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BOLIVIA: PISIGA –SALAR DE COIPASA — LLICA — SALAR DE UYUNI — UYUNI

After our pit-stop to refuel in Pisiga, we head out for more salt. The second salar we encounter is the Salar de Coipasa, more expansive and drier than Surire in Chile.

Leaving Pisiga's windswept streets, ...

...more salty mysteries and adventures beckon us onward.

The eternal question of "which way?" is not easily solved with the dubious aid of multiple maps, even but eeny meeny miny moe does the trick.

In the middle of the waste land, a gate guardian...

... watches our passage...

... without advice or comment.

Initially, we follow the well worn tracks of vehicles...

... before, abandoning all caution,...

... we ride the salt...

...at will.

The sense of freedom is exhilarating...

... and the terrain fascinating and alluring...

... but the lack of caution...

...ends in tears... or a bent fork, at any rate. James, in fact, remains remarkably stoic in the face of this misfortune.

Chastened and a little more sedate we continue on an increasing soggy surface which liberally coats our bikes with concentrated saline solution.

Although currently nowhere to be seen, salt collectors work way out on the salar...

... labouriously chipping away heavy salt blocks, which form a handy wind break to lunch behind.

As the afternoon wind picks up, we abandon our original plan of camping in the middle of the salar and head for the main island...

...coming to shore...

... where we can admire the plant life that manages to survive in this forbidding environment.

It's a campsite with a view to dream of forever.

With the wind in mind James studies up on knots and adds some extra guy-lines to his and Sarah's tent and...

... then we cook dinner as the sun sets behind the distant mountains.

Morning brings a return to a colourless world, apart from the vivid blue of the sky. After a few blissful kilometres of riding a smooth white rock hard surface the salt thins and we start to sink into the sand below. Soon we are off the bikes and pushing and it's a long tough day before we reach...

...Llica, a small, and perhaps not so tranquil, town. We arrive on the Day of the Dead and the entire population of the village is getting drunk in the cemetery. This graphic mural is apparently saying "no to violence"...?...

....while the murals on the school yard walls suggest """yes to sport and no to drug addiction". Admirable sentiments, certainly.

We buy more supplies and head back out into the void...

...

... but in a surprise twist team up again with Eva and Jan, the Slovakian honey-mooners with whom I crossed the border into Bolivia for the first time.

At camp o'clock we decide that the conditions are right to brave a night exposed on the salar.

The sun starts to disappear...

... and it's dying rays highlight the honey comb structure of the salar's surface...

...as our tents spring up.

Once the sun has gone...

...colours shift and glow...

...until the light fades completely.

An hour before sunrise, leaving Eva and Jan warmly tucked up in their cosy tent, Sarah, James and I are back on our bikes again...

...to experience the glories of sunrise, as we gradually approach Isla Pescado.

This place is vast.

The island is covered...

... with giant cactii. After a brief exploratory walk...

... our first concern is coffee. The big cup is mine but my ration, sadly, is not correspondingly bigger.*

Once caffeine cravings and rumbling tummies are satisfied we find a sheltered cove and rest or explore according to our personal whim. It's a very,...

... very spiky world here...

...

...

... but the towering cactus boast flowers that are both lush and delicate...

... if you can reach them.

Careful observation reveals the internal structure of the beast...

... and as I climb higher on the central ridge of the island...

... the extent of the forest is apparent.

...

Once I manage to find my way back to the others again, we set off to the other, more famous, island where our perfect solitude is rudely shattered by tour groups packed sardine-like into a seemingly infinite fleet of jeeps. We stop for long enough to replenish our water supply...

... then flee without a backward glance to enjoy another night of utter peace on the salt. It is perfectly still again but we tie our tents down to our bikes, just to be sure.

Sundown...

... and then sunup, with flags flying above a leisurely breakfast.

And what's underneath all this...? Well,... one of the world's largest deposits of lithium, for one thing. (Sigh.)

*See here for the dream cafetera that would provide all of us with all the coffee we could ever wish for.

{ 5 } Comments

  1. Tim Joe Comstock | November 29, 2013 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    What a Planet! And so much to see! It looks like biking on the moon, Anna. It looks very, very cool. I am glad you have friends along for the ride. I sometimes wonder at your solitude, although I am a solitary one myself.

    Seems like all that salt would play hell with components. But worth it, I think.

    tj

  2. anna | November 29, 2013 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    Hey, tj! Nice to have you drop by…

    True, true, I spend s lot of time alone but after my self-indulgent little whimper the other day in TPCland I thought that I really do have so many good friends. It’s just we are mostly wanderers and so meeting in the real world is not always frequent.

    Don’t worry too much about the bikes – we washed them thoroughly as soon as possible. Let’s see how they fare.

    Hope all is good in your new working life…

  3. Kurt | November 30, 2013 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Anna, as ever your photos are amazing! Bigger cups mean more coffee in my world. Though I am the one to usually do the pouring…hum. Happy pedaling.

  4. anna | November 30, 2013 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    Hey, Kurt! Good to hear from you!

    Hmmmm. More coffee. Yes, we like coffee. I need my own coffee maker and then I can drink as much as I want

    Are you in Bolivia, yet? You’ll be speeding past me soon, I’m sure. Would be good to cross paths some time again.

    Happy pedalling to you, too.

    –A–

  5. Kurt | December 2, 2013 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    Naww, Just now leaving Cusco. Though I may catch up, I wont be speeding past. I look forward to sharing a cup or 2 and catching up again. Tail winds a gravel, Kurt

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