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 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.
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.