Colibri camping turned out to be the perfect spot for us, with a beautiful view, peaceful and quiet. Highly recommended! We stayed 4 nights in total, because we didn’t want to leave on our anniversary day. Our special day we spent in La Paz, or fully named La Ciudad de Nuestra Senora de la Paz. The always convenient “colectivo” is the best way to travel into town. This city is, at 3660m altitude, like many of the South American ones, a city of extremes and is not the capital of Bolivia but the country’s seat of government. The official capital is Sucre. The main part of La Paz sits in a huge valley and the poor sections have over time climbed up the hills on all sides. We got a good view of that while riding the cableway into the centre. There’s an interesting mix of indigenous people and more wealthy city and business people. Of course we ended our day with dinner at the “Sabor Gaucho”, an Argentinian Restaurant recommended by a Bolivian girl (from La Paz), who we met at the Colibri Camping. That was, as you have seen in our previous blog, in honor of our very first date 25 years ago.
Next day, Tuesday, we said good-bye to our lovely hosts Emma (from Manchester,England) and Rolando (from Bolivia) and of course Simon, who’s from Australia and currently volunteering at this place and also posed for our Santa picture!
Our next stop was to be Cochabamba, a city southeast of La Paz at much lower altitude, with a perfect climate and surrounded by fertile valleys. I still can not get used to higher altitude and continue to struggle with shortness of breath, so I couldn’t wait to get there. First we had to bite the bullet and fill up our bikes with gas and unfortunately pay almost triple the regular price, the “tourist” price.
Then we had to ride over another mountain pass in the 4000m range, while the weather turned ugly with heavy rain mixed with snow and poor visibility. Not pleasant! We finally arrived in Cochabamba and after a little search we found our next Hostel Las Lilas a bit outside of town. We didn’t plan to stay long and explore the city, but ended up staying for 2 nights. Alex, the host, was a really nice guy, and offered to buy gas for us if we could supply the canister, because he as a local resident would get the cheaper price. There was a couple from Brazil staying at the Hostel with a Toyota truck, who happened to have a large canister for gas and they gladly borrowed it to us. Next day, the weather was gorgeous and warm, with dried clothes and full tanks we left for Sucre, the capital of Bolivia. The road conditions here in Bolivia are always a surprise. Asphalt can quickly turn into good or bad gravel or even cobblestone. After 2-3 hours of cobblestone riding my rear mudguard, that I had already replaced in Cali, Colombia, loosened again, I lost one part and the side part had snapped my rear ABS sensor cable, so that the ABS light turned on immediately. Oh dear! So a roadside fix was necessary! Not too complicated for my mechanic Heinz but there was no shade and the sun was burning at approx. 26-28C. So you can imagine the sweat running down Heinz’ head! But we were still in good spirits!
Our Brazilian traveler had recommended a Hostel in Sucre, which we finally reached late afternoon after a long day of overall pleasant riding. Maria, our new host and a sweet lady, welcomed us like an old friend and the bikes were soon parked in her front hallway.
We walked downtown and found a cute vegetarian restaurant, which actually served meat as well, but finally at least I had something other than chicken and rice!
Next day we went back into the city for a second look as well as in search of an internet café, because unfortunately Maria had cancelled her internet because it was too slow. Sucre is supposedly the most beautiful city of Bolivia and I have to agree from what I have seen so far. It has pretty whitewashed buildings and churches and numerous Museums and well preserved colonial architecture. It is set in a valley surrounded by low mountains and enjoys a mild comfortable climate. Bolivia’s Independence was proclaimed here in 1825.
We stayed all day, visited churches and Museums and also the bustling market with the usual abundance of fruits and vegetables, meats and all kinds of knick-knacks! I needed a good dose of fruits again, which is always most delicious! It never ceases to amaze me how many different kinds of fruits and also vegetables are available here.
Before we left for Uyuni next day, again we had to fill up our bikes. At the gas station around the corner from Maria the guys were very accommodating. In order for them to sell us the cheaper gas we first had to park our bikes away from their gas station, because they don’t want us on their cameras, so nobody can officially see our “ gringo” license plates! Then they get out their canisters and fill them up for us while we find an old pop bottle (and there are plenty of them here!) cut the bottom off to use it as a funnel. After letting them take a picture of our bikes, a bit of a tip everyone was happy!!! For them it was less paperwork anyway!
So off we rode to Uyuni. Another interesting ride through Potosi, a city which was once the largest and wealthiest city of the Americas due to an inexhaustible amount of silver found here. But once the silver more or less dried up, decline and poverty were the hard facts. We didn’t stop and looked around, but riding through the suburbs was not a pretty sight! Apparently the downtown part should be nice. Anyway, from there on it was through beautiful mountainous areas again with lots of Llamas and vicunas at the roadside. From those mountains the town Uyuni looks like it was just thrown into the desert like landscape and looks very isolate. It is bustling with backpackers trying to find the best touring company to take them into the “Salar”. I couldn’t find anything appealing! The Hostels are plenty and the prices range from cheap to outrageous. We finally found a decent one where we could park the bikes as well. We were planning to go/ride to the Salt Flats the next day and also to camp for one night there, so we had to get a couple of groceries and water for that.
It was only a short ride the next day and upon seeing the Flats it did not have the “Wow” effect on both of us. I don’t know why, maybe we’ve seen it on so many pictures or maybe we are just oversaturated after all our travels? Lots of touring jeeps criss-cross the whole area. We rode in a fair bit and then put up our tent. I have to say the sunset and –rise were amazing and the absolute silence as well. Up until midnight it was pretty windy, but then… beautiful sky with the stars so vividly visible. That was the best experience!
We packed up the next day, had our bikes washed to get rid of the salt and moved on towards the border to Argentina. There was to be a road from Uyuni to Tupiza, roughly 200km but gravel. Instead of going the long way back to Potosi and then Tarija we chose the gravel road. Big mistake! It took us about 10 hours to get to Tupiza. The road at times was pretty treacherous, with gravel, sand and dust and constant construction. Looks like they are building a new road, but sometimes we didn’t know where was the old or where was the new. Heinz was stuck in the sand once so we had to push/pull out the bike. I wiped out in the sand with the edge of my pannier landing together with the bike’s weight on my right calf. Whole lower leg is now pretty swollen and colorful and…painful! That was maybe only halfway if at all, so like a “tough chick” I had to keep going,ha,ha! Finally at around 8:30pm we arrived in Tupiza in the dark and exhausted, vowing that was it for gravel roads for a while. We are staying an extra day, first because hopefully the swelling of my leg will go down so I can fit into my boot again and second Heinz has to fix his bike because it is leaking oil at the oil pressure switch.
Hoping to find a nice comfortable spot tomorrow in Argentina where we can spend Christmas!