Thursday, 30 April 2015

Uyuni Salt Flats - Bolivia

  As the clock on the dash struck 65mph I shut my eyes and counted. 1,000, 2,000, 3,000.....I managed 15 seconds before I had to open them again. As I did the rush of white all around me was totally surreal! It was a great feeling and I had to do it again moments later. This time I made it to 17 seconds. What a rush! This is just something you have to do on the Uyuni Salt Flats. It's a must! It turns out there is a well known challenge to see if you can make it to a minute! I didn't know this at the time but I never would have made it anyway. It takes a great deal of faith to do that. One whole minute is a very long time to be riding a bike with your eyes shut, even if you are on the biggest, flattest salt plain in the world!

Riding in to Bolivia was straight forward. The border crossing at Villazon was quick and easy as was the ride to Tupiza, a small and friendly little town 100km North of the border. I stayed just one night as I was keen to get to Uyuni and the famous salt flats.

The ride was around 300km of dirt which wound its way through the mountains and through some outstanding rock formations. It took me several hours to cover the ground as I pottered along, taking in the views and singing in my helmet at the top of my voice! No one to complain here!

At about 2 thirds of the way the road became extremely corrugated. Even on a bike with good suspension I felt my eyes were going to rattle out of their sockets. I couldn't see for parts of it as they were vibrating so much! When the corrugation stopped the soft sand began. I really don't like riding in sand with luggage on! Theoretically it should help as it keeps weight on the back wheel and the front end light! This is what I tell myself. The problem, I guess, is confidence. It requires speed to get the desired effect but all I could think about was how heavy my bike was to lift fully loaded should I fall! I was a wimp! I admit it! I slowed down and worked my way through bit by bit. It requires more work this way and I was quite annoyed at myself for not just giving it some throttle but I just couldn't do it. I had to take it steady. I guess this comes from being alone too but I still told myself off several times for being a pussy cat!

Uyuni is a small town, not too busy and mostly made of mud. The roads are not paved and the building are basic. The amount of dogs running around was quite distressing. They are breeding so quickly here as with so many other places I visit that they just become a pest. There are, quite frankly, fornicating dogs everywhere you look. If I ever win the lottery I vow to work my way back through South America (and most of Asia) setting up charities to deal with the problem (castrate them all, treat them for disease and parasites and let them go again).

I found myself waking early the next morning, stripping my bike down to the bare essentials and heading out on the trails in search of the white stuff! I wanted to go play. I love salt flats and these promised to be bigger and better than any I had seen before. I also hoped to meet up with a British adventure bike company while I was there. The chances may have been slim bearing in mind the vastness of the plains but I had received a message a few days previously from one of the group, telling me they would be there that day too. Not only would it be great to catch up with some bikers from my homeland but I also knew the owners of the company and so to catch up in the middle of a salt flat somewhere in Bolivia would be pretty special.

I rode the sandy trails with a little more confidence this morning (No luggage and lots of motivation) and soon found myself on the pure white salt with nothing else to see for miles! The flats are over 10,000km square and at an elevation of over 3,600 meters. It has an extraordinary flatness and with the blue skies above it really is stunning!

I had a quick blast around with the biggest smile on my face since the Geyser fields in the Atacama and then settled in to the serious business of posing for the camera! It really does make you just feel like playing like a child! It's a dreamy place to be.

Within half an hour I spotted some bikes in the distance. Tiny, toy like dots on the horizon, moving at the pace of what was unmistakably boys on their toys! I packed my camera, jumped on Rhonda and raced off in their direction. It had to be The Big Adventure Company. It was. Luckily they had stopped to do some posing too and soon I was amongst them. I didn't recognise anyone but soon enough they were introducing themselves (some of them where Facebook friends) and within minutes the one face I knew showed up too.

Once the introductions were over I was invited to join them for lunch. "Sounds great" I said "Where are we going?"
"oh about 70km that way" said Steve (the leader of the group and a guy I have worked with in the past) pointing in the direction of vast nothingness. "Apparently there is an island over there".

We jumped on our bikes and raced off together. 14 bikes blasting along the salts, playing and weaving. Some rode sideways, some with no hands, some with their eyes closed at times and some just seeing how fast they could go with their head down and their legs trailing behind them! I'm pretty sure whichever the chosen method, we were all smiling and giggling beneath our helmets.

The island was a strange site in the middle of this salt desert. It was small and covered in cacti. Big
western style cacti that you see in the films! There were also picnic benches made out of salt and even a toilet block (not many bushes in the flats!). Out of the support truck came a pile of bread rolls, cheese, ham, fruit and crisps. Before long we were having a rather civilised lunch in a rather surreal environment!

It made my day to meet up with the guys. I really enjoyed spending time with them on this wonderful playground surely designed for bikers. If there is a god then THANK YOU FOR THE SALT FLATS!! Mind you if there is a god, I doubt he reads my blog!


  1. I love the pictures (and the antics!). What a cool place and probably one more place that I'll never visit except as a virtual tourist thanks to folks like you. Thank you!

  2. Salt flats look amazing. Why would they not sell you petrol in Bolivia?

    1. No idea! Couldn't get to the bottom of it. Something to do with being a foreigner anyway!

    2. I just Googled it. Apparently it came into force in 2011, due to their fuel prices being so low people from Argentina and Chile were crossing the border to get cheap fuel. All vehicles that don't have Bolivian plates can be refused fuel or have to pay 3 times more. If you parked up away from the station and walked in with a Gerry can it would be filled at the same price.

    3. That was a Blast , so nice to meet you , sorry we lost you but we were up for 150kmh on the flats ! Shame we could not meet up later but I know you were a way away , you missed out on great food and RUM !! Good luck with the rest of the trip , welcome at any of our gaffs when you get home

  3. Yes there is a GOD and he does read your blogs:-))

  4. I enjoy salt apartments and also these kinds of assured being greater and also a lot better than virtually any I needed noticed just before. My partner and i furthermore anticipated to be able to experience any English journey cycle business although My partner and i has been right now there.

  5. You had the great experience. I see your passion in the article. I also have the dream that I will do the adventure like you. I hope I will do that in the future. Thanks about your sharing. Ps: I love your motorbike. Read more about me.