Uyuni

The day’s track
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The elevation profile
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Out of Potosi nice and early to beat the queue at the gas stations. A few minutes late. Not refused again, good.
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I stop out of town because I see pigs in the river, huh. I didn’t know they did that.
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There’s a path up and a few piglets race up to see Lucinda
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Here they come
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They admire her 12″ of clearance and walk underneath
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They do a lap and come and check the gringo out
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After that fun we head off to the most desolate town in South America, Uyuni. We’ve got 150 miles of hills before the plains of the altiplano
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We pass the last town
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And through more sandstone canyons
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The rains have just started. The river beds indicate how much water is to follow soon
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Great formations
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Narrow canyons
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And wide
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A few last windowless homes
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Beautiful streams
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Fields of 20′ boulders
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Soon, that wonderful desolate yet welcoming feel
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Then, amazingly a high green plain, actually two connected plains, miles long and covered in thousands of llama
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Towards the southern valley end it gets even greener
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To the outlet, which means it’s downhill a bit to the gigantic Salar plain from here. This is an extraordinary place. High-altitude yet green. The detail around you is pin sharp, the visibility endless. It’s very cold
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Later, down about a 1000′ we come across a valley of cactus in flower. They’re big, up to 20′
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The flowers
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Ground cactuses in flower too. Yellow
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And orange
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Thorn trees
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Also in bloom
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Through another sandstone valley, filled with huge clumps of grass
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Out onto another plain, this time with the graceful vicuna
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Vast and magnificent
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And a Raoulia in bloom, how about that

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Then, after another 50 miles or so we cross a ridge and below us is Uyuni, which you can make out to the left close to the horizon
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And soon we’re there. It’s exactly as I thought it would be
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Downtown
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I had an agenda. I have to see how much water is on the famed Salar de Uyuni. Stephan had said the day before the rains have started properly. So I race a bit imprudently down the notoriously difficult road (sand) another 20 miles to see. Sure enough, it’s a lake
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Another, with piles of mined salt. Also, 70% of the world’s lithium reserves are in the Salar
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And because it’s one of the world’s extraordinary features, a third
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The Salar is the world’s biggest salt flat. It’s 10,500 square k’s at 12,000′ elevation. It’s used to calibrate the world’s satellites. It has so many extraordinary features books have been written about it. I’m here, after three days of riding to see if a) it can be crossed and b) if there are any riders around about to cross it to the Lagunas. It’s the entry point. I’ve been looking forward to it for months, but am not willing to do it solo or if it’s raining. It’s 250 miles of sand and it’s the first route after the Salar and I’m not going to tempt the Gods with so far to go in the grand plan. A decision I’ve been mulling over for a month. But I can easily be back soonish.

So it was a long shot because I don’t know any riders behind me in Bolivia. They seem to be holed up in Cusco for Christmas. Despite the Salar problem (riding the salt water trashes the wiring and anything aluminum) I decide to cruise around town and hang out for a couple of days to see if anyone is here or shows up. I’ll talk to the 4X4 drivers and get the story on the weather.

I have a plan to return here up the coast from Santiago (since that’s a place I have to be twice in the plan) at the end of the rainy season and when I can organize timing it to ride with another bike. But there are a number of reasons I may not. We’ll see.

The next two riders behind me are skipping Bolivia altogether. One pair has gone down the coast and entered Chile already, which I slightly envy.

Hey, but let’s cheer up because we’re here at least. What a crazy place, the end of the world almost. I can get a tour out on the Salar on a 4×4 but decide not to for two reasons: 1) I want to ride out onto it one day on Lucinda, maybe soon, and 2) I didn’t come all this way solo to sit in a truck with 5 strangers for a day.

The next morning we go off to see the famous train graveyard about a mile out of town. Once there was a railway that crossed the plain, but no more. It’s very cool
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Very strange
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Lucinda’s wearing a funny hat. Christmas soon I guess
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Another
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Saludos
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