Definitely one of the highlights of the trip.
Some of the impressions the salar will leave on you:
Total freedom, total loss of any notion of time and space, extreme weather conditions, feeling of awe in front of vastness, etc, etc…
Acceses to the salar present the first challenge. If the salar itself is hard as concrete, the accesses may be soft and tricky. Often times, even the tour operator guides get stuck. Time for 4WD.
First tourist trap, the hotel de sal. Yes sir, Québec city has her ice hotel, here it’s a salt hotel…
I park just over this minuscule truck and, like everybody else, I try to take stupid pictures.
See how No4 is huge!
Now that’s a laaaaaarge beer.
Noticed the suit? For the first time since the beginning of the trip in july 2014, I have to use sun screen. Here, kind of like back home in winter, skin must be protected. Only here, skin doesn’t freeze, it burns.
It’s been a few minutes I play the fool with the camera when… Cruiser fans land.
(Note the Gopro camera on the left rear door. Nobody touched that, nor anything else for that matter)
And soon, everybody wants his picture taken with the gringo and his funky looking truck.
Are the Bolivianos nice you ask? One of the LC fans is president of the Extreme 4X4 club of LaPaz. He just can’t stop congratulating me and welcoming me in his country. As welcome presents, he gives me a couple of stickers of his club and… a full size flag of Bolivia!
I am touched.
Thank you. Sincerely.
After an “interview” regarding the different advantages of my vehicle given to the fans with three cell phones recording my face, I declare stardom over, say goodbye and I get back on the…road??
To Incahuasi island, another tourist spot/trap…
…Where Minnie meets a young Boliviano she likes.
Minnie: “Males! They’re all the same. Come on, do something, I’m in the mood now. Don’t be such a dog about it.”
Him: “Pfffff, I’m not THAT kind of dog. I don’t do first timers. Forget it.”
I think you might have to sleep on it, Minnie.
A few cool shots.
Woah, rough trail.
See the little dot just above right side of the cactus? Yep, Old No4.
Once passed the island, tourist concentration drops considerably. At times, there just isn’t any “road” anymore.
It’s quite the thrill to be there alone, with no road or any signs of any kind and to rely solely on the GPS to figure which way to go.
And it’s here that the 50th thousand kilometers of the trip turns.
And yes, for those who may have been wondering, there IS water underneath the salt crust…
After about 150 kms of salt, I see the end coming.
Salar de Uyuni: Check.
Soon as I’m out of the salar, I have quite the surprise.
Ever since the town of Uyuni, I have been follow with eyes closed a GPS track that someone had given me. Of course, GPS tracks don’t tell much about road/trail conditions. To his credit, the friend who had given me the track never actually used it as it was also given to him by someone else. But, short story, the trail is aweful. First gear LOW is sometimes still too fast and I often have to use the clutch.
Here, the tiny hamlet of Yonga.
Pictures rarely do justice to the scenery or situation. But, regarding the total mess of a road here, this next one demonstrate quite accurately the consequences as I found them at my first stop…
Plus, the scenery is picturesque, but not incredible.
Soon, I am face with a new challenge. Normally, No4 has an autonomy of more or less 700 kms with both tanks full. No problem, I thought, there’s only 535 kms from Uyuni to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.
Normally. Like at around 70 -80 km/h, I am good for 700 kms. But not at 0 – 10 or 15 km/h…
In short, it is getting more and more obvious, I will be short on fuel.
In each and every small village, I ask around if someone would have fuel for sale and every time it’s the same deal; he sends me to her, she sends me to another guy, who sends me here and then there… No fuel. In the end, I burn more diesel than I find.
Plus, I have nearly no more Bolivianos ($) left. Remember that, when leaving this road, I cross into Chile where Bolivianos are useless. Since I have enough food for the few days out here in the desert and that, normally, I have ample fuel for the ride, I only kept a strict minimum of cash.
So, here’s the situation: Low on fuel, no Bols, no gas stations.
I take my chances again and make a short detour to Alota where, according to my GPS, there’s a gas station.
No gas station.
I ask and I’m told I can find diesel at another village about 30 – 40 kms in an other direction. With the kind of success I’ve had so far, I don’t feel too much like burning all that fuel without knowing… Instead, I show up at the hostal that sits exactly where the GPS says should be a gas station. I ask the old man (he must be at least 90):
Me: “Hay diesel aqui?”
Old man: “Cuanto nececite?”
M: “Euhhh como 30 litros. Hay?”
Old fart: “Si, si hay.”
YESSSSS. He has a few jerrycans laying around between the kitchen and the living room of the hostal.
But, I still don’t have Bolivianos to pay him and I somehow don’t expect him to take VISA.
M: “Euhhh acceptan los dolares Americanos?”
Old guy: “???????”
Old fart: “Hummm si, si voy a acceptarle”.
RE-YESSSSS! And the price? Who cares? But it’s a bit more than $1.25 US a liter or $4.73 US a galon or $1.63 CAN a liter. Very reasonnable. I take 40 lts. $50 US.
Even south of Alota, where I had hoped the landscape would have changed, it’s not really the case. Unfortunately.
Lagunas road signs.
The track follows the “river”…
…And brings me to a… Coke plantation…?
Slowly, subtly, the surroundings begin to change and become more interesting. I say slowly because, of course, when you drive in first gear at 10 or 15 km/h, not much happens very quickly, right.
Here’s a nice spot to camp at. “Minnie, this is home for tonight.”
In the morning.
Eventually comes a day when we reach laguna Colorada and then, it’s like landing on a different planet.
Pink flamingos by the thousands.
Somewhere between laguna Colorada and lagunas Verde and Blanca, a place draws me.
Alone we are, with pink flamingos…
…And my own little hot spring… Tonight, it’s here, for sure.
In the morning, it’s kinda chilly. At 6:00 am…
But at 9:00, in the sun…
Between 6 and 9, we explore the area a bit, waiting for the temperature to warm up a little.
As seen from my bathroom window.
The, around ninish, it’s bath time.
Bathtub with a view. Not too bad…
Now I’m ready for the last leg. Theoretically, tonight we sleep in Chile.
Pit stop at the geysers on the way.
What’s most impressive about the geysers is not the geysers themselves but the fact that I’m totally alone here, that there is zero signs or notices or gates or fences or…whatever. Nothing says it’s safe to walk here and not there.
“Total freedom, risks included. Please use your head and follow the tracks as driving in first gear for 300 kms to the nearest hospital takes some time…”
I knew the aduana office, where I have to get my cars temporary import permit cancelled, was near here, about 80 kms from the actual border. On the other hand, I had read on other travellers blogs that there was a new aduana office right at the border and that you could get your stuff done there.
If it’s on the internet, it must be true, right.
Do I feel like driving the 160 kms both ways in first gear if for some reason, there wouldn’t be another aduana office at the border? I don’t think so.
Let’s see if I can get my permit cancelled here. Worst case scenario, I’ll get it cancelled at the border…
Five smiling minutes later, I walk out, cancelled permit in hand. The only Thing is, I’m not sure exactly how much time I need to get to the actual border and if it poses a problem to cross the frontera tomorrow or maybe even later if something should happen…
What’s good to know is that, here in Bolivia, they don’t joke around with stuff like that. When you enter the country, you are given a permit for your car good for a fixed number of days, like 30 or 90. Show up any later than the expiry date on your permit and, no problems, your vehicle is confiscated. Period.
Finished. It’s gone. I personally know a guy who lost his $10,000 motorcycle for being 10 hours late. And he spoke with a couple from Europe who lost their $80,000 Land Cruiser for being 3 days late. Gone. Vanished.
And I just don,t feel like walking the rest of the way to Ushuaia.
Getting closer to Chile. Here’s laguna Blanca.
And the frontera.
Funny. Ever since Colombia, where we were pulled over up to 3 times a day to check our paperwork or whatever, I decided that, no matter who signals me to stop and no matter where they do, no matter if there’s a gate or not, if it’s open or if the guy is not standing right in the middle of my way, I am simply not stopping anymore. Period. If I’ll run over the guy if I don’t stop, then I will. But if not, Ciao Ciao pescado, I’m gone.
I do remember seeing an open gate many kilometers back. No idea what it was for, though. Until now.
Soon as my wheels stop turning, a guy comes around and ask for my boleto.
“Boleto. Boleto del parque.”
“Euhhh, cual parque? No tengo.”
” Son 150 Bolivianos senor.”
“Euhhh, hay problema. No le tengo.”
And he asks me to follow him, which I do. I explain that I don’t have 150 Bolivianos on me. The nearest bank is 400+ kms back, in firts gear, and I don’t quite feel like it today. I ask him if he would take all the cash I have left (funny how, to him, I don’t suggest paying in US dolares…). He walks out to check with his boss and, when he walks back in, all my Bols are spreaded across his desk, small change and everything.
97.45 Bols exactly. He smiles…and writes me a boleto. Very professional of him…What am I suppose to do with the boleto? I’m leaving the park!
A souvenir, he says.
Gracias, hasta luego.
And I’m on my way to the last step, the immigration office, 3 kms down the road.
Ah! And the aduana office for the car permit?
All locked up…
I’m no more then 4 or 5 minutes at immigration before coming out with a stamped passport. I am officially out of the country.
In the next installment; the Chilean customs…