Mar. 5 – Uyuni to Tupiza

2009 March 15
by joe

After coffee and rolls in our ‘hotel’, we make several attempts to find the road that runs east out of town.  Not so easy, and we get a tour of the town dump before finding the correct way out of town.  It had stayed dry over night, and although the road was just a dirt two-track, it was in better shape than what we had seen for the past two days.  Same washboard ruts, mud and sand, washouts and dozens of unbridged  or collapsed-bridge rivers to cross, though.    One river in particular must have been over four feet deep, as we were both soaked head to boot when we got across. At one nasty river crossing, Levi’s bike goes over in deep mud after he got safely across.

We pass  through rugged mountain terrain, the likes of which I have never seen elsewhere.  Mountains made of small, multi-colored rocks that look like piles of broken pottery.  Mountains of every color rock you can imagine.  Volcanic mountains with rainbows of colors swirled in the steep exposed deposits.  The road is a constant challenge, with steep dropoffs and dangerous curves and washouts.  Muddy spots and sand-traps are everywhere still.

We arrive at a village around 1:00 PM, where there is a new bridge being constructed across a huge river.  The problem for us is that no provision has been made to cross the river in the meantime.  We ask around, and search out a place where the local traffic is crossing the river, about a half of a mile downstream from the construction site.  The river here is at least a quarter-mile wide, with three different streams, one of which is very deep and very swift.  We watch as a few 4-wheel drive vehicles cross this expanse of rock and water, and walk the route to see if we think crossing is possible.  We agree that it is questionable that we can do this, but we have come too far to turn back, and there is no alternate route that we are aware of.  We ride out onto the rocks, across the two smaller channels, and stop again at the edge of the big channel.  Levi goes first, and makes it across, and onto the very sandy bank on the far side.  I attempt to follow, but the current gets me a little sideways, and I hit the opposite bank in a less than ideal spot, where the bank is quite tall and steep, and I am unable to get up out of the river.  The bike tries valiantly to pull itself up the bank, but it gets stuck upright, buried to the axles in sand.  We try to pull and push it out, but are unable to get it up.  We unload the gear to lighten it, and are able to raise it a bit, but still not completely out of the river and onto the high bank.  We are eventually helped by some friendly passing locals, who lend their hands, and backs, and help us drag the bike onto the sandy riverbank.  This was the toughest river crossing we had, since the one we had to walk the bikes across.

The terrible road continues, but now we climb,  higher and higher, until it feels like the ‘top of the world’.  Bright red mountains, and in the distance, an incredible pyramid-shaped rock massif with glacier-covered sides that looked like pictures I have seen of the Matterhorn. On one very steep, narrow rocky stretch of road, I have to stop to avoid a very deep washout,  and when I go to put my left foot down, there is nothing there!  The bike falls, again, hard on that side, but I am not under it, this time.  Getting the bike back up, Levi has to do the bulk of the lifting, as I am still hurting from my fall two days ago, and he strains his back doing so.

Towards dusk, after too many hours of this nightmare, we descend down from the ridiculous altitude we are at, and enter a lush river valley, with rock spires sculpted from bright red rock, and rich lowland with prosperous looking farms.  We ride until well after dark, and eventually see the lights of a town ahead.  It is a very confusing town, but we eventually find a bridge across the river here, and find the part of town where hotels and restaurants are.  We are exhausted and ready to be done with this very hard day!

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