Please find the photos for this entry here: Google Album - Salar de Uyuni, La Paz, and Lago Titicaca
After the beautiful, but grueling lagoon route, we arrived in Uyuni tired and hungry for a meal other than bread, jam, and spaghetti. We quickly found a nice hostel (that served eggs for breakfast!!!) and took a couple days to rest and prepare for the next leg of our journey - the Salar de Uyuni - the world's largest salt flats (and supply of lithium!).
We rode north out of Uyuni before heading west, directly across the salt flats towards Isla Incahuasi, an island of land in the middle of the Salar. The first day took us about 30 km from the island, where we decided to camp and enjoy the desert sunset. We'd also noticed that there were 'potholes' in the salar - literally holes in the salt surface. In each of the 'potholes' we thought we saw water, but later learned that there was a liquid brine beneath the salar made up of a number of different minerals. In this brine exists 50-70% of the world's lithium reserves. Photos 1-6 show the Salar, the holes where you can see the brine beneath the surface of the salt flat, and some photos of the sunset and evening on the salar.
The next day, we pedaled on towards Incahuasi, unfortunately into a very strong headwind. After reaching the island (photos 7 and 8), we enjoyed lunch inside before hitting the salar again - this time due north and with a slight side/tail wind! We also decided that this was our opportunity to try out bike sailing, yes bike sailing. We rigged up our tent ground cloths and set off, tacking north across the salar :) (photo 9) That night, we arrived in Coqueza, on the northern edge of the salar, with an amazing view of Volcan Tunupa (photo 10).
Though the salar was absolutely the experience of a lifetime, we all agreed that we were thankful to be back on a real (dirt) road and headed north towards La Paz the next morning. Though we had another 40+ km of dirt road, we knew that pavement awaited once we reached the small town of Salinas de Garcia Mendoza. (photos 11-12 show the ride from Coqueza to Salinas de Garcia Mendoza) That night, we met a French woman, Pepita, who shared stories from the road north and gave us advice on the route. It was great to hear her stories and to have a better idea of where we'd be headed next. (photo 13)
The next few days took us back towards the main north/south route in Bolivia through rolling plains. Along the way, we'd stop in small working class towns and bunked up in (we'll call them rustic) alojamientos or boarding houses (photo 14) and bought food from local markets (photo 15). Though we were and continue to be thankful for our travels, it was during these few days before arriving to La Paz that we found ourselves missing the comforts of home... a working shower, potable water, family, etc. Though there had been a number of 'novelties' early on in the trip, this section had us agreeing that the novelties were maybe wearing off... at least a bit.
As we approached Oruru, we agreed that we'd had enough of the plains riding and made the executive decision that we'd hop a bus to La Paz that evening. It was an in the moment decision, and in retrospect, a good one. We are forced to come back to the fact that we have a plan to finish this trip in approximately 10 months - this requires us to balance riding as many kilometers or miles as we can without burning out and with the time to see places along the way and to have the personal interactions that will ultimately shape the story of Mundo Pequeño.
La Paz was amazing. As we wound down the hillsides surrounding the center of the city, we were in awe, recognizing that we'd never seen a place like this. La Paz sits about 500 meters below the surrounding city of El Alto - with that, the hillsides leading down to the city center are littered with houses and cliffs interspersed between. Even though the population of the city and surround metropolitan area is just a couple million people, it looks much larger with its sprawling and mountainous landscape. Over the next several days in La Paz, we'd relax, repack our belongings (we'd all decided to modify what we were carrying, and all planned to drop at least some of the weight that we'd started with), and explore the most 'first world' environment we'd experienced in weeks. The highlight of our visit to La Paz must have been 'El Teleferico,' the city-wide gondola system used for commuting from the hillsides into the city. Because the system isn't intended as a tourist attraction, one way tickets are 3 Bolivianos, or less than 50 cents. With this, we decided to spend a couple of hours on the different routes, observing and watching the sunset from above. (photos 16-19 show La Paz and the views from El Teleferico)
We left La Paz rejuvenated (and we even got to ride the gondola up and out of the city with our bikes instead of riding the crazy climb!), but also a bit weary of heading back out into the country. Unfortunately, we'd also all been bit with some sort of bacteria and were suffering some unfortunate 'side effects.' Thanks to a bit of advice from Laurieann, Eli's mom, we all took a small regimen of antibiotics and Imodium, and were feeling better quickly. The next several days would take us to Lago Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world at around 12,000 ft. Once we reached Lago Titicaca, we were refreshed with new views and the first real greenery we'd seen in almost a month. We agreed that deserts were 'cool,' but that life and trees and birds and animals have a certain calming and restorative quality. (photos 20-22 of Lago Titicaca and a very interesting barge ferry)
After riding alongside Titicaca, we arrived in Copacabana, Bolivia, the most touristy (almost disconcertingly so) place we'd seen since leaving Chile. After finding a place for the night, we made a plan to visit Isla del Sol, a place known as the birthplace of the Incan empire. Unfortunately, Noah came down with another bug and decided it wasn't a good idea to set out on the 2 hour ferry ride to the island. But, we had also been rejoined by Luke, a great guy from the Washington D.C. area who we'd first met in Uyuni and who was traveling solo by bicycle with a plan to conclude the South American portion of his trip in Cusco, Peru before flying to the United States to do a cross country ride. That day, we explored the island of the sun, saw our first Incan ruins, and enjoyed a day off (fortunately Noah was feeling much better that evening). (photos 23-26 of Copacabana, Isla del Sol, and Luke!)
The next day, we set off for Peru, just 6 kilometers out of Copacabana. Unfortunately, we had a slight delay when Noah realized he didn't have his passport with him at the border. Fortunately, after a couple of phone calls, we figured out that the passport was at the hostel we'd stayed at in La Paz. With that, Noah took it upon himself to travel back to La Paz solo, with the agreement that he'd bus ahead to Puno, Peru to meet us a couple of days later. Though an unfortunate circumstance, we counted our blessings, and moved on.
The next couple of days took Cameron, Eli, and Luke to Puno, about 150 km from Copacabana. We put our heads down, shared the wind, and made good time. Fortunately, though quite a grueling ordeal, Noah arrived in Puno safely and as planned. (The stretch between Copacabana and the mountain valley leading into Cusco didn't inspire many pictures, but we did get a good glimpse of the real world of a working class city in Juliaca - photo 27)
Over the next several days from Puno to Cusco, we'd continue pedaling through high plains, covering over 100 km on our first day. In this section of the trip, we'd see very creative uses of transportation (llamas on the roof of a van - alive and tied down with their heads popping up, sheep in a pickup truck - photo 28) On day two, we rolled into Ayaviri and were greeted with the best meal of chicken we'd had on our entire trip, complete with french fries and a salad bar! A side note - Peruvian food is our favorite of the trip so far. In most towns, we eat a full course meal (soup, main dish, dessert, and tea) for around 5 soles, or less than $1.50. The food is consistently great and fast! After our filling meal of chicken, we decided to post up in Ayaviri, and we're glad we did. That evening, we'd meet Daniel, a local guy working at the hostel we stayed at who was an avid climber and local guide. Daniel was beyond enthusiastic about our trip and made us feel more connected to the locals than we had been in quite some time. (Photo 29 - Daniel and the group before leaving Ayaviri)
The next day, we rode to Aguas Calientes, a series of hot springs with a number of different pools. We arrived that evening after summiting another 14,000 ft pass and felt pretty lucky to have a good soak that evening (photo 30-32 - the mountain pass and hot springs).
We decided while soaking the night before that we might make a break for Cusco the next day. With about 170 km of mostly downhill riding, we thought we could at least get within striking distance of the destination that meant the longest break of the trip so far. We were up early and on the bikes before 8:00 am, flying down through the valley between the mountains. We stopped for a mid morning meal, then again for a late lunch, before pulling into Urcos (130 km) around 4:00 PM. At that point, we were ready for Cusco and decided to hop a local bus for the last 35 km, putting us in Cusco in time to find a hostel and enjoy our first real IPA's of the trip :) (photos 33-35 - the remains of a church on the day before Cusco, the view of the city from our hostel, and family in Cusco!)
Arriving in Cusco marks a nice long break for all of us. Eli's mom and sister arrived yesterday morning (May 16th) and it's been great to spend the short time we have with people from home. Cameron's flying home tonight to see his family and friends for a little over a week. Noah's going to do a bit of traveling on his own, but will be joining Eli and his family to see Machu Picchu. All in all, we're feeling really good about what we've accomplished thus far - with over 6,000 kilometers and over 400 hours in the books, it's time for a bit of respite mid-adventure.
In the next entry, look out for more photos and stories from the Cusco area, Machu Picchu, etc.
Until nest time,
-Cameron, Eli, and Noah
Please find the photos for this entry here: Google Album - Salar de Uyuni, La Paz, and Lago Titicaca