We stopped in Uyuni for carnival, spending a few days mostly dodging the kids who seized the opportunity to soak every gringo they came across, prompting a small rebellion to form within the walls of our hostel. It was good to see Dutch Chris and Loes again, their tour had made it safely across the Altiplano as had our stuff. Something we had missed along the way however, and the reason people stopped at Uyuni. The Salar de Uyuni, the worlds largest salt flat and at this time, the wet season, it was topped with a shallow layer of water, turning the flat into an enormous mirror. We left the bikes to rest and took a tour of one of the most spectacular places in South America, partaking in the obligatory .

While the bikes rest, the jeeps take the strain

top loading

had to be done

The day to depart came all too quickly and soon we were weaving through Uyuni’s flooded streets headed North once more. We knew nothing of the road ahead, still not knowing what Bolivian tarmac looked like and with just a small lonely planet guidebook map showed that it existed and so we followed. Our high hopes were soon dashed and we were soon riding on just another sun baked patch of sand filled with ridges that rattled the life out of us. I had noticed that a nut from my rear suspension had rattled loose so I replaced it with one from my kick stand, continuing with added concern about my bikes nuts, as well as my own.

weird train graveyard just outside of Uyuni

Newtons scribblings

Unhappy with the tension of his chain, Frank stopped to make adjustments but problems soon arose shortly after as the tight chain ripped the sprocket from its mounting and Franks Honda was crippled. It took us both over an hour of roadside bodging (some of which we were quite proud of) to get us back on the road. We limped on but with our shadows getting longer and storm clouds on the horizon, we ducked into the first town we came to, Rio Mulatos where carnival was still in full swing, found its only hotel and grabbed a room for $2.

A night of unnecessarily loud distorted music from carnival revellers preceded our early rise and we set off, two grumpy men, in the drizzling rain. The road was still a painfully ridged surface except now, with the rain, parts of it had turned to sticky mud that made it hard to keep control on. More river crossings appeared, most were easy but a few required some prior planning to negotiate but now veterans at this obstacle we took it in our stride.

One River truly stumped us however, something that we couldn’t believe had presented itself. The track led directly into a torrent, easily thirty metres across with nothing but a railway bridge crossing it. As Frank and I stood on the bridge, staring through the space in the sleepers, considering some kind of Stand by me/Great escape type move, a passing truck informed us of an alternate crossing point just downstream. Sure enough, some three hundred metres down stream, there it was. I assumed that in dry season it was a solid concrete pathway of sorts but now, as we looked at it, it was simply a flooded dam with some markers sticking out each side. Without a choice however it was where we were going and Frank gallantly went first, uneasily wobbling to the other side yet surviving, meaning I simply had to follow.

Frank lines up to take on the river

Frank makes it across

By now we were cold, wet, tired and hungry but as we continued on, the rain turned to hail, pinging off our helmets and becoming tiny ambassadors of pain to any exposed skin. The road was difficult enough to ride on yet with this, the asteroid field of mud was too much and we sought shelter beside a farmhouse. It was a low time for the pair of us, even Frank who usually enforced his inherent American optimism was quiet and withdrawn. Our spirits were on the verge of breaking, though without the luxury of time we could only accept that we were soaked, try to waterproof our gear and continue on.

The road just goes on

Then, as if nature somehow knew that we had taken enough, the hail stopped, the greyness lifted and there it was, like some kind of angel before us…         …Tarmac! It felt great and we engaged fifth gear for the first time in almost a week, so thankful for the hard, flat, gray surface.

Finally it took us to Oruru where Carnival was finally over and the smell of festivities still hung in the air, though the locals may not have been aware as water balloon wielding kids still roamed the streets, soaking our already saturated bodies.

Clear skies in Oruru