Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Night at School
The only thing worth mentioning about the boring way from Salinas is the crater, 38 km from town, which is right next to the road.


Amit managed to get us a closed room for the night, in the only room in the school of Villa Esperanza, thanks to the kindness of the only teacher, Osvaldo. Surprisingly, a French couple arrived there as well and slept with us in the school.


Héléne and Stéphane (altiplano.centerblog.net) are doing an unusual trip by foot from Quito, Ecuador to Ushuaia, Argentina. In order to cross the Salar de Uyuni, they bought bicycles in Oruro and plan to ride up to Uyuni, where they will sell the bikes and continue by foot. We had a pleasant evening together, communicating with a mixture of French and Spanish. The kids and their teacher arrived a bit after 9 AM, the time when the studies were supposed to start. They were afraid to approach us strangers at first, but when we offered them candies and cookies, they even agreed to be photographed with us.


This day´s ride was even more boring then the previous day, but after some 40 tiring km, the road became paved, right after Quillacas. It was still early when we got there, so we continued to Huari. At the beginning we were stalled quite a few times due to piles of soil that blocked the road. The wind that blew all day long until sunset also slowed us down.


It was already dark when we arrived to Huari, which is quite unattractive. After trying 2 hotels which were both closed, we ate a ridiculously cheap traditional dinner (10 Bs) in a restaurant. The nearby hotel was open when we finished eating, so we stayed there (25 Bs, no shower) and had yet another cheap dinner (10 Bs), because we were still hungry. The whole village was celebrating the religious holiday of San Juan with cheap fireworks, sausages and Coca.

Skipping to La Paz
We didn´t sleep well because of all the noise and got up very early. It then occurred to us that we could try and skip the ride on the busy and boring road to La Paz by bus. After a cookies breakfast, it was an easy and fast ride of 14 km until Challapata.


There we took the first bus to Oruro, which leaves every 30 minutes. It was crowded and suffocating in the bus, but we can´t complain as the 2 hours ride costs almost nothing (10 Bs). In Oruro we took the time to eat lunch in a restaurant (10 Bs), and then caught a bus to La Paz (15 Bs).


The bus was a bit bigger, but still suffocating. Somehow we survived the 3 hours ride, and arrived to La Paz at day light. We went straight to the Casa del Ciclistas, but unfortunately the host, Cristian, was away for a vacation. We settled for the nice 2* Alem Hotel (35 Bs). We plan to explore this interesting city, do some shopping and plan the last weeks of our trip. We have a flight back home from Lima in about a month at the end of July.

For more photos of this post click here


                       Shoham & Amit
                     South America by Bicycle

Monday, June 27, 2011

Salar de Uyuni - World´s Largest Salt Plain

Wet and Salty
It took a short ride to get to Puerto Chuvica at the entrance to the Salar. There we consulted an old couple regarding the ride in the Salar. They invited us to take pictures of their Hotel de Sal and gave us apples for the way. We changed to sandals and folded up our pants´ sleeves for the water crossing that apparently awaited us. After 5 km on dry salt, we thought there would be no water, and as it was really cold we returned to our shoes. 5 minutes later, we encountered some puddles that later became a lake.


For 4 km we rode through water that reached up to the shin.


The water level then became lower but the way became hard and full of cracks between the salt.


The Incahuasi island, where we were heading, only became visible after about 10 km of riding. Until we saw it we headed towards the volcano which was our next destination. It was quite frustrating to ride for 30 km towards the island through endless salt flats, but at some point we started seeing ORVs leaving it, and a bit later we reached there.


The Island
The lady at the Incahuasi island told us they don´t have a hotel, only an expensive "emergency" room (50 Bs). After asking at the restaurant, we found a cheaper option for lodging - in a room that usually serves for drying llama meat. We had a good dinner in the restaurant with a pancake & chocolate syrup for dessert. They lighted their fire place just for us, and we used it to dry our shoes which were soaked with salt water.


The shoes got a little burned in the process, but at least they dried. Unfortunately, the salt shrank them in at least 1 size. The public toilet which is the only one in the island was locked during the night, so we had to go around the hill a few times. In the morning we escaped the place a bit after the arrival of the first groups of tourists, while they were making silly pictures on the salt.


Cooking on the Salt
At some point the Salar became more rideable, and then we stopped to cook pasta, using the salt we were standing on for the cooking. Due to the early hour, we decided to try and do a shortcut around the mountains through the Salar, and we discovered that the northern plains were also flooded. On our way we passed an island identical to the famous Incahuasi Island.


After a while we stopped and hiked in order to find out if there was a village in the horizon.


This part of the Salar is the nicest we have seen, because of the colorful salt, the mountains covered by diverse vegetation and amazing reflections from the flooded plains. One of the most perfect reflections we were lucky to see was that of Volcan Tunupa at sunset.


As we reached the top of the hill without seeing any village, we decided to retrace. While Amit was taking pictures and cycling recklessly, the salt opened beneath him. And so he fell with his bicycle´s front part into a hole full of black water, about half a meter deep.


The front bags as well as Shoham´s new Fuji camera got wet. From that moment we started taking blind photos, as the LCD screen was not working anymore.

"Resting" Day
Quite quickly afterwards, we reached Jirira. There we stayed in Posada Doña Lupe (40 Bs, including a good hot shower) the only hotel in the village. Built since about 30 years, it´s the 2nd oldest hotel in the Salar area. The owners run 2 other hotels including the luxurious Tahua hotel not far from there. Currently the Doña Lupe is under construction, and about 10 people work there together with the owners and their 2 kids (3 and 5 years old).


Here we learned that Amit was not the only one to fall into a hole in the Salar. A truck that was bringing them construction materials fell through the salt and got stuck there. Something like this happens every few weeks there.
As the place was nice, we decided to stay for another night. It took us all day to hand-wash our clothes and bikes. In midday a Canadian cyclists couple, Katia and Ives, arrived. They came all the way from Mexico and planned to spend a few months in northern Argentina. Thanks to our recommendation, they went to explore the area where we got lost the previous day and enjoyed it very much as well. Together we ate pasta and cookies for dinner. As we had no more oatmeal left, for breakfast Amit cooked delicious pancakes. It took a while to make them on our stove, but it was worthwhile!


Vegetables at Last
To recover from our resting day, we rode only until Salinas de Garci Mendoza, which in accordance with its long name was the biggest village we have visited so far in Bolivia. It took us 30 km of mostly an easy and flat ride to get there. Here there were a few hotels to choose from, and we ended up in the Eco Albergue Suk´arani (35 Bs, shower not working) at the top of the hill.


We did shopping in the tiny market in the plaza, and enjoyed the possibility of buying fruit and vegetables again. Back in the hotel, we amused the 4 years old annoying son of the owner, while she made us the traditional Bolivian dinner but in it´s vegetarian version to our request, with egg instead of a llama steak (18 Bs).


The owner let us use the kitchen for a small fee (4 Bs), so we cooked oatmeal porridge with banana which improved the usually cardboard flavor Bolivian oatmeal. We also made a great vegetables sauce and Polenta for the way.

For more photos of this post click here


                       Shoham & Amit
                     South America by Bicycle

Back to Civilization

Southern Villages
After 37 exhausting km from the miners´ camp, we finally got to Villamar, the village between the rocks.


We found a very nice hotel (30 Bs), Las Piedritas, where they served us the traditional Bolivian dinner (35 Bs): vegetables soup and llama steak with Quinoa and some fresh vegetables and a canned fruit salad for dessert. For the shower you pay separately (10 Bs). In this village we had our first shopping experience in Bolivia - cookies and mayonnaise.


We preferred to cook our own breakfast, and shared with the family an Israeli TU-BISHVAT plate of dried fruit and nuts. For the first few hours of the day we crossed sandy flats.


At the end of the day we had to cross a river a few times, and the rest of the way to Villa Alota we had to walk.


Although there is a sign of fork&knife at the entrance, nobody was willing to cook for us, so Shoham cooked: rice with carrots, dried prunes and some red wine tourists left behind.

We skipped the nice looking road to Uyuni, and instead continued to San Agustin. The road started with lots of sand, but later it improved. The view of the valley become amazing, as we passed many abandoned villages, llamas and nice polluted streams.


Right when we finished our lunch, a group of soldiers came to amuse themselves by shooting at birds. Luckily, they kept missing. From there we ran away up to the top, where Amit helped pushing a stuck ORV.


On the top we saw that the km sign for the opposite way was incorrect and so we fixed it.


Throughout the way down, the road was under construction.


The last 10 km of sand and streams crossing was mostly by foot. Somehow we still made it to San Agustin before complete darkness. We heard music coming from the village even before seeing it, and made it right on time to eat the local junk food in their Fiesta: Salchipapa (french fries and sausage) and Chicharon (llama meat, cold boiled wheat and potatoes). The people from the village and the surroundings were in the middle of celebrating the anniversary of the village, by dancing and playing traditional music through the night and the following morning.


Due to the Fiesta, the hotels were all occupied. After eating 4 portions, the Chicharon´s lady, Victoria Salvatir, suggested that we sleep at her place. After moving a huge pile of tiny potatoes from the floor, we could reach the bed.


Interestingly, they grow Guinea pigs in their back yard, for eating.


Victoria insisted that we use her kitchen and the piles of vegetables scattered in the kitchen. So in the morning we made Mujadra and chickpeas with vegetables stew.


Our hostess refused to eat with us and even made breakfast for us: a sweet wheat beverage, fried bread that was enough for lunch as well, and a cake. Before leaving town we benefited some more from the Fiesta and had a tasty coconut icecream.


Deep Sand
On our way to San Juan we took a wrong turn that led us to a wadi with deep sand where we pushed our bikes for 3 hours.


Eventually, Amit found a way out that led us to the main road to the village. This road first crossed a Salar of 20 km. In San Juan we slept in a nice hotel, Alojamento Licancahur, with a joking owner. When we asked about the price for a night, he said it was 100 USD. The real price was as usual cheap (30 Bs per night, 10 Bs for a shower), and he also arranged a meal for us in the local pub (18 Bs). After asking for a large sized meal, a huge plate waited for us.


During the evening only kids sell in all the grocery shops. At the entrance to a shop you have to shout until the kid comes out.

Hotel de Sal
In the morning we fixed a broken spoke, and left quite late. On our way to Colcha K, we skipped a long climb and went around the high hill. When we saw the third ORV we knew we were on the right way. We reached the military base near Colcha K early enough to continue towards the Puerto Chuvica hotels. Due to a very bad road, we stopped eventually in Villa Candelaria, which doesn´t appear on any map. We slept in a Hotel de Sal - where everything is made of salt (the walls, floor, beds and chairs).


This is a sure way to charge more money from the tourists (40 Bs). The hotel´s owner told us she had no food, and in the more expensive hotel nearby they didn´t want to give us a meal without lodging. Finally she made us a good but small meal (30 Bs). We completed dinner with leftovers from San Agustin and lots of wafers. From the many flavours we liked most the vanilla wafers, which have an authentic taste of vanilla. There was a bored puppy in the hotel that boldly entered our room to try and find entertainment.


After a short ride in the morning we got to Puerto Chuvica, where we got ready to cross the Salar de Uyuni - the biggest salt flat in the world.

For more photos of this post click here


                       Shoham & Amit
                     South America by Bicycle

Sunday, June 26, 2011


Laguna Salada
The day started with a mechanical problem (Shoham´s back rack) after 10 minutes of riding.


It took us an hour to cross the stream between Laguna Blanca and Laguna Verde.


For the many ORVs passing there it was much easier. We saw many Vicuña camels around while climbing to 4,700 m pass. After going down and riding on a terrible flat road, we reached the restaurant by Laguna Salada. There is a thermal bath next to the restaurant created by 3 thermal springs.


They hosted us between the restaurant´s tables for the night (15 Bs) and prepared a wonderful dinner for us (25 Bs): vegetables soup, rice, potatoes and eggs accompanied by cooked and fresh vegetables.


Again we ignored all tourists´ warnings and ate fresh vegetables. We were happy to discover that the Bolivian mayonnaise, Kris, is one of the best in the world. Federico was an outstanding host despite his young age. We enjoyed less their ecological bathroom (3 Bs).

Laguna Colorada
We got up at 5 AM after being told that at 6 AM the place would be crowded with tourists.


In reality, they only arrived at 7 and went straight to the thermal bath. The climb towards the 4,900 m pass could have been much easier without the descents in between.


When we saw the Sol de Mañana geysers, we were already knocked out, so we passed the option of going 150 m down and back up to get a closer sight of them. We settled for a far distant photo of them and another pill against headaches.


Finally we went down on a horrible dust road, until the junction to the Laguna Colorada hotels. To skip a going back and forth on a bad 7 km piece of road, we decided to camp right there. We begged for water from the passing ORVs. After 10 minutes we managed to get 4 liters of water. In the canyon where we camped, we found some more sealed water bottles. In the tent it wasn´t too cold, but the water bottles that was left outside froze.


When we got closer to Laguna Colorada, we were impressed by the flamingos who were standing in red water.


Miners´ Camp
At the exit of the park, the rangers checked our entrance ticket. By their recommendation, we continued to the miners camp (another 30 km) through an easy climb followed by a flat sandy road. At the camp we asked to talk with the boss (Jefe), who let us stay there in a private room of the medical clinic, with 2 beds. While Shoham slept, after getting a sunstroke, Amit cooked a delicious meal of rice with peanuts, zucchini and curry. We found out that 35 single men live in this camp, as well as one smiley female cook who all play soccer every afternoon.


Endless Valley
The way from the camp passes through a Salar / Laguna, with many trucks carrying rocks. From there we had impossible uphills towards the highest pass in our lives which is probably more than 5,000 m high. Right after the pass, the valley is full of life, thanks to the defrosted snow streams.


All day we followed fresh bicycle trails, and we hoped to meet the cyclists. After an exhausting ride in the flats, we almost gave up getting to Villamar, until we saw the first signs of civilization: stone walls and smoke in the horizon.


For more photos of this post click here


                       Shoham & Amit
                     South America by Bicycle

Crossing to Bolivia

After visiting the boring archeological museum of San Pedro de Atacama, we set out of town.


On the way out we bought headache pills and passed the lively market and spent all our Chilean money we had left on garlic. It seems to be possible for cyclists coming to San Pedro from the east to avoid having their food thrown away at the customs at the border, by going into town 300 m before the customs. If you want to do so, you need to prepare all your illegal food in one package, and throw it away right after the customs people loose your sight. Then you can go back there and tell them you lost your way.

The way up to Bolivia climbs 2,000 m in just 28 km. This means there is an average slope of about 7%. Even though the road was well paved all the way up, the ride on this steep slope combined with the altitude of up to 4,800 m above sea level was very tiring for us, and so we stopped every half a km to get our breath back. All the way up we saw small houses by the road, so maybe we could have avoided carrying a lot of water by filling our bottles there. It took us 2 days and a pill against headaches to get to the top.


From there it was mainly getting down on a dust road to the border and after that to the entrance to the national park. In the border it is possible to change money from either USD or Chilean Pesos, with an interest of about 15%. There is a fox that often comes to the border to beg for food from tourists.


On the way to the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, we rode down on snow!


The entrance is expensive (150 Bs), and they can´t even give you a map. 3 times we got a recommendation to take a road that doesn´t appear on any of our maps going from Laguna Colorada to Villamar.

In the Refugio (40 Bs) in front of the park rangers there is electricity for only 2 hours in the evening and after the lights are off, everybody goes to sleep. To flush the toilet you use buckets. We felt really bad as a result of the height, so we decided to spend another night there. In this place we learned about the 4 days ORV (off-road vehicle) tours from Uyuni to the park during which they stop in fixed places to eat their pre-cooked meals from food that would not risk the tourists delicate stomach. If you stay long enough next to the drivers you might get some interesting leftovers. We got pasta tricolor with a sauce consisting of 4 different kinds of canned vegetables.


We ignored the warnings from all the tourists we talked to, and drank the local water which is much better than what we had in northern Chile and back home in Haifa. During the two days we spent in this Refugio, we met Bruno, a Swiss cyclist who is completing the cross America trip from Alaska to Ushuaia. He enjoyed especially riding in Colombia, where the weather is always nice, the roads are paved and the people smile. He enjoyed less the past week he spent riding on awful and remote road in order to get to the border. His bad luck didn´t end there, as he had to go down to Chilean border in San Pedro, just to stamp his passport twice, and then go back up towards Argentina.


There we also met Antoine, a 22-year old French with a master in mechanical engineering who came to Valparaiso, Chile as an exchange student. He spends most of his time traveling around South America. At 3 AM he got up in order to climb the Licancabur volcano (5,900 m) guided by the Refugio´s owner (100 USD).


When we started eating breakfast, he was already back. In the afternoon we went with him for a walk around the frozen Laguna Blanca.

For more photos of this post click here


                       Shoham & Amit
                     South America by Bicycle