Day 193 – Laguna Colorado, BO to San Pedro de Atacama, CL

Day 193 – Laguna Colorado, BO to San Pedro de Atacama, CL      03/02/11      Mileage: 90

It was a spectacular morning and the sun was warming the air fast. We broke camp after a good breakfast and headed south for Chile border.

Two vicuna’s roaming the Altiplano

Along the way we passed the hot springs near Laguna Chalviri…can’t pass that up! We parked the bikes, jumped into our swim trunks and found a great rustic natural pool for nice hot soak.

The cold air made it hard to get out of the water, but the road south to Chile beckons.

The high lakes of the Altiplano have of all things….lots of Flamingo’s….

Shortly after passing Laguna Verde, we came to the Bolivian border post. The official stamped us out but told us the aduana office was 20 kilometers back….crap! Luckily he was an agreeable (but grumpy) chap, and he agreed to take our import permits back to the aduana the next morning for us saving us the trip back.

That done, it was on to Chile…country number 15!

We were heading for San Pedro de Atacama where the Chile border post was located…some 40 minutes or so down pavement so smooth you could play pool on it. Megan seemed particularly thrilled at the sight of pavement…and it was nice change from mud and sand.

So after plunging 7,000 feet to the valley below, we arrived at the dusty town of San Pedro, smack in the middle of the Atacama desert…the driest on earth. The border formalities were straight forward and took about an hour…but they seemed particularly concerned about foreign fruit and vegetables. They didn’t ask about drugs, guns, alcohol or the dynamite I picked up in Potosi…but they rifled through all of our stuff in search any rogue lettuce or rhubarb…strange. Anyway, we found a room and promptly went in search of dinner and the requisite drinks to toast our successful crossing of the Bolivian Altiplano…a fitting way to end some memorable and epic riding.

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Day 192 – San Cristabol, BO to Laguna Colorada, BO

Day 192 – San Cristabol, BO to Laguna Colorada, BO     03/01/11      Mileage: 118

The first thing I did today was drain the float bowl on the carburetor again to see that the gas was clear and free of grit…which it was and the bike fired up without hesitation. Damn I love this bike…I always say that a KLR will run on llama piss if it had to, which I still think is true…just have to make sure it doesn’t have dirt in it. People always ask me if I’m traveling alone and do I have a wife or girlfriend, to which I always say “mi moto es mi novia”…”my motorcycle is my girlfriend”. They laugh, but there is some truth to that…and while she’s a little fat and not that sexy, she is trustworthy, built like an ox and has looked after me for almost 25,000 hard miles across two continents. So after packing up and buying some low-grade hooch we headed back out across the Altiplano.

The road was muddy and slick in a lot of places and after one particularly long stretch of mud, Marshall’s bike overheated and began to spew antifreeze.

We pulled off the road and he pulled the right side fairing off to check the coolant level. Luckily it seemed worse than it was and the level, while slightly low, was still OK.

We pressed on after letting the bike cool for a bit and luckily the road began to dry out too. After all, we are getting pretty close to the Atacama desert…the driest desert on earth…so if the roads are muddy there…It’s time to build an ark!

I also bumped into Alex again! I first bumped into Alex in Ollantaytambo back in Peru and now I bumped into him again in the middle of the Altiplano….small world…  😉

This cute little fellow came out of nowhere sporting an American flag air freshener around his collar…how random is that! lol!

Just past the town of Villa Alota we turned south towards Villa Mar. It was tough finding the right track but we eventually found our way crossing several streams in the process. The mud gave way to deep sand in spots so you still had to pay attention…as sand will toss you just as easily as mud.

Megan had a little wee-off in the sand. She is one tough chica…no muss, no fuss, she just picks the pike up and keeps going. What a woman!  😉

Megan and Marshall gittin it done…while keeping their boots dry….   LOL

All the while the scenery was constantly changing with each landscape more different from the next.

Marshall had a scary low-speed wipe out and had his leg pinned under the bike. Luckily he walked away with only a bad bruise…as it could have easily broken his leg….not something that you want to do in middle of nowhere on the Altiplano.

Marshall says….    Altiplano…fook yeah!

Late in the afternoon the wind was blowing with a fury and there was little shelter in the featureless landscape near the road.

Laguna Colorada

 Just past Laguna Colorada we found a small dry canyon sheltered from the wind that we were able to get the bikes up into and make camp. Marshall and Megan made a nice pasta dinner while handled the drinks…hot chocolate with a shot of $1.50 hooch…perfect to chase away the evening chill.

It was the perfect ending to amazing day of riding high on the Bolivian Altiplano.

Day 191 – Uyuni, BO to San Cristabol, BO

Day 191 – Uyuni, BO to San Cristabol, BO      02/28/11      Mileage: 61

I was up and working on the bike early as I still had to finish spooning on the new rear tire. Marshall had to help break the bead on the old rear using the kickstand on one of the Beemers. Marshall and Megan also did some grocery shopping for camping the next two nights out on the Altiplano. So with all this last minute preparation we didn’t get on the bikes until around 11am…but it was nice to be rolling. First stop was to top up the tanks and spare fuel bottles as the next known fuel is in San Pedro de Atacama in Chile…2-3 days riding from Uyuni.

We made a quick stop at the train cemetery for some pictures, but then it was all business as we pointed the bikes across the high plains of the Altiplano.

The road was slick as goose shit in spots (certainly not the spot in the pic below!) thanks to all the recent rain, but it was manageable.

Marshall after he got a mud bath from a passing truck!

I was out in front and all was going well until I rolled off the throttle to stop and take some pictures of some llamas along side the road. The bike died on the way down through the gears and I rolled to a stop.

 I didn’t think too much of it at first as it has done this before at altitude…which now was around 13,000 feet. But unlike every other time, the bike would not start. Shit!

Marshall reading my Clymer shop manual while I tinkered…

This might be the first official breakdown in some 24,000 miles of riding…and the middle of the Bolivian Altiplano could not be a worse spot. Luckily Marshall and Megan provided a safety net and I was glad they were with me. Megan took pictures of llamas while Marshall and I went to work trying to revive the KLR.

It seemed the bike was flooding and Marshall noticed gas on the ground…which was coming out of the airbox. I pulled the cover to the airbox to dry out the engine and also pulled the tank to make sure the new spark plug I put in two days ago was properly seated. We did manage to get it started again, but it would stall as soon ad the RPM’s dropped. M–therf–ker…this sucks. The side of a muddy road in the rain is no place to take a carburetor apart, so we decided to make the run to village of San Cristabol about 25 miles ahead. I started the bike and hit the gas, and as long as I kept the RPM’s up I could keep going…and I did all the way to San Cristabol. Sure enough though, as I came off the throttle to make the turn into town, the bike died. At least now I could find some shelter to have a better look at the bike and the Clymer manual I’m carrying. We found a room at the only hotel in town and Marshall and I had to push the bike 2 blocks, but I did manage to get it running again and rode the last 3 blocks to the hotel.

The Hotel San Cristabol…

Mashall and Megan went to scare up some food and I sat down to study the Clymer. All the evidence pointed to a stuck float in the carburetor, and the process described in the manual involved removing carburetor and taking it apart…not an insignificant process. But, I noticed that one step was to drain the float bowl after removing the carburetor….so I thought, why don’t I just drain it now while it’s still on the bike…maybe that will free up the float. So I put a clear tube (that I also carry) on the float bowl drain and as soon as I opened the tap a few pieces of grit and dirt shot out. Damn Bolivian gas! I started the bike and presto…it was running as good as new! It seems some of that grit was binding up the float causing too much gas to flow into in the float bowl which was flooding the engine. I ran it around town for 20 minutes and it was running flawless! I can’t believe that a few pieces of grit from some bad gas brought the mighty KLR to a halt, but at least the fix ended up being easy. Lesson learned is to straight away drain the float bowl if I have this problem again. Tomorrow will be the true test to see if that really was it. But that’s tomorrow, and tonight there is much wine and beer to drink, so until tomorrow….cheers!

Parting shot: Megan and Marshall after several libations…

Day 190 – Uyuni, BO and the Salar de Uyuni

Day 190 – Uyuni, BO and the Salar de Uyuni      02/27/11      Mileage: 0

After breakfast we set out to book a 4×4 to take us out on the Salar de Uyuni…the largest salt flat in the world. We could have taken the bikes, but with the salar partially flooded, the salt water would have sprayed all over the bikes and it is highly corrosive and hell on the electrical system. We shopped around a bit but decided to book a private tour with the three of us. So at 11 our Land Cruiser showed up and we were off.

It was a 20 minute drive from Uyuni to the edge of the salar, then our guide eased the Lan Cruiser into the water and out onto the salar. The water was around 6 inches deep, but after a mile or so lessened to 2-4 inches. The water created a vast mirror reflecting the sky and surrounding mountains…it was magical.

 Our destination was the Salt Hotel out on the salar, and as the name implies, it is made entirely out of salt blocks except for the roof.

Even the furniture was carved out of blocks of salt. It was a cool scene and as more Land Cruisers showed up it turned into a giant tailgate party in the middle of the salar!

Our guide cooked a nice meal of llama steaks…

After a nice lunch of llama steaks that our guide prepared, we drove farther out onto the salar for more pictures. We also took the obligatory perspective photos that play tricks on the eye.

Here’s a shot with my motorcycle boot…and what it looks like being shot below.

I’m not sure why my boot is in the jumping photo’s????  LOL

Back on dry land just off the salar we also visited a small salt harvest operation which was interesting.

After that it was back to Uyuni and the hotel to work on the bikes. I put in a fresh spark plug, topped up the oil, cleaned the air filter, adjusted the chain and most importantly spooned on the Michelen knobby tires I’ve been carrying specifically for the rugged Bolivian Altiplano we would be crossing over the next few days.

With that complete we grabbed dinner and a few beers before calling it a night. Tomorrow we set out across the Altiplano for what will be the most remote riding so far…

Day 189 – Potosi, BO to Uyuni, BO

Day 189 – Potosi, BO to Uyuni, BO      02/26/11       Mileage: 142

It was no surprise to wake up to the rain pounding on the roof of the hostal, so Marshal, Megan and I decided to linger a bit and hope for a break in the weather. Right before noon the rain did let up so we packed the bikes and split for Uyuni. In the maze of one way streets and traffic leaving Potosi, I got separated from them. I figured I’d ride hard to catch them if the were ahead of me and if I didn’t catch them then must be behind me and I would just pull over and wait. Worst case is I would just meet them in Uyuni. But after about 40 minutes I caught up to them just after a stream crossing.

The road was a mix of smooth fresh pavement interspersed with sections of dirt…a mixed bag for sure but it kept the ride interesting.

Coming out of the mountains, we left the rain in our rear view mirrors and were rolling down a high desert plain. The views were spectacular and it was a treat to have the road nearly completely to ourselves.

Soon the smooth pavement turned back to dirt and began to climb up a small mountain range. Just over the top we were treated to a spectacular view of Uyuni and the famous salar of the same name.

 

The Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat on earth and it stretches as far as the the eye can see. We took in the view for a while and then rolled the last few miles into Uyuni were we found a hotel with safe parking for the bikes….on the marble floor of their lobby.

After dinner and a few drinks, we called it a night. Tomorrow it’s off to visit the Salar de Uyuni…

Day 188 – Potosi, BO

Day 188 – Potosi, BO      02/25/11      Mileage: 0

Potosi is famous for mainly one thing…the mine. The Spanish found pure veins of silver in the mountain here and extracted more than 45,000 tons…fueling the Spanish Empire. In it’s heyday, Potosi was one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the world…and it’s also one of the highest at 13, 400 feet. The mine has been in operation for over 400 years, and the mountain is riddled with some 400 different mines, 127 of which are currently in operation. There are roughly 12,000 miners who work in the various individual mines in a co-op structure. Normally there is a shuttle bus to take the gringo tourists around, but because of a nationwide general strike, no buses were aloud to run. Instead we had to ride in the back of a truck, which frankly made it a bit more realistic.

Our first stop was to get fitted with our miners outfit complete with hard-hat and miners lamp.


Marshall and I all dressed up and looking to party…

Next was the miners market where we bought gifts for the miners…water, coca leaves, oh, and of course dynamite!

Yep, that is real dynamite for sale…no age or any kind of other restrictions…it’s as easy to buy as toothpaste.

When do we get to light the bang sticks!?

Some locals in the market…

Next we toured the facility where they process the rock from the mine to extract the silver.

Then it was back to the truck for the bumpy 20 minute ride up to the mine.

Just outside the mine shaft, our guide lit a stick of dynamite and let (those who wanted) hold it…after which he quickly ran and tossed it out into an open area before it exploded moments later.

I hope this really is a 3 minute fuse….or else this will be a very bad day!

Evan at a distance you could feel the shock wave and the echo lingered as it bounced off of the nearby mountains. Next it was into the mine itself where there are no lights except for the one on your helmet.

Our guide in the entrance to the mine…

It is also dusty and definitely no place for the claustrophobic! As we descended deeper into the mine the temperature got hotter and it was altogether an uncomfortable place to be. In places we had to crawl on our stomachs over small collapsed areas or to squeeze through small shafts.

Most of the work is still done by hand or in some cases pneumatic drills are used to make holes for the dynamite, but it is as you might expect a dirty, dusty, arduous job to say the least.

Back on the surface we loaded back into the truck and headed back for town. It was an altogether great experience and certainly made me appreciate my (former) cushy IT job. That night Marshall and Megan cooked a nice homemade dinner for the three of us and we shared some good laughs and conversation. Tomorrow it’s off to Uyuni, if the weather cooperates!

Day 187 – Oruro, BO to Potosi, BO

Day 187 – Oruro, BO to Potosi, BO      02/24/11      Mileage: 207

A nice buffet breakfast was included with the room so I made sure to eat my fill. As I was finishing up a girl walked by towards the lobby in motorcycle gear, so I promptly dropped my coffee and went to introduce myself and get the story. Megan and her husband Marshall are riding BMW 650’s from their home in Seattle down to Argentina. They were also on their way to Potosi today so we decided to ride together….sweet!

The road started out long and straight down a broad valley and I was on point. The weather was mercifully good, and that is to say not soaking rain or freezing cold.

In Challapata the road turned up into the mountains and soon we were enjoying nice 3rd and 4th gear sweepers as it climbed.

 The scenery was spectacular and we managed to skirt the edges of a few storms and stay dry for the most part.

We pulled into Potosi mid-afternoon and found refuge at the Koala Hostal.

After stashing the bikes and dropping our gear, we went out for dinner at a nice pub 3 blocks away. They had fondo de carne (meat fondue) which was fantastic and went nice with the liters of local Potosina beer we were washing it down with.

It was the perfect way to end a great day of riding with new friends.