Altoplano

Stage 47 122 kilometers 1 October
Departed Oruro and headed south off the main road. Within a couple of kilometers a lake was at our side with hundreds of flamingos feeding. Many more than are in our yard at home, and these were moving about, not standing still as in our yard. I realized I had made a bad decision to not carry the big camera today. I thought we would just be riding along the flat plains. It proved every changing scenery, especially as the clouds created different lighting.

About 10 kilometer down the straight road a fellow walking a bicycle with a branch for a broom was sweeping the side of the road of loose rocks. The scenery was ever changing. Lunch was to be at about 60 k but no truck due to construction. At 70 k there was a village beside the road, which had been very rough with construction for the past 15 kilometer. Wilbert and Rob purchased several cases of soda and some cookies which was about all the town had to offer. Finally the trucks made it and Ellen prepared some sandwiches for desert and we refilled water bottles. Back on to pavement and a delightful trip for the next 52 kilometer. Generally following the 3800 meter contour line on the map. Directions had been a 111 kilometer day but no truck again. Finally over a rise and a town with the bike dreams flag out was seen. They had set up in the apparent meeting hall for cooking and such. We set our tent in amongst the nearby walls, and I went for soup. Delicious! As folks set up their tents there were three ladies watching people set up our tents laughing and having a gay old time watching these gringos.

Shortly after soup it began to rain and I rushed back to the tent as I had left the flap open. Dived in just as it started in earnest. Spent the next couple of hours just futzing about the tent. Finally worked up the energy to emerge after it seemed the rain, lightening, and thunder were finished. I discovered a saguaro like cactus 50 meters just above us, but as I was going to explore, the dinner siren went off. Priorities!

Another delightful dinner under the dim light of the 3 remaining light bulbs. After dinner we discovered we were a big deal in town and had been invited to some shenanigans in the square at 8 pm. It was only 6:30 and normally all, of us would be in bed by 7:30. It was going to be a late night. To keep awake I walked the 3 blocks into the town square finding it quite deserted and the town quiet except for a few kids wandering. I returned to find I had skipped my first duty night of helping in kitchen. I thought I was on last night, and had volunteered Monday instead as hotel last night. Alas!

The shenanigans were a visit to the local church. Sorry but it strikes me as funny that this poor town has a large church with the usual catholic gaudiness. Seems 1/2 the money in town is wrapped up in the church. Well that is their belief and not for me to judge. It was rather impressive as many catholic churches are. And on our arrival into town the locals had been having a blessing in front of the church for a successful crop which will be planted shortly. Quinoa and potatoes. The quinoa requires close attention until it is about 20 centimeters tall.

Tomorrow promises interesting. Minimal pavement following primarily a dirt track along some electrical lines. Have been warned the gps track may be a little off and paper instructions probably better. Sandy and several folks changed to wider tires. We shall see. Excited to get off road.

Stage 48. 110 kilometer off road 80
Whew made it to the meteor crater which I never realized was a meteor crater. I had gone out to relieve myself at dinner and there it was. A very large hole in the ground, probably a kilometer or more across. But getting here was exhausting and the day is not over. Exhausted, it is 7:30 I am in a damp tent, wind has calmed to about 15-20 from maybe 60-70 and I am chilled. So back to the chronology. I only mention that in case the writing gets weirder than usual.

Up at 5:30 hoping to get a few early pictures of the cactus. Found others up making their nightsoil. Trying not to disturb them. I had already done my bodily requirements and proceeded with my pictures of sunrise and cactus.

Off we left for a nice 10 k ride then we split up. Options today were for pavement and some pavement under construction supposedly 100 k. Other option was through the country off-road, but with past rains unsure of ability to cross the desert like country. Trucks would not go off road, as sand and potential mud to get stuck in. This option also was 100k and truck would provide lunch at 60 k where there was a junction.

One thing about this trip, it is done every 2 years starting in 2008, thus this is fourth time. It is always a challenge as roads change, dirt roads (our preference) get paved. Wilbert and Rob try to keep up but this was one of those days as a work in progress. They warned us either route was probably not described well on paper directions handed out in evening briefing or the GPX files for GPS were probably flawed too.

The time for the choice arrived and I chose off road. We were immediately in sand and I let air out of tires. But 100 meters later a sort of road was found and I had to pump a bit back in. Then a wondrous ride winding through the sand dunes. Llamas appeared everywhere, then 2 groups of about 20 Vicunas, which are the wild version of Llamas. Llamas and alpacas are domesticated and herded. We came to a river and numerous Llamas were in the water, and there were new babies. Wilbert described it as riding through national geographic.

About noon came to a village and we were mobbed by about 100 kids aged about 7-9 years old. I am not sure they had ever seen gringos, especially ones on bikes. We stayed about 30-45 minutes, bought out the only store of all the coca cola and candy cakes they had which was all they had.. That was our lunch. Let one kid ride my bike and he thoroughly enjoyed it going back and forth and back and forth the entire time. Alfred did the same and we were afraid we would never get to leave. Other kids just stared, others looked. Quite an experience. Some elders came out and dozens more pictures were taken.

Finally left with 60-70 k left to go. The road was sort of a farm road lots of washboard, an occasional sand trap. And acres of plowed fields apparently getting ready for quinoa planting.

At kilometer 85 met up with the paved road and those riders who had chosen that way happened by minutes later. They were at 125 kilometers for them. We had 25 left to go. I lost my oomph after 85 of off road, but chugged along. Our off-road group had traveled as a group in the desolation of the off road, but on the pavement it was ok to separate and I dropped back exhausted.

Made the 25 kilometer stopping about 5 k before the theoretical end as looked nasty ahead with lightening and rain ahead. I did not want to get chilled on arrival so out on rain coat and warmers. Arrived at camp just as the storm started to hit. Immediately grabbed the tent and found a place next to rock wall. No time to stand around or rest after the ride as the wind was blowing about 60 now. And threatening hard rain immanently. Managed to get the tent up without too much rain inside. Went back to trucks which group had found a building available for cooking and eating inside. Waited as I was not ready to carry my duffle to tent yet. Buck came in soaked.. His tent near collapse as he had set up before the wind and now it was crossways and flattened. We went to get it straightened but ended up completely moving it down near mine. With great difficulty managed the tent pegs and his set up, again making a run for the cook shelter. Now exhausted breathing hard and getting chilled, both of us were still in bike gear. Had hot soup which helped and finally took my duffle throwing it in tent which is already small. This was a rather serious situation. Managed to change out of bike clothes and went to dinner. A nice dinner of goulash with pudding desert.

Now in sleeping bag, trying to get warm. Weather had somewhat improved but I hear the rain. Discussion about the weather. Past years Bolivia had about a total of 5 minutes of rain on bike dreams traveling through. This time nearly every day. Someone mentioned maybe the wet season is starting early. Apparently one local said this year it is about 5 weeks early, as in now. Others said it is a El Niño year and we know how that changes things. Whatever it is, it is weird.

But tomorrow we top a rise and see the salar de Uyani. Exciting. But 76 kilometer to go and if raining will be really miserable. Tomorrow is a different day.

3 October 2014 meteor crator to Tahua at the edge of the Salar de Uyuni. Stage 49. 73 kilometer

Rained most of night and of course wet when getting up, but right after breakfast began to clear a bit. Still tent and stuff packed away wet. Good day of biking all off pavement. As Barry said it was hard as you worked for every meter, even the downhill. Heavy washboard, then rocky, much like the rougher sections of white rim trail in Utah. F in a car could do without a 4 wheel drive but certainly would help although in the end only 500 meters of climbing ending up at 3625 meters right on the edge of salt flats.

And climbing the last hill it certainly was a spectacular sight to look out on the salt flats. Goes way over the horizon with a few islands in it, white and flat. It is 25 times the size of the Bonneville salt flats in Utah. The level is within one meter overall, and apparently is used but for the space shuttle or space station to calibrate radar elevations. Apparently just a meter below the surface is 50-70% of the worlds lithium. The developed world would love to get at it, but Bolivia is trying to develop in a way the locals get some compensation, and not destroy the lucrative tourist industry which comes to see the salt flats. Tomorrow we ride 102 kilometers across the flats, to the tourist area. Where we are now is definitely not tourist. About as far as you can get from tourist.

Today I was incredibly slow which was fine. Taking pictures and plodding along alone. Very glad I had GPS with track on it as numerous turns going to various small villages (usually populations of less than 100). This area the past 2-3 days is the quinoa capital of the world. As I look out at the plowed fields am totally amazing anything will grow. Dirt and rock. Apparently this is where it thrives and quinoa only grows at high altitude. Again the farmers are getting little of the benefit.

Finally pulled into the town square where everyone was gathered from bike dreams. The usual place they camp was now a field prepped for planting, so Wilbert and Rob were finding a new place. As noted prior this is not a tourist area and they have no infrastructure to support tourists. I think we bought out the store of supplies. And that is only for our extra use. Bike dreams gets its water and food supplies back in the cities. But they found a very nice camp, right on the edge of salt flats, green grass sort of although very short. The usual llamas feeding nearby. And I am exhausted, got tent up and drying and have been in it all afternoon. Have been cycling for two weeks now and tired.

I remember on the great divide it was day 21 Joe and I began to question our motivation, ability and desire to finish. It became one day at a time and a good lesson learned. Today I was thinking how when you get on the bicycle you are alone and you must ride the bike. No one else can do it for you. As Joe advised me before the start of this trip “ride your own ride”. And that is all you can do, if you try to do more you will burn out, do less and you won’t accomplish what you want or can do.

Oh good, apparently I slept through dinner. Michelle noted I was not there, as they had set up in a building in town. Now I do not have to get out of this tent as it is cold outside. She brought me an apple and I had the snacks I had purchased a few days ago, so no problem. 4 hour nap and now 12 hours of sleep. Life is good.

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