We leave La Paz bound for some place south. In general we are aiming for the Uyuni and then Chile, and we plan to spend our first night along the way n Oruro. So far we haven’t ventured out much in Bolivia and we aren’t sure where there are facilities for tourists, where we may or may not find fuel, what the roads are like (I read somewhere that only 9% of Bolivia’s roads are paved, but that was probably an old statistic…).
The road south of La Paz, once we get out of the Valle de la Luna, is wide open and flat….you can see for miles and miles.
It’s dusty and probably already loading up my freshly cleaned air filter. Oruro is about the only town we see with possible housing for the night, so it’s a good thing we chose that town for tonight. We find a hostel and park the bikes, walk out for some chicken and rice and a peek at the town square.
The next morning as we plan to ride south on the PanAm and head for Uyuni we run into some protestors blocking the bridges out of town on the PanAm. That’s a pretty common occurrence and something we have run into many times since Mexico. It’s always hard to tell their mood and how long our wait might be. Back in Pisac we rode over a footbridge to cross a river when a truck was blocking the main bridge and traffic was stopped. The locals had suggested it and said bikes and tuk tuks do it all the time, so off we went. I think that gave Brian the idea for an entirely alternate highway system for us after that and this morning after finding another set of bridges on a side street blocked, he turns to the pedestrian bridges, and over we go.
Thinking we were clear we turn back to the highway and then ride over the railroad tracks, past the army barracks and toward the edge of the city. As we round a corner we find another layer of protesters on the next bridge. Darn! We had been weaving through some back alleys and watching the local traffic to find the route we had and we are burning time, so I want to get moving. I decide to park and politely walk over to the protesters, seeking out the apparent man in charge (cuz, ladies, I hate to tell you but it’s a mans world down here) and ask if we may pass. I lift my visor, really should have just taken the whole helmet off, and walk over and smile and say in my best Spanish “with respect, would it be alright if we pass?” and the man in charge smiled and said “yes, of course” and I thanked him and wished them “buen suerte” and wished him a good day. He bent down to clear the rocks for us although we could have easily ridden between them. I usually try to ask what they are working for but this time didn’t and now I wonder…
Back on the open road.
We ride south to Challapata and stop for a coffee before continuing south. We get mixed reports from our maps, Pocket Earth, the gps and locals about what the road is like from here south. Some say the road to Uyuni is all paved, others say its dirt, and still others say its not even good enough to be called a dirt road since it’s so loose it’s actually just dust. We ride south about 15-20 miles and make the left turn onto the southern route when the road turns west to Sajama National Park (man, I wish we had gone there…) and ride through several miles of dust and sand, mud and ruts to get to the packed gravel road and carry on. But it’s slow going, well at least for me, and Brian thinks we should turn back and follow the road to Potosi.
There won’t be any places to stay until we get to Uyuni and we don’t have much water with us, so it’s probably the better choice and that’s what we do. We ride back through the construction mess, to the paved road and back to Challapata, a backtrack of something like 25-30 miles and then turn east to make for Potosi, an old mining city in the southwest of Bolivia. The winds in this part of the world start up late morning as breezes and by late afternoon can become strong swirling and gusty menaces. It’s afternoon and the winds are stirring up dust devils all along the plain and I can count more than two dozen going at once from my limited view….
So now back to Challapata, where this time we stop for lunch and two kind men share their table with us since the place is full. Then off to Potosi via the paved road through valleys that remind me of old Western movies.
We stop in a small town for a break a couple of hours later and I spy a woman and her small boy watching us. They come over to wave hello and we offer him a banana from our snacks. He watches us warily but is happy with his treat.
Off we go after a few minutes, hoping to use the shrinking sun all the way to Potosi.
We get to “La Puerta”, the left hand turn into the narrow, red canyon that takes us the last few miles into Potosi just as the sun is getting low….and we find easy fuel at our second stop, the first having told us they had no fuel…Made it to Potosi.