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On a normal day of riding, 200km would probably take Derek and me about 3
hours. The 200km of dirt road between Tupiza and Uyuni took us a solid 8
hours. At the end of the day, we both felt like we'd lost some brain cells
and nerve endings in our backsides.
We started off in good spirits. We ate some delicious sandwiches from a
lady near the market, drank some coffee and said goodbye to some fellow
travelers. Since the dirt stretch was a known length, we were well rested,
and had several eye witnesses who assured me there wasn't "much sand," I
was ready to embark on our longest stretch of dirt so far. A kilometer or
so out of town, the road was a fairly well-compacted sand/dirt road with
only a little washboard texture. But the washboard got worse and worse as
we went on. Bruno, one of the French cyclists had mentioned the washboard;
we tried to remember how long he said it would last. Keeping to the edges
of the road, we managed to sustain about 30mph (50kph)... until we hit sand.
We found several stretches of soft, deep sand. This is the stuff I am
really bad at. I tend to overreact when I am sliding and cause myself to
fall. But, with a little coaching, I learned that the trick to sand is
acceleration. Who knew (besides all you motoists...)? I went the whole day
without falling!* Derek had one fall that was slow and into some soft sand.
After about three hours, we were still being rattled by the washboard and
had only covered less than half the distance. We started moving from the
flat antiplano into the dusty mountains. The mineral-rich mountains were
striped with striking hues of sea green, copper red, sandy white, and
purplish maroon. The road itself was smeared with stripes of the mountain
colors. Bolivia is reportedly one of the richest countries in the world in
terms of natural resources though it has yet to capitalize on much of them.
This trip is enough to turn a person into a Geologist! This was a hard
day, but so very beautiful.
The washboard rattling continued. The bolt attaching my rear blinker
rattled out and the blinker made a run for it. Luckily, Derek was riding
behind me and snagged it up for reattachment later. Steep switchbacks
brought us up and down the mountains as we slowly descended to below 3,000
meters of elevation for the first time in a couple weeks. Though the
curves were tight and banked for vehicles traveling 60mph (100kph), they
were also generally partially washed-out and slippery with sand.
After 7 hours we were seeing signs of civilization again. The landscape
began to look more hospitable (with some vegetation and streams) and was
dotted with livestock (mostly pigs and furry donkeys) and ladies in their
top hats and braids. We also saw a couple darling foxes dart across the
road. When we finally saw a patch of asphalt road in front of us, our heads
were rattled into mush and our legs were aching from crouching over the
seats. The entire 200km had been washboard.
Our cyclist friends had recommended a cheap hostel with parking. This was
greatly appreciated since we were in no condition to do much searching. Though
we tried to beat the dust off ourselves and our gear, everything remained
undeniably dirty. It took us very little time to decide to stay the whole
next day and rest (and catch up on blogging). We ventured out into town,
devoured some pasta, then sank into deep comas.
Though I'm sure more experienced riders could have traveled more quickly,I
think I did pretty damn well: no falls, no injuries. Yay J
The town of Tupiza is sweet. The town is small but it has a large market
that sells everything a person could want. We ate some delicious tamales
here, had some coffee and api (a delicious hot drink made from red maize,
cinnamon, lime and probably hundreds of secret spices). Derek also
purchased one of the little coffee makers that all the Bolivian street
stalls use. It reminds me of the coffee we get at Vietnamese restaurants
in Seattle. We expect this will come in handy while camping in Argentina.
Oddly, the dogs in this town love us. We are very accustomed to seeing
stray dogs everywhere by now. Usually, they generally ignore us and we
generally ignore them. But in this town, one dog started trotting behind
us, then four dogs followed the first. At one point, I think we had ten
dogs following us around. We found them waiting for us outside our hotel
in the afternoon. I don't know if we smell like sausages or if they like
us because we are the only people who don't hiss at them... We were being
pointed at by locals..."Look, the dogs love Gringos!" So weird!
We are looking forward to Argentina. Our grand finale country (unless we
visit Uruguay) is known for wine, steak and chocolates. Though it started
as a joke, we now have a very serious plan to eat nothing but wine and
steak for one entire day there.
* Disclaimer: Derek totally drove one 50 meter-long sandy section for me.But
I did most of them... honest!