There’s only one reason to visit Uyuni, and that’s as a base for touring the largest salt flat in the world. Yes there’s the train cemetery, but it’s more of a distraction from the dusty dirt bowl that is Uyuni. The Salar is the star of the show here.
In many ways the salt flat here dictated the timing and direction of the entire trip, and the gear we brought along. Arrive too early in the year and the temperature can be as low as -25c. Arrive too late and covered with water. It’s cold (at night) all year round, and as we were planning on camping in the great white ocean, we needed to ensure we brought adequate gear. Namely duck down sleeping bags with comfort range up to -15c (depending on who you ask).
It was a warm day in Uyuni, provided one could stay out of the wind. The bike needed fuelling, which can often be a problem in Bolivia as some station flat out refuse to serve foreigners even when asked ‘sin papels’
On this occasion fuel was no problem. It was a 160 mile round trip with no option of fuel on Salar itself, so we needed to be sure ad enough, not just for the journey, but for pratting about on the salt.
We first headed the train cemetery. We’re only going to be in Uyuni once, might as well make the most of it. There’s a dirt road to the cemetery, and although the bike was now much lighter (only carrying what needed for the Salar) the broken shock still gave us a slow bumpy ride.
As expected the cemetery was packed full of tour groups on expeditions. Shame. It would have had a nice eerie feel to it otherwise. As it was, we took a few snap shots and moved on.
The entrance to the salt flats is via a small town about 10-15 miles north of Uyuni. It used to be a badly maintained dirt road all the way, but there’s now a brand new tarmac road which speeds up the journey immensely. Unfortunately the turn off for the Salar, is still one of the worst tracks around. Crazily corrugated and full of pot holes. We took it slowly.
Once on the Salar the ride was smooth. So smooth. I was able to wind the throttle back without even considering the poor 2″ of travel we had from the rear shock.
The first stop was a few small piles of salt. Not interesting by themselves, but the tour groups seems to stop and play there, so we did too.
You’d think with over 11,000 sq km to explore, we”d be able to avoid the tour groups, but when near anything that looks like an an attraction, it’s impossible. I managed to snap the shot below in between tourists climbing out of 4x4s and taking selfies.
Once away from the ‘attractions’ the Salar is a quiet, peaceful and vast. Only one other vehicle came anywhere near us during the 50 mile ride to the first island. Most of the ride was spent messing about with the action camera. Some of it doing near 90mph with my eyes closed, and for part of it Sam was in control of the bike.
Isla del Pescado was final destination but on the way we stopped off for a look around Isla Incahuasi. The cafeteria is bad, don’t bother eating there. The Island is full of cacti probably hundreds of years old. We hiked to the top to get a better view.
We approached Isla del Pescado late afternoon, and with hours still before sunset we played about on the salt.
I hate the ‘perspective’ image people take here, so this is the only one I’m going to post.
Once we’d had our fun we looked for a sheltered place to set up camp. I spotted a couple of bikes up on the Island, they’d found a good spot, and I thought I’d take the xCountry up there and investigate. Unfortunately, I didn’t spot the easy track up onto the island and instead decided to go ‘line of sight.’ The earth was soft. Super soft almost sand like and I ran out of talent and got the bike stuck. For all of a minute or two. Camping down low on salt it was then.
I did have a chat with the guys already on the island. A couple of Americans heading south from the States. You can follow their progress at 690south.com
The night came, and went, and we slept warm and cosy in our tent, after a dinner of pasta in an arrabbiata sauce.
We awoke early the next morning and began to pack up for the journey back to Uyuni. The Americans were still asleep and as we left I cursed about not having a straight through competition exhaust, to wake them up.
A few miles into the Salar from Colchani, there’s a monument to the Dakar Rally. We avoided it the day before due to the crowds, but this time it was completely deserted. Or so we thought.
We took a few pictures, and got set leave when a 4×4 approached. At first we thought nothing of it, but as it drew closer it turned out to be one of the Dakar organisation vehicles. Since they stopped at the monument too. I couldn’t resist the photo opportunity, and of course a quick chat.
And with that came the end of the Salar. It was time to head back to dirty, dusty Uyuni, and onwards with next stage of the trip.