the other cyclists we´ve met along the way, we´ve heard tales of a 12km, 12 lane descent into the city which we quite fancied avoiding. We found a nice place to stay before spending the rest of the afternoon exploring. Unfortunately whille doing this, I had my wallet stolen on the busy street as rice was thrown over me. Luckily for us, we were on our way to a cash machine and not from one, and our passports were seperate.

Street Carnival, El Alto

The following day we quickly left El Alto and did our fastest day yet. The road was still paved but the buses and lorries were driving a bit too close for our liking. It took us two days of some of the most boring, flat scenery we´ve encountered so far to get to Oruro where we planned to have our last bit of luxury for a while. In fact, for breakfast we managed to get 7 Empandadas and 3 cups of tea for Bs./30, bargain! This was exactly what we needed as the thermometer in the town showed a chilly 2·C.

After Oruro, we actually had 1.5 more days of good roads before it all turned for the worse. From Challapata to Uyuni took us 3 days of 6 hour+ slogs across the bumpy and more frustratingly, sandy, roads. Each night we had to camp as the temperature plumetted, and on the second night all the water bottles we had INSIDE the tent, froze. On the last day we managed to make it onto the Salar, where the white salt extends way off over the horizon, allowing us to take some funny pictures, bearing in mind not many people were around. We decided not to go over the salt flats as recently there has been a lot of snow which has all melted to make it all boggy.

Camping on the road to Uyuni

Passing 2000km

Lisa on the Salt Flats

When we finally made it to Uyuni around 6 o´clock on the third day it was a welcome suprise to find it so touristy, and with the help of a nice German couple we found a hotel for the night. To say we ate well when we were in Uyuni would be an understatement. I think we blew all the money we´d saved of the last couple of days eating very well indeed, trying to stock up on fruit and veg as much as possible, spending the majority of our day off in cafes and restaurants.

Before leaving Uyuni we had a tough decision to make, take the less major road to Villazon, or take the more major road to Potosi and then down to Villazon. Twice the distance but potentially more places to stay and a better road. We ultimately decided to go the long way, which looking back now, was almost certainly the wrong decision. The first day we spent 3 hours pushing our bikes up a dirt road before the road finally became paved. The next day started exactly the same with a long climb on a dirt road before the roads became paved. Although where the road was paved it was a beautifully new road and when it was down hill you could absolutely fly. It took 3 days to get to Potosi, and the third day was a tale of ups and downs, literally. On the down hill´s I went faster than I´ve ever been on a bike, 70.9km/h but the uphills went on forever and the centre of Potosi was a steep climb up to 4070m. Which we´ve since discovered is the highest city in the World, something we found out the hard way.

Looking back to Potosi

After climbing into Potosi, we still had to climb out, reaching about 4400m before we were finally given some descending to do.  The road was fine, if not a little bit hilly, for about 40km, and then for the next 2 days until Tupiza, the road was a work in progress, reminding us of badtimes in Peru. As a rule of thumb, if there are roadworks and signs telling you to avoid the shiny new road ahead and take the bumpy, dirt road to the side, you´re best off ignorning the signs and cycling overthe barrier. This served us well mostof the time, giving us either paved or flattened road for about 80% of the time while the cars and lorries looked on. We were caught out once however, cycling onto a road they were mid spraying fresh tar on, forcing us to leave our mark on the new road and skirt down the side. It was still worth it though, cutting a huge offroad section out.

When we finally got to Tupiza, in 10km less than the map had said, we were suprised to find it so touristy, but it was a welcome break. We knew  the next day would be tough, getting to Villazon, as we knew the altitude of both towns and the latter was significantly more. We set off early and battling through the hills and wind we made it where we stayed for the night.

One thing´s for sure in Bolivia, the road signs, the map and our speedos rarely agree, there were lots of times that we ended up having to do more miles than we had planned to do.

The following day we´d planned as a rest day which was a good job as it took us 2 hours to cross the border into Argentina, the last country on our journey. Overall our impression of Bolivia was much more positive than we had expected, for the majority of the time the roads were good and we were able to put down the miles. Combined with a few touristy towns along the way where we were able to get nice food and laundry done it has been a good section of the trip.

As for Argentina, we´re hoping for lots of nice road, lots of downhill or flat and some good wine along the way. We´re currently good on time so we shouldn´t have to push it too hard and the good roads and lack of mountains should definately help!

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