Outside one of the shops an old couple started chatting to us about out our trip, having seen both bikes and ourselves ready to go they asked us what we'd done where we'd been and where we were going, they were both really sweet and really old we had to get a photo before we left and gave us a really positive start to the day. On our way out of Uyuni we saw another biker, two up on a large bike so we pulled up next to them to chat. Turns out they were from Japan on a huge bike and had been on the road for a year and a half and had travelled through Russia, Europe and boated over to South America to finish their tour. It was quite awe inspiring considering that we were only covering Bolivia and thinking that we'd had a hard time. They'd covered half the world and seemed still very happy!
We had only about 120kms to cover in our first day and suprisingly the roads weren't too bad, the constant upgrading of the roads mean that there were at least a few stretches that didn't rattle our bones and we found an old river bed to camp down on that night. It was a really breezy day and to the point we couldn't light a fire ( I was really disappointed as that had become my forte) and even the bottled gas was struggling so we (sorry parents) had to use the cover of tents where we also stored the gasoline too,
our theory being as long as you keep to the local mindset everything will be fine i.e health and safety out the tent window! It was a cold night but our -15 sleeping bags and fully clothed made the difference and we didn't have any problems. We nipped back to the local town to pick up some bread and water and before I got on the bike my sunnies broke. Now I'm not one to believe in omens, hexs or jinxs but on bikes and life in general bad days are just bad days...
Stocked up and on the move again we head south following a map that didn't really fill us with confidence.
Having negotiated our first river crossing successfully we headed in a southward direction only to find that the roads became more and more sandy and we saw absolutely no other vehicle. We did however see wild emus ( or relatives of as Son corrected me). We came to a junction which is basically the meeting of two roads that go off into the endless distance with no markings or help to guide you. We tried to use our not so trusty compass which in fact had more chance of telling the time than giving us direction and after trying to fix it had no clue and no compass. We were left in a difficult decision... straight... to nowhere... or right... to equally nowhere, we chose right. The road was now not a road but a sandy opening between scrubb that we were following marked out by previous cars,
how previous we had no idea but we knew that we'd yet to see a car. Then as if by magic (or annoyingly to me bad omens, things happening in threes) Son came to a halt. Her Clutch cable had snapped. Her bike was going nowhere and we were... er... nowhere, at least we had food and water and shelter and hopefully a vehicle might pass. ¨This is not the Bolivian way ¨ we thought and proceeded to attack the problem. My bike had a spare bit of cable from a choke that was no longer used, we had wire, string and anything around us. It was like a version of blue peter ´trapped in the middle of nowhere´ and to our own amazement we managed to bodge together a frankensteins clutch cable enough for Son to ride the bike.
So we had to go back but were just so grateful that we'd not been stranded the outcome could have been so much worse. The sandy roads were not very forgiving and we found ourselves in some deep sand so much of which we both thought we could enter the Dakar rally next year
. We managed to get ourselves back to San Cristobal a town that had a lot of through traffic so we thought it might have a mechanic too. Exhausted that was to be the next days thoughts and we put ourselves to bed early for another to be ready for the early start.
No mechanic. Typical, the nearest was in Uyuni so we had to go back, only three hours away but the southwest had beaten us, not for lack of trying though. Son's bike behaved back to Uyuni and even there we could not find a bike mechanic so we had to be resourceful which we seemed to be getting better at and found cable and managed to get the bike back to full functioning order. Both of us were really proud of ourselves drawing crowds of onlookers as we proceeded to fix the bike on the side of the road.
Our plans had changed, we would go towards Potosi, mine country and slowly head towards La Paz. We headed off into the hills above Uyuni and the scenery changed into rolling hills and mineral rich landscapes.
We camped down in what was becoming our favorite campsite, a river bed, fixed a fire up, drank wine and toasted marshmellows over the fire both proud of our achievements!
The next day we had about 180kms to go and it turned out to be one of the best rides so far. The roads were like video games darting in and out between construction vehicles in sand, mud, across streams, through canyons people waving to us as we went. The scenery was unbelievable, with rock formations and mineral rich colours everywhere we went it was easy to see how this was a mining region
. We arrived in Potosi late in the day knowing we'd stay for a few days to rest ourselves and the bikes and to take in the local area.
The day after we arrived we went to the old mint to see the process of how they minted coins. It was interesting to see the process although the guide spoke in Spanish so we found ourselves wandering more than anything!
The mines were one of the reasons we came to Potosi. Back in the days when the Spaniards were ruling the country Potosi was apparently one of the richest cities in the world as it had enormous amounts of silver supplying the Spaniards and Europe with the mineral. Since then the amounts of silver has dropped off massively but they still mine for other minerals and Potosi's claim to fame is now that it is the highest city in the world at 4070m high and we can definitely feel it! We were taken into the mine by ex miners, ours first went in when he was only 10 years old! The first thing we did was go to the local market where you could buy hard hats, cocoa leaves and of course dynamite!
Apparently it is the only place in the world that will sell dynamite to anyone, obviously we had to buy some and at just over 2 dollars for a complete kit it had to be done.
The mines were small dark and hot and at altitude we were all gasping for breath on every movement. The miners would work in cooperatives working in teams extracting the ore using dynamite and extracting the ore by chemical processes. Many miners would not make it past 45 being subjected to so many different chemicals but it was interesting (being the wrong word)to see how hard they worked in such difficult conditions and mainly though lack of choice or opportunity. Seeing daylight was a blessing after crawling through the tunnels on hands and knees at some parts and once outside really felt for those who did it day in day out to earn a living,
no wonder they liked to have a drink. One drink they have is called ´Ceibo´ and it´s 96 % proof! We're not sure what would kill them first the mines or the booze! The grand finale was to explode the dynamite we had bought at the market. It was loud and satisfying!!!
Tomorrow we head off to the hills for more camping and hopefully over the next week we get to find some dinosaur footprints!... and hopefully have no more problems with the bikes, but at least now we're expecting them!
Both on a high from the salt flats back at Uyuni we had a chance to wash ourselves and the bikes to clean off the ever dangerous salt. Preparing the bikes again we thought we head to more barren countryside where the only things that live are scrubb and sand. We packed and prepared everything from meals to tools and petrol as we knew that services and supplies get a little short in the southwest part of Bolivia.