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Lima to La Paz (and a bit beyond)
By Alvaro Reyes - (contact)

Sabaya to Uyuni, Bolivia: The Coipasa Disaster, followed by the Uyuni Experience

Saturday August 25, 2012, 291 km (181 miles) - Total so far: 2,152 km (1,337 miles)

Sabaya - Coipasa - 42 km
Coipasa - Llica - 58 km
Llica - Isla Incahuasi - 87 km
Isla Incahuasi - Uyuni - 104 km

Sabaya - Coipasa
It was over 10 km on a washboard road until we hit the salar. We didn't follow the andesbybike route exactly, which required a bit more riding on gravel and a few more km in total for the day. It was a short crossing of the Salar de Coipasa to arrive at Isla Coipasa, but it was an amazing experience.

We ignored the locals who told us to go the long but dry way around, and cycled straight for the island. There were some wet spots, but the water was never more than 4 inches deep. It did, however, cake our bikes in salt, which probably isn't the best thing for the bikes. Being our first time riding on salt, we were thrilled by the experience, and got some amazing photographs and memories out of it.

We hit land at about lunch time, and we made ourselves tuna sandwiches, seasoned with salt from the salar. After that it was another 10 or so km on a bad sandy washboard road to the village of Coipasa. As with all of the other villages we have been passing, it seemed abandoned, but we did find a few people up and about. We were told to find some lady Sra Verna, to ask about accomodations. We found her, and she took us to a separate building with 2 units padlocked, and charged us 60B to stay within 4 walls and a roof. As with the other places, there was no water or bathroom. She did, however, let us use the water well at her place, where we were able to do some much needed laundry. It then took me about an hour to get most of the salt off of the bikes, which was a real chore.

Coipasa actually has 2 tiendas which were reasonably well stocked for supplies. One place was selling chicken skewers, which we first snacked on, and then bought another set of skewers to supplement our dinner of rice and vegetables. The wind howled during the evening, nearly ripping the roof off of our shack, and we were glad to have not camped out.

Just about 100m from our shack was what we named the "Town Dump", as we saw scores of people head towards this area with rolls of toilet paper. There are no toilets in Coipasa, so people just go to this area. It was pretty shocking and disgusting. We have found that villages in these parts only have pit toilets if some NGO has come along and built them for the village.

Coipasa - Llica
All we could see out on the salar was water, and we were told by the locals we could not and should not cross the salar directly due to the water. The locals had a very confusing way of explaining how we could cross the salar, as it appeared to us that we had to go all the way around the island. "Pura carretera" the locals told us, meaning that we should follow the "highway", which should be glaringly obvious to us. In these parts, tire tracks in the sand qualify as a "highway", and we ended up frustratingly going around the island.

We got to another military checkpoint on the edge of the salar, and saw a ton of water in front of us. So this roundabout route which added 12 km on sand, and would add another 12 km on salt, was no better for us than crossing the salar directly. We were told by the military to follow the "carretera" which was not as obvious as it sounded.

We skirted around the water, and finally found a good set of tracks which appeared to be leading us the right way. But after about 20 km, the tracks inexplicably ended. We had a GPS point from andesbybike, and a visual marker, so we decided to just head for this point, until we came across what looked to be deep water everywhere.

We were a bit freaked out about this, and our water supplies were low - freaking us out even more. We were a bit nonchalant in the way we prepared for this salar crossing. We headed for land on the South-West side of the salar, as this appeared to be the best option due to the water. As we hit land we hit long stretches of spongy, un-rideable terrain. Then we saw that in the distance, what we had initially percieved to be water, was in fact a mirage!

It was well into the afternoon, and our water supplies were down to less than 2 litres, with 25 km remaining to our "point". We decided that we could only head for this point, and we had no options remaining. It was very difficult, as we had to push through spongy salar sections and sandy fields. It was very demoralizing, as we completed only 12 km in three hours!

Finally, Jacqueline spotted what looked to be a village and power lines, so we headed directly to them, hoping at the very least to find some water. Jacqueline's bike handles much better in the sand than mine, and she was able to make it to the village before me, and she was very emotional when she finally found some people. Knowing that we could get some water, I drank about 1.5 litres of water in just a few minutes! We were still far from our destination of Llica, so I threw out the notion that we would pay for a ride to Llica. A man with a truck jumped at the opportunity, but asked for a very steep fee.

We agreed to this, as the only other option was another day of riding through a terrible sandy track, and the fellow took us to Llica. We stayed at the municipal building where they apparently rent out rooms, which was kind of weird. We also ate the last two pieces of chicken in town at Mr. Pollo.

It was a very difficult day for us, frustrating because the locals led us on a roundabout route which was no better for us than had we crossed through the watery sections of the salar. It was slightly terrifiying when we were pushing through sand and running out of water. But we coped through it and it made us stronger. I was still, however, disappointed at the Coipasa experience, as I had been looking forward to it so much, and it ended up being such a disaster.

Llica - Isla Incahuasi
A few more km of sand and washboard (12 to be exact), and then we were on the Salar de Uyuni. I have been looking forward to cycling on the Salar de Uyuni since I read Tim Travis' book back in 2006, and we were finally on it! Jeep traffic was very light, and there were no real good tracks. This slowed us down, as for most of the day we could do 10-12 km-h. Uyuni, being so much larger than Coipasa, was such an interesting experience to ride on, since all we saw was salt for kilometres on end.

We made it to Isla Incahuasi just before sundown, and we decided to stay in the Refugio which is carved out of a cave. It was so warm in there, as the rock had been absorbing sunlight all day, so we could not refuse the cost of 60B.

Isla Incahuasi - Uyuni
Our final day of cycling on the trip. The surface was much better, due to the heavier jeep traffic. We also got a rare tailwind, which sure helped out. Cycling on the salar is a unique experience, I didn't seem to get bored of it at all, even though it is all the same. At lunch we took some of the "goony" photos, and continued on. After 75 km we hit land, and were back on the typical terrible sandy Bolivian road. We hit Uyuni, and found a place to stay, and purchased bus tickets to the border with Argentina.

It was the end of the cycle tour, and the end of 11 hard days of riding. These parts of Bolivia are so remote, desolate, and abandoned, that we found it to be very challenging mentally, but we were able to complete this stretch, making us stronger people and a stronger couple.

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approaching Salar de Coipasa

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our first pedal strokes on Salar de Coipasa

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Jacqueline riding on the sky

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me on Coipasa

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the bikes sure got caked in salt this day!

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lost on Coipasa, trying to get to the road

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Salar de Uyuni, aiming for Isla Incahuasi

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Jacqueline and I pedaling on Uyuni

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cheese!

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heading towards Incahuasi

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made it to Incahuasi!

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sunset on the salar

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the refugio on Incahuasi

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morning on Incahuasi

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the bike in the palm of Jacquelines hand

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"NOOOO! Don't cook me alive!!!"

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"No wonder my pannier felt so heavy..."

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Parade in Uyuni

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no spell check here


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"Lima to La Paz (and a bit beyond)" Copyright © 2012-2014 By Alvaro Reyes - (contact). All rights reserved.
Page was created on August 28, 2012 10:44 PDT, last updated on August 28, 2012 11:50 PDT
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