A sky full of stars let me feel that I exist, that I am alive. All else falls quiet by witnessing dots of light against a dark indigo sky. The silence is everywhere. Around me, in my head and in my ears. Everything is being omitted; worries, dreams, thoughts, fears, hope, wishes, things, hassle.
The tent from my husband, my beloved, so near, is a warm feeling. That we can do these trips together is quite something special.
I feel where I belong, in the no-thingness of a vast nature. Walls shielding me off. Walls don’t really make me be there. Walls are noise, like a rough grain is for a fine photo.
This is, this quietness, a clear evening, balmy temperatures, not suffering any altitude sickness anymore, all I longed for.
Everything falls into place right now. The muddling, the wanting, the trying, the hoping. That it all goes my way. Sitting here, a heart that beats, connected with another beating heart, that perhaps perceives different, long for different surroundings, cares less for utter simplicity, we are here together. Two beating hearts very near. That is what I write in my diary, under the starlite sky.
Sitting here, Lake Poopo, Uyuni and Coipasa all nearby. The lake we are watching over is not mentioned on any map. We came here by accident, over tiny paths, not all of them mentioned on any of the maps we have. Since Bolivia is in turmoil we had to adjust routes and could not go via even minor roads.
After Salar de Uyuni we head West to connect with main route F 12 leading us to North Chile. I had encircled a few places on the map of Bolivia, which showed a tiny bit of Chile. I wanted to see the high Andes of Chile, since I could not haul myself up with the bicycle a few years ago.
We are heading to Parque National Volcán Isluga, Salar de Surire and Reserva Nacional Las Vicunas.
The silence. When you think of it, can you answer to yourself when it was truly quiet? No sound is absence of any noise and that is rare. No television while eating breakfast in a hotel or restaurant. No humming of a pool machine, refrigerator, air conditioning unit nor redundant string cutter, leaf blower, washing machine. Any machine for that matter! It is so quiet that when a group of 8 little birds fly over, it sounds like a rocket granade over head.
My heart skips a beat. Also when we appear on the wrong road, we need to change it for a stone track. Adventure starts over again…
With a meager breakfast, mainly butter and an orange, some cheese gone sour, we start one of these days at the early hour of 10.00 AM. The route is chosen by Geo, since my task of navigation has now come to an end.
The road exist of stony, rough tracks exchanged for sandy soft desert sand. Sometimes hard mud with deep excavation and sometimes hard plates of earthy salt.
It is hard for Geo to maneuver through but he manages. Much tension on his arms and his legs trying to catch the askew position of the motorbike. I cry out ‘Keep it! Keep it’, every time we are prone to crashing.
The scenery is spectacular. Surpassing that of Salar de Uyuni, we think.
The blockades in even the smaller towns make local travelers point us out where we should drive to, and so we drive over tracks through arid desert-alike landscapes. We would never have come up with these tracks ourselves, nor trusted, those tiny tracks. They’re used by local llama farmers only.
Without lunch, not available in those hamlets, if only there was a human to be seen, and without money, a little miscalculation, we move on towards Chile.
With the clouds hovering low above us, wind building up to a dust storm, we see the need to move on. Though, the scenery and inhabitants are getting better by the minute.
For a sort of desert, its not so surprising that we get stuck in sand dunes, they move according the wind, making old tracks unusable. Forcing new tracks to be created. We are told by Isodoro to go another way. He plows with his bicycle without pedals to Chipaya, a desolate town in Oruro state. He pushes his bicycle through the loose sand, since that is the shorter route for him to get some food supply.
We take the slighter detour, through less loose sand. When we get stuck, and Geo tumbles, I have to laugh. Most probably because I have stepped off the motorbike and he falls in a comic way, slow and static. Carlos, an overly spontaneous younger guy chewing blue bubble gum, has passed us and is still looking back over his shoulder how we do. He thought we were very organized with our capacity of 5 liters spare gasoline. When he sees Geo falling and me plowing, rushing to help the heavy motorbike getting back on its wheels, he stops.
He suggests to take me on his Taiga motorbike, to assist ‘mi hermano’, Geo that is. Which I find a wonderful gesture. To be more precise, the people of Bolivia have been only kind, smiley and coming forward to us since we are on the high plateau, far away from touristy things.
53 kilo lighter, or less, since we eat to a lesser extent these days, Geo is able to keep up with Carlos in front of us. Carlos drives tactically through the incredible wide landscape of salty hard mud, slippery mossy grass and grazing llama’s, some freshly born and wobbly on their tilting legs. The vastness on top of the Andes here has no paths anymore, we bump and stutter over tracks broad as only one tire measures. Impossible for us to know, unable to see where Chipaya is and not knowing of 3 rivers to cross in front of us.
At a decent ripio track Carlos let me off. I found his motorbike a lot less comfortable than our own. Our own, however, is laden with such heaviness, it keeps feeling risky.
With the wind in our direction, the clouds occupied with yellowness, eager to release their load, I want to stay where we are. It is beautiful where we are. The huts and houses of the locals are interesting, the llama’s are plentiful and its rather late. We now try to stop at 4 o’clock to keep my outdoor lifestyle punctual.
But we can’t. There is not a splinter of wood to be seen! No wood means no fire. No fire means no food. Without having had a lunch, only a meager breakfast, we do feel a huge appetite.
Passing round shape huts, built from earth crusts hard as stone, the track still need utmost care, and patience, and balancing. There is only desert surrounding us. And floating images at the horizon, distorted pictures. As if there are trees. It are round shaped huts, shepherd settlements, mostly llama’s, some sheep.
Llama’s dot the plains, now 3700 meter in altitude. The incredible cute llama’s make me laugh too, their colorful ribbons make them match with the typical Latina’s of Bolivia.
Crossing the river with ease, we are relieved it went so effortless. Sitting at the back, overlooking the pampa, the images floating in the distance remind me somehow of ballet dancers on a mirror.
Then, two more river crossings appear. We need to unload the motorbike.
Then, a sand dune appears on the track, we need to unload again.
With only a package of cookies we were able to buy in Chipaya with the spare Bolivianos we have, I can not still my appetite. It is far past my comfort-zone camping-time. Its anything but easy travel, yet better than being bored on the Costa Blanca!
Exhausted, I climb on the back of the motorbike, wishing aloud for wood to appear in this desert!
Then, the only patch of gnarled, old, dry bushes appear. The only patch of sand with this sort of vegetation. I am elated, this will do for tonight and the day after, Saturday, our day of rest. I quickly collect loads of wood and protect it from rain in a big plastic bag. Nothing better than a dry stash of wood.
I cook. We eat. With hands caked in dough. With bloody cracked lips I go to sleep in a tent far from trustworthy at the Bolivian Altiplano…
We are both not interested to stay with locals, nor to ask for shelter at one of their round structures, although I would love to know the life of a llama farmer better. At the end of each day we are sucked dry, tired, left only with a desire to be quiet and sleep.
On Saturday, when we take a day of rest, I watch the Altiplano in front of me. A tad too late I come running to Geo, screaming ‘storm coming’. Geo seems to be more deafened here than on sea level and so he only hears me when I am right in front of him. Lounging in his underwear, enjoying the nothingness of camp in his roomy Chinese tent. Geo is so easy, quickly satisfied and content. That is one of the facts that I love in him.
My Big Agnes tent lies flat, poles taken out, to collect water, hail and sand from the storm it brings. My mattress and sleeping bag get wet, and I sit out the storm in Geo’s tent, anxious about the damage the weather will bring me. I keep asking myself: ‘Why did I not take my Hilleberg with us?’
‘Now I want to make a fire,’ announces Geo. Making fires in camp are one of my favorite things to do. As a child I made fires, usually unseen in a patch of wood or else with candles around Christmas time. As a very little child I even sat hiding in the hearth. Geo announcing wanting to make the fire makes me glow, happy of feelings he loves to be where he is.
Geo simply adjust. Without having any experience at altitudes, he did not camp much, he now is happy and content in his Bessport tent. I find that cute, innocent and pure.
To have sunshine after a cloudy, rainy day filled with hail is a cherry on the pie. That is pure life. Feeling alive. Being out. No wall can contain such feelings. Only outside of walls can life truly begin, or so I feel…
We are close to Chile and Geo chooses more tiny tracks. He uses Maps.Me to navigate together with Google Maps and Reise Know-How paper maps. These tracks do exist but might not be passable in reality. And so, we get stuck. Geo tells me to walk the route further while he tries riding the motorbike over a slightly longer track. Here I find out not ever to go separate directions in a desert!
Riding in a desert, over loose beach sand is tricky, difficult and shaky. We slide and often loose balance. It takes much energy. Each time my brain thinks we will crash and that has the same effect as a charging dog while cycling. Already tired after an hour of sitting on the back, I object against further investigating the route through the desert. I honestly think without water we should not try to find another sandy track with a 150 CC powered moto.
Instead, we drive back to a track mentioned on the maps, which connects us with route F12, 42 kilometer of tarmac to Chile. Boy! What an adventurous drive it was!
November 2019: Salar de Coipasa, San Martin, Rio Lauca, Chipaya, Oruro, Comunidad Romero Pampa, Sabaya, Pisiga, Colchane
8 replies on “South Bolivia & the Salars”
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Dat is best mooi of nie
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Wa denkt te gij dan?!
Hahaha, zeker is dit mooi, aan de foto’s te zien toch ; )
Leuk weer van je te horen. Liefs Cinderella
I love all your photos. They tell a wonderful story of your fabulous journey.
Hi Brian, thank you for the nice compliment. I love hearing this and I am glad you took the time out to marvel at some of our world’s beauty : )
Greetings Cindy and Geo
cindy, you deserve an oscar for all those beautiful and powerful photos that you have sent us over the years.
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Hi Phillippe, well, thank you very much. I keep doing that as I love it. Glad you can enjoy it!
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