The road from Potosi to Uyuni alternates between dirt and pavement and makes a slow 5 hour drive. It’s mostly desert and badlands, with the occasional change from purple to orange to pink thrown in to keep it interesting. The entire route is above 3500 meters, windy, and either hot or cold depending on where you stop to pee.
It was a fairly uneventful drive for us, except for the occasional llama roadblock and loose muffler. Each time we hear that familiar rattling sound at just the right RPM, we know the muffler has come loose. Actually, each time we hear it we forget what it was the last time and proceed to check the wheels, gear in the cabinets, etc until one of us says “oh yeah, it’s the damn muffler!” Those little asbestos/steel o-rings that connect the muffler to the heat exchangers have failed continuously over the course of the trip. Too much bouncing around, I guess. Oddly, they are one of the parts that are difficult to find.
It was getting late in the afternoon when we came upon B and Bez. B was celebrating her 70th birthday with a two-month cycle trip through The Andes. Her friend Bez just turned 50 and was the default guide.
They had left Potosi three days prior and had been bush camping in the cold desert each night. This was supposed to be the night they arrived in Uyuni, but they still had a pass to climb and were absolutely exhausted. They had made it to the small town of Pacayo, but were ready to be done. Of course, there’s always room in the bus.
With the extra passengers and gear, I was a little worried about our ability to handle a 4200 meter pass, but we cruised up and over with no problems. Below was a trash-strewn desert and a perfect white salar in the distance. We coasted down to Uyuni. It’s a poor excuse of town – they don’t even have tumbleweeds.
Actually, because of The Salar, there are a few tourist-oriented hostals and tour operators here. Because it’s the middle of nowhere, everything is over-priced (for Bolivia). Still, we settled in to a cold room for the night. There’s a gringo here (Chris from Boston) who married a local and now has a thriving restaurant for us tourists (ingredients imported from “more than 5” countries). We settled in next to a fire and celebrated our chance encounter with B and Bez with copious amounts of pizza, beer and chocolate cake.
Bez had a Splittie that he still regrets selling, and he even worked for VW. It also turned out that he had already ridden his bike around the world. We had plenty to talk about.
In the kind of planning we can appreciate, he thought his trip would take two years. It ended up taking six. Imagine riding your bike around the world for 6 years of your life. He’s now a guide in New Zealand, and that’s where he and B became friends. She hasn’t been cycling long, but decided this was a good way to celebrate the big 7-0. She celebrated her 60th with a month-long trek around Nepal – her first trek.
Sometimes the most interesting people are in the middle of nowhere.